The Complete Asian Cookbook
by Charmaine Solomon, Deborah Solomon, Nina Harris
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books, Country: AU
ISBN: 9781742701448, Year: 2011
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Charmaine Solomon, well known to Australians from her books and newspaper and magazine columns, became an international success with the original publication of ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’ in 1976. Since then her name has been synonymous with the flavours of the East. The revised version of this ground breaking book is a must for anyone interested in the food of this region – either to cook from or simply to refer to – that is of course if they don’t already have the original.

Full review

‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’ is dedicated to Mrs Solomon’s husband, Reuben, ‘who married me before I learned to cook’. Born in Sri Lanka she came to Australia with her husband in 1959 knowing almost nothing about cooking and claims to have taught herself to cook in part to calm her fears about living in a strange place. After entering a cookery contest she was invited to join Women’s Day magazine where she first began to introduce new flavours and ideas to an Australian audience. Since then she has published thirty-odd books (‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’ has been translated into four languages) and won numerous awards.

When ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’ was first published in 1976 more and more of her Australian readers were travelling overseas and wanting to recreate some of their culinary discoveries when they returned home. My own copy of the 1976 edition is well worn. First used as a reference to explain the new dishes we were eating in restaurants and experimenting with on our travels it quickly became the only resource needed to produce authentic roghan josh and rendang and I would think the inspiration for almost all the tomato kausundi that has been sold at school fetes for the last thirty years. This was the book to go to to find out how to produce an authentic tasting barbecue style roast duck (pei par ngap) or how to make a decent phở and these are the recipes I am still using today. It is also sobering to think of the amount of research which went in to amassing such a range of recipes from so many different countries. Proof of Mrs Solomon’s original thorough research: there are few changes in the new edition other than the inclusion of some new recipes and a bit of updating to allow for the greater availability of raw materials. Looking back at the original version it is also to her great credit that the author didn’t try to overly Westernise or substitute for authentic ingredients. It is hard to imagine now the lengths which we had to go to track down even coriander and fish sauce in the days before supermarket shelves groaned with curry pastes and laksa spice mixes and the current plethora of sauces, condiments and frozen and canned goodies.

Although completely ‘revised and updated’ the new edition retains all the important features of the original. There are fourteen chapters covering the food of India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam, The Philippines, China, Korea and Japan. The introduction covers essentials such as using a wok, how to make your own coconut milk, how to joint a chicken and the finer points of cooking rice. Each subsequent chapter begins with information on preparing, eating and serving a meal as well as notes on utensils and an introduction to the ingredients specific to that cuisine. All the recipes are clearly set out with a separate ingredient list and logical directions. Because she taught herself to cook and understands the importance of a reliable cookbook, Mrs Solomon was always mindful that her recipes should be foolproof and her instructions easy to follow. Her practical experience allows her to speak with an authority which is in large part the key to her success. All her recipes have been tested many times, and for this new edition tested again. And finally there is a comprehensive glossary covering pretty much everything from ‘aburage’, through ‘kewa essence’ to ‘wood fungus’ and yoghurt.

The revision also runs to beautiful artwork on every page and much more appetising photography than in my original version, to the extent that I would be loath to get my new book quite as bespattered and besmirched as the old one.
Anyone interested in cooking should have this book in their collection. This stylish new edition in particular is a fitting testament to Mrs Solomon’s scholarship and the influence she has had both in Australia and internationally over the last thirty-six years.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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Rating: 4.4/5 (5 votes cast)
The Complete Asian Cookbook, Charmaine Solomon | 2011 | AU, 4.4 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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