101 Easy Recipes is a fun collection of Asian recipes written in Lucky Peachy’s signature style.
One of the best food magazines out there, Lucky Peach, has since published a few cookbooks. 101 Easy Asian Recipes was the first and is something I’ve cooked from quite a lot since its release in September 2015. As you can tell from the cover (and if you’re familiar with the Lucky Peach schtick), this is not the book that tries to be an exhaustive study of the food of one particular region of, say, Thailand.
It is a delightful bastardisation and amalgamation of recipes from all over the Asian continent: one page will give you a recipe for a rice paper roll, the next miso baked fish and then there’ll be a delightful recipe for kung pao shrimp.
The question of authenticity in food is a complex one: this book so cheerfully side skips this debate and positions itself as being entirely concerned with what is going to be the best and tastiest combination of food you can make. It’s not nuanced food, but it is often creative, delicious and as the title suggests, simple to prepare.
The aesthetic of the book is brilliant: it recalls a style of food photography that is so long gone. Harsh studio lighting; incredibly tacky backgrounds and props out the whazoo. And I couldn’t love it more. As much as we love the modern formula of natural light + ceramics + overhead (or straight on but with ultra shallow depth of field) = food photo, there is something so freeing about going completely in the other direction.
272 pages split across the following chapters: Introduction | Cold Dishes, Apps, and Pickly Bits | Breakfast | Pancakes | Soups and Stews | Noodles | Roces | Warm Vegetables | Chicken | Meats | Seafood | Super Sauces | Desserts
The book ends with a conversion table, which would be useful if Siri is down and you need to convert something (I guess).
While I normally find the usual padding at the start of cook books to be fairly unremarkable, 101 Easy Asian Recipes features a helpful Pantry section. Broken into Basic, Intermediate and Champion these allow you to head to the Asian grocery with a little more confidence. (Lucky Peach has very helpfully replicated this on their website: Basic, Intermediate, and Champion)
There’s a degree of variation in how recipes are presented, although most are broken down into a list of ingredients, numbered paragraph method followed by a little description towards the bottom of the page. Most recipes are given generous full-bleed photos.
The instructions are clear and concise and manage to avoid being robotic: there’s a degree of personality. Thankfully, the formatting means following along as you’re cooking is quite simple.
I love this book, but not every recipe has been an unqualified success. Of the list below, the kimchi pancake was a complete failure (in cooking disasters it can be unclear if the fault lies with the cookbook or the cook, but reader beware).
The book bills itself as based around easy recipes, but quite a few recipes are highly technique-based. As a result the beginner (or even intermediate) cook is bound to have a few oopsa-daisies. The end product might still be tasty, but will not quite satisfy.
A sample of what we’ve cooked:
- Summer rolls
- Spicy celery salad
- St Paul Sandwich
- Kimchi Pancake (third picture below)
- Economy Noodles
- Jap chae
- Pad see ew
- Spicy mushroom ragu
- Mall Chicken (first picture below)
- Carrot-ginger dressing
Despite these somewhat mixed feelings, I keep coming back to this book (and will be cooking from it tonight). The standard for inclusion in the classics library is whether or not one still uses it when the initial new-cookbook joy falls off. The answer in this case is yes. At its best this book is witty, tasty and does present easy Asian food.
Why this book?
- You like the Lucky Peach magazine
- You don’t require strict authenticity and don’t mind the grab-bag approach to recipe curation
- You’re willing to put up with a few mistakes here and there
- You have a secret fondness for food court Chinese food
|Nigella|||||||||Donna Hay||Attractive or evocative writing versus simple and to the point?|
|Ottolenghi|||||||||Ina Garten||Elaborate or involved recipes versus simple and straightforward?|
|Mark Bittman|||||||||Ferran Adrià||Can you cook from this book every night or is it more specialist or narrow?|
|Jamie|||||||||Nigel Slater||Photos of the author or photos of the food?|
|Kondo|||||||||An old boot||And does it just spark joy?|
You should buy this book: just make sure your expectations are calibrated.