Author: Donald Siegel
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House
What separates China’s cuisine from that of other nations is the fact that it allows even less-seasoned cooks to accomplish great-tasting dishes. Much to the appreciation of the average home economist, Siegel avoids recipes that call for obscure ingredients; it is likely your pantry already holds most of the spices, sauces and oils needed to complete a full-course Chinese meal. Chinese cuisine can be a highly affordable way to produce top-quality meals, and allows for improvisation with cheaper ingredients (as in the option to substitute chicken for veal or beef in many recipes).
To put Siegel’s recipes to the test, we invited a few couples over for an impromptu dinner party and heated up the wok. One word of caution: while Chinese food is not difficult in terms of preparation, it is not always quick (and unless you are highly organized can make a huge mess).
I learned that lesson the hard way when I took on the task of preparing 30 Hunan-style dumplings. While mixing the water, flour and salt is relatively painless, rolling the dough to the proper thickness requires a bit more patience. The recipe for the filling is much easier and you can incorporate ground beef, chicken or veal interchangeably. Cooking the steamed dumpling version (ideal for those who are health conscious) is simple. Siegel includes a recipe for his “Basic Dumpling Sauce,” which is made up of typical household ingredients and provides an authentic way to finish off the dish.
Despite the considerable effort involved in putting together what you would have thought would be a relatively painless appetizer, the results made it worthwhile. The book includes some helpful diagrams for how to best fill the dumplings to maximize taste. Be careful not to overload your dumplings; there’s a risk they will explode while cooking. Recipes for a variety of dumpling fillings are listed, so that once you’ve gone to the trouble of putting together the skins, you can have fun experimenting.
Moving on to the main dishes, I chose to try Siegel’s recipe for General Tsao’s chicken. While the final product looked and tasted good, the recipe didn’t produce the rich sauce I had always associated with this dish. With a bit of improvisation, however, you’re likely to be impressed. As Siegel is quick to point out, Chinese cooking is notorious for producing different results each time – a result of the varied consistencies of ingredients. Store-bought condiments like soy sauce and sesame oil, for example, can differ in strength between brands, so he recommends that recipes be adjusted accordingly. Traditional favorites like beef with broccoli are included, and within less than half an hour I was able to produce a meal that tasted very similar to what you would order from the take-out menu.
With an offering of more than 30 main dishes, including all the better-known ones made from beef, poultry and fish, any lover of Chinese food is sure to find in this cookbook a meal they’ll enjoy preparing and eating.
While offering a valuable contribution to any kitchen, aspiring chefs who like to see their food before they embark on a recipe might be disappointed with this cookbook. Incorporating only some rudimentary drawings, the layout leaves much to be desired, especially at a time when many consumers are looking for colorful, photo-laden cookbooks. Siegel forgoes this style in favor of a far more basic approach in which the text and recipes do all the selling. I also noticed some inconsistencies between the lists of ingredients and the directions which followed, but on the whole the recipes are explained in good detail and were easy to follow.
Siegel engages the readers with personal and sometimes humorous anecdotes about the recipes and succeeds in making this cookbook more than a collection of recipes. It will make a fun addition to any kosher home, and can be a helpful resource when you’re in the mood to try duplicating your favorite Chinese dishes. (JPFS)