There is plenty of news about how 21st Century will be about China. Gloom and doom predictions for the West – and yet, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice (Norton 2013) shows the positive, healthy, and tasty lessons that the West can learn from China.
The recipes in this book are a tribute to China’s rich tradition of frugal, healthy, and delicious home cooking. They include meat, poultry, and fish dishes, but this is primarily a book about how to make vegetables taste divine with very little expense or effort and how to make a little meat go a long way. (p. 8)
As wealthier Chinese increasingly add meat to their diet and are lured by Western fast food, their traditional food is an antidote to the health risks of obesity already so prevalent in the West.
The book starts with a guide to the Chinese kitchen, along with a very useful essay on Planning a Chinese Meal (p. 25) including suggested menus for two, four, or six people. The recipes are organized by main ingredient or kind of dish – cold dishes, soups, and dumplings. Trying to get leafy greens in your diet? Then try Blanched Choy Sum with Sizzling Oil (p. 168) with blanched leaves are paired with sizzling oil and fragrant ginger. Fuchsia suggests that same recipe works well with other greens from spinach to broccoli. Stir-fried Greens with Dried Shrimp (p. 172) that will work well with other common American varieties of cabbage. Smothered Rainbow Chard with Garlic (p. 188) uses a method for cooking tougher greens by covering the greens so that they cook in their own moisture and whatever water clings to them after washing.
For a hearty dish in the middle of the winter, try Braised Chicken with Dried Shitake Mushrooms (p. 121) that uses less expensive (and more flavorful) chicken thighs. For breast-meat lovers, try Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts (p. 118) a typical spicy Sichuan dish – an area of China that Fuchsia knows best. The photograph by Chris Terry shows rings of spicy chili, peanuts and morsels of chicken, all glistening and browned.
Fuchsia Dunlop is one of the best cookery writers exploring Chinese food today. The headnotes will help you choose the right dish for each menu – and get you excited about trying your hand at xiao chao (small stir fry) and the other techniques in the book.