I have been a distant admirer of Lucky Peach for a few months now, ever since I flipped through a few of their magazines at an independent bookstore in Boston this summer. I found the magazine hip, interesting, and just the right amount of an approachable pretentiousness. I’ve also decided that one of my new ongoing goals is to become a better cook. That being said, I jumped at the chance to review Lucky Peach’s new (and first) cookbook: 101 Easy Asian Recipes.
I thought that I would test Lucky Peach’s recipe for “Chineasy Cucumber Salad” and compare it to my mother’s recipe. Although my mother’s recipe is better in my opinion (she uses garlic instead of sesame seeds and peanuts and we add a splash of soy sauce.)
Makes about 2 servings, easily multiplied.
1T Chikiang vinegar
1t Sichuan chili oil
1t sesame oil
1t turbinado sugar
1/4t kosher salt
3 Persian or Kirby cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1t toasted sesame seeds
2T crushed roasted unsalted peanuts
2T cilantro leaves
1. Whisk together the vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set the dressing aside.
2. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. (If using English cucumbers, remove the seeds with a small spoon and discard.) Set them cut-side down on a cutting board and lightly smash them: Give them a couple angry thwaps with the side of a cleaver (or a large chef’s knife) until the cucumbers crack in a few places. (For less drama, just press down on them with the side of the knife.) Cut the abused cucumbers crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick half-moons.
3. Toss the cucumbers in the dressing, portion them onto plates, and top each serving with sesame seeds, peanuts, and cilantro.
My thoughts on the cookbook:
- I am so thrilled that Lucky Peach even includes smashing the cucumbers with the side of a butcher knife or cleaver. I remember learning how to make this with my cousin and gleefully wreaking chaos in the kitchen.
- I never thought that a cookbook could be written in a “fun” way, but I found the instructions easy to read, follow, and copy.
- However, I found some of the photography kitschy, such as the meta-iPhone-taking-a-photo-of-food-at-the-dinner-table-shot.
- Also, a few of the recipes were just a bit too glib – there’s a recipe for “sliced oranges” which would be okay, if it were the only one-item-recipe in the book, but shortly after, there’s a recipe for baked yams. I think I would have told Lucky Peach’s editors that it would be okay to stop at 99 or 100 recipes, there’s no need to force it!
- I liked that the cookbook truly included all sorts of Asian recipes. There’s a lovely mix of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Malaysian cuisine. There may even be more that I haven’t recognized yet.
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s a beginning chef, interested in learning more about Asian cuisine or a fan of Lucky Peach magazine. It might even be fun to read through like a book during a rainy hungry day.