Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir Fries, and More
Hsiao-Ching Chou, photos by Clare Barboza
While I very much enjoy cooking cuisines from around the world, I have a rule that if I can’t (eventually) make it as good as you’d get in a restaurant, then I order/eat out rather than cook it myself. A lot of this depends on starting with great recipes and understanding the ingredients, and Chinese Soul Food just might be what gets more (non-Chinese) people cooking Chinese food at home.
Food writer and cooking instructor Hsiao-Ching Chou was born in Columbia, Missouri, the child of Chinese immigrants who ran a restaurant. Many of the dishes she offers up here could come straight off the menu of a Chinese-American restaurant menu with dumplings, Kung Pao Chicken and Orange Beef all making an appearance. “Guilty pleasures” include Chow Mein and restaurant-style egg rolls.
As much as Chou’s stated goal is to get people cooking Chinese food, readers will still need access to a good Asian market or online source for some things. That much-loved orange beef requires dried tangerine peel, for instance, and dried wood ear fungus is likely to be elusive as well. However, most of the ingredients can be found in a decent supermarket, and if you’re in a large city with Asian grocery stores, you should be good to go.
Is it sad that I never knew that one of my favourite Chinese appetizers, the Green Onion Pancake, is a simple combination of dumpling dough (literally flour and water) and sliced green onions? (Seriously, I thought there was some other magical, tasty ingredients in there). Chou offers a variety of dumpling fillings as well, and once you master the folding techniques, you can put pretty much anything in there, although all of her traditional suggestions sound great.
While the photos by Clare Barboza are bright and inspiring, there isn’t a photo for every dish, which might put off some who really want some sort of gauge for their intended finished product.
Overall, a great collection for people cooking Chinese food for the first time, although readers will need some intermediate kitchen skills to prepare these dishes.
Usability: Good. Fonts are small but clear – passes the “kitchen counter test” (can I read it easily when placed on my kitchen counter?) but just barely. Recipe steps are divided by line breaks and flagged with red bullet points. No metric measurements.