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The Asian Grill: Great Recipes, Bold Flavors
Corinne Trang
Chronicle Books, 2006
ISBN 0811846318
Review By William I. Lengeman III

With several cookbooks and numerous contributions to well-known food magazines to her name, it's no surprise that Corinne Trang has been called "the Julia Child of Asian cuisine." And while Asian cuisine is probably not the first thing we think of when we're getting ready to fire up the grill, as Trang notes, "grilling is the perfect way to cook with Asian ingredients."

The author says marinades are the key to success with Asian cooking ("marinades impart flavors") and notes that, even though all Asian cuisines share basic cooking principles, "each brings something unique to the table". One of the key fundamental principles, whether it be with the "understated, clean flavors" of Japan or the "bold and pungent" tastes of Korea is the proper blending of the five basic flavor notes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and sweet.

Trang begins at the beginning, devoting chapter one to a discussion of how best to stock a pantry for Asian cooking. There's the basic Asian pantry and the advanced Asian pantry. Fortunately many of the ingredients in the former are readily available and nowadays might already be stocked in the average American kitchen.

The advanced Asian pantry, on the other hand, includes such relative exotica as dried lotus leaves, nori flakes and palm sugar, just to name a few. Trang even lists some items (such as galangal) that I've never heard of. Fortunately there's an extensive glossary that, while it doesn't say exactly what galangal is (it's apparently along the lines of ginger), is quite useful all the same.

Chapter two takes a look at Grilling Tools, Grills, and Cooking Tips. Of the tools Trang touches on, there are about a dozen basic items, including various knives. The grill section examines charcoal and gas types, as well as fire pits and even includes a brief section on cooking with wood.

Chapter three takes on Condiments, including that East Asian essential - peanut sauce. Also covered are fish and black bean sauce and various chutneys and pastes. Chapter four - Flat Breads, Rice, and Noodles - kicks off the recipes section proper. Some of the highlights here are Scallion Flat Breads and Parathas. Also, Herbal Sticky Rice in Bamboo Leaves and a colored noodle dish called Green Tea and Plum Soba Medley. As you might have gathered, not everything in the book is meant to be cooked on the grill, but rather there are some dishes that are included as to-go-withs.

However, in chapter five - Vegetables and Fruits - we find that there are actually a number of fruits that can benefit from grilling (who knew?). These include, but are not limited to mango, papaya, banana, peach, plum, and apple. Also in this chapter, an Asian Pear Salad and a Sour Mango Salad that uses unripe mangos and even throws in some Thai chilies for a little extra kick. On the vegetable side, there are dishes that use somewhat exotic ingredients like sunchokes and Kabocha pumpkin, which is a small Japanese variety.

In the Fish and Shellfish department, there are Grilled Shrimp Sausages, which are made with minced tiger shrimp and rice flour. The Asian Clambake serves twelve and features clams, chicken, lobster, crab and corn, all seasoned with a variety of Asian herbs. For something quite a bit simpler, you might want to go with the Grilled Sardines.

Chapter seven tackles Meats, Poultry, and Game, with highlights like Five-Spice Chicken and Five-Spice Duck. There's also Spiced Yogurt Lamb Kebobs and some rather offbeat selections, including Grilled Beef in Grape Leaves and Teriyaki Venison.

Trang tops it all off with a nice assortment of Sweets and Drinks, including Herb Ice Pops with Fresh Berries, Litchi Margaritas and the rather refreshing sounding Cucumber Lemonade. There's even a Yerba Mate Soy Drink that gives the South American herbal beverage an Asian twist with the addition of soy milk and honey.

William I. Lengeman III is a food writer, book reviewer and publisher of Tea Guy Speaks.

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