15 December 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein

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Tell me I'm not the only one whose normally reasonable and healthful diet flies out the window for the entire month of December. Cookies, office parties, holiday drinks, and casual get-togethers have done me in. So on the few quiet nights we have at home, I try hard to restore some sanity at the dinner table.

When Donna Klein's The Chinese Vegan Kitchen showed up in my mailbox, I was grateful to have a source for tasty, yet healthful dishes to remind myself that sugar really isn't one of the principal food groups.

Many traditional Chinese dishes from throughout the vast country either already are vegan or can easily be adapted. Klein's recipes, inspired by dishes she was exposed to during the year she worked and traveled in China, incorporate the full range of flavors, from hot to mild, savory to sweet. All the recipes are easily accessible to Western cooks, and some of the dishes call for New World ingredients (potatoes, for example).

The Chinese Vegan Kitchen starts with an informative introduction that discusses each region of China in terms of flavors, ingredients, and cooking methods. A helpful glossary and metric conversion chart are included in the cookbook.

The chapters are divided in a familiar manner, such as soups, snacks, side dishes, and desserts. One of the main dish chapters is all about tofu and seitan dishes, but I'm pleased that most of the recipes are soy free.

Klein's directions are clear and easy to follow, meaning that even inexperienced cooks should have no trouble serving up delicious meals. In addition, Klein provides tips, ingredient substitutions, variations, serving suggestions, and nutritional information.

One thing I particularly love about The Chinese Vegan Kitchen is that the dishes are universally appealing; you don't have to be a dietary extremist to get some good use from this cookbook. Here are just a few dishes I have marked to try:
  • Pot Stickers with Cabbage and Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Velvet Corn Soup
  • Raw Beet and Scallion Salad
  • Barbecued Tofu wit Hoisin Sauce
  • Grilled Sesame Asparagus
There are also a ton of noodle and rice dishes I have my eye on.

Although I don't have any objection to cookbooks without photographs, cooks should be aware that The Chinese Vegan Kitchen is not illustrated: no photos, no drawings. The only thing that does bother me is the inconsistencies in the index. Full recipes are listed for some ingredients (like carrots) but only page numbers are listed for other ingredients (like asparagus). This isn't enough to make me not buy the cookbook, but a good index is essential when searching for recipes.

Here's a recipe I hope to try soon.

Cashew Fried Rice
Makes 4 servings
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 cups cooked white or brown rice, at room temperature, any clumps removed
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted cashews
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil; set aside.

In a wok or large nonstick skillet, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 30 seconds. Add rice and white parts of scallions and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved soy sauce mixture and stir to thoroughly blend. Add the scallion greens, peas, and cashews; cook, stirring constantly, until heated through and well combined, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.

Buy The Chinese Vegan Kitchen at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Published by Penguin USA / Perigee, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780399537707

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


jama 12/15/12, 6:45 AM  

I love fried rice and Chinese food in general. My old go-to Chinese cookbook doesn't have any pictures either. Not a problem. It's the recipes that count :).

caite 12/15/12, 7:01 AM  

No photos!!
Oh, that might be a deal breaker for me.

A Buckeye Girl Reads 12/15/12, 8:19 AM  

This cookbook sounds good, even if I'm not vegan. :) I love your Weekend Cooking posts-I'll have to do it one of these days. :)

(Diane) bookchickdi 12/15/12, 9:08 AM  

I'm not a big Chinese or vegan eater, but the recipes you highlighted look good to me. I find it curious that there are no photos in this book; I think cookbooks should have some photos.

Sprungatlast 12/15/12, 9:40 AM  

It's too bad about the poor indexing and that just might be a deal breaker for me. It makes me wonder what else might have been done poorly. That said, I've recently added a vegan couple to my social circle so I need recipe help!

Esme 12/15/12, 11:17 AM  

Too bad there are no photos-I always like to have photos.

Cecelia 12/15/12, 12:13 PM  

I do prefer an illustrated cookbook - probably because I'm a novice. That cashew fried rice sounds amazing!

Anonymous,  12/15/12, 12:14 PM  

If the recipe you shared is telling of the rest of the cookbook, it looks like it's a great book1

Margot 12/15/12, 1:09 PM  

I like the list of dishes you gave us. Even thogh I'm not vegan, they all sound delicious. And, I have to try the cashew fried rice. Sounds like a good cookbook.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity 12/15/12, 6:55 PM  

I've never cooked fried rice but I do love it--as does Scott. It's a great way for him to get veggies into his diet since they're usually cooked down enough for his allergies. But no pictures is a deal-breaker for me. I find that I rarely cook from my books that don't contain pictures.

Joy Weese Moll 12/15/12, 7:59 PM  

That sounds really good. We do a Chinese dish with cashews and broccoli that's terrific when we want something squarely on the healthy side.

Sharon Galligar Chance 12/15/12, 9:58 PM  

Love fried rice - this sounds like a winner!

Uniflame 12/16/12, 5:22 AM  

This recipe sounds great! And I will be adding this to my wishlist :) No pics aren't a real problem to me :)

Jane,  12/16/12, 6:07 AM  

Love Chinese cooking and cashews yum yum

Hope you enjoy my seasonal book


Esme 12/16/12, 10:03 AM  

I think you and I need to eat our way through France-that is the downside of traveling solo-you can not eat as much. They were shocked in Paris-when I explained to them that our croissants do not resemble theirs and the lack of butter and substitution of lard or margarine.

Lit Addicted Brit 12/16/12, 12:13 PM  

This actually sounds quite similar to the book that I picked this week, which is about Japanese food and also has no pictures (not something that bothers me, as a rule). I love most Oriential cuisine and am doing exactly the same as you at the moment - mince pies and Christmas treats at every turn balanced out by stir fried or steamed vegetables. I do eat meat but only eat free range meat, which can be pricey and means that we do often end up eating vegetarian versions of favourite meals - this book sounds ideal!

How Jess Reads 12/16/12, 3:44 PM  

Hm. I'm not sure that I could deal with the lack of pictures!

Julie P. 12/29/12, 9:10 AM  

This is one of those books that I'd enjoy looking at but probably never cook from. Although I wouldn't complain if someone cooked recipes from it for me.

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