Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir-Fries, Soups, and More

Hsiao-Ching Chao is a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food columnist and cooking instructor. In Chinese Soul Food, she celebrates the simplicity of Chinese cookery and distills many of its recipes into approachable steps that rely on pantry staples and classic food preparation techniques.

Chou begins with a primer about the differences between the many varieties of soy sauce sold in Asian markets. She also distinguishes between noodle types and suggests appropriate ingredient substitutes. This section comprises the first quarter of the book and is critical for understanding how to interpret the recipes that follow in subsequent sections.

A later chapter is devoted exclusively to dumpling making--including scratch-made dumpling wrappers (water and flour), fillings (vegetables and mostly pork) and cooking methods (boiled, steamed and pan-fried). Chou describes dim sum staple shao mai, an eight-ingredient pork-and-shrimp dumpling, as "probably the least challenging and most forgiving to make."

Many of the recipes reflect American Chinese restaurant fare and can be prepared easily in home kitchens: simple stir-fries with an assortment of meat and vegetables, an Asian spin on fried egg with toast, as well as Taiwanese red-braised beef noodle soup (Chou's go-to comfort food). She also includes a few guilty pleasures not Chinese in origin (Crab Rangoon and General Tso's Chicken) and a sample of Chinese New Year dishes with a few words about the traditions affiliated with each.

Chou's teaching style is conversational and encouraging. She patiently demonstrates her craft in a way that cooks of any experience level can follow easily. After all, she says, "My ultimate goal is to get you into the kitchen." The recipes in Chinese Soul Food more than accomplish this task. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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