5 Practical Chinese Cookbooks With Easy Recipes You’ll Love
If you want to enrich your usual culinary repertoire with some tasty recipes from the treasure chest that is Chinese cuisine or you’re just curious how to make your favorite Chinese dish, this roundup of my go-to beginner's Chinese cookbooks should give you a good start.
A question “where did I get this or that recipe” often comes up. Before I give away my trusted sources, let me tell you how it all started.
I vividly remember when my parents first took me to the Chinese restaurant.
The parade of tastes, flavors and food arrangements in neat porcelain sets on that day sparked a deep love for the way Chinese treat their diet.
Later, in my college days, I started preparing different Asian dishes for friends and myself. To this day the passion for Chinese cuisine is going strong in me. The more I know and savor, the more I want to know and savor. The journey never ends.
Fast forward (almost) three decades (Jeez, time flies) I find myself in front of my favorite bookshelf across the kitchen facing the stove. A bountiful well of fresh ideas every time I yearn to get a taste of distant East lands.
And every time I am having a weekend gourmand get-together with my friends or family, someone would inevitably ask me which book would I recommend if they wanted to try some Chinese cooking themselves.
So, here you go:
My quick picks:
Book 1 : Easy Chinese Recipes
Book 2:The Chinese Takeout Cookbook:
Book 3: Everyday Chinese Cookbook
Book 4: Every grain of rice
Book 5: Stir-frying to the sky’s edge
If you enjoyed eating out at Chinese restaurants and wanted to try your cooking skills at making Chinese food, let me just tell you: ”Do it! It’s well worth the effort.”
You don’t need any more tools that you already have in your kitchen. You don’t need too many exotic ingredients to start cooking Chinese. There are a few ingredients that are typical to Chinese food but are nowadays found at any bigger grocery store.
So, my verdict is, if you still feel intimidated to start making Chinese food, you’ve run out of reasons.
Why do you need a good book about Chinese cooking?
It is true, you can get so many good recipes off the Internet for free but having a good book that gives you the big picture and thorough basic instruction is essential for your success. Jumping to recipes you’re not skilled enough yet is a common cause of frustration.
Where to begin?
If you are someone who enjoys cooking, experimenting with flavors but not necessarily an expert chef the cookbooks below will get you on the right way.
I know that not everyone has time and money to invest in learning special cooking techniques and buying specialty items. With that in mind, I chose my go-to books with recipes that require none of the above but will satisfy anyone with access to usual kitchen stuff, some common sense, a will to experiment, and of course a curious mind for Far Eastern culinary treats.
When I want to start a new cooking journey, I like to motivate myself with some small successes that I enjoy and kickstart my interest to explore further.
You don’t want to get bogged down by an endless shopping list of stuff you don’t know even how to pronounce and later coming home after arduous shopping session only to find the recipe calls for cookware you don’t have.
All of these cookbooks contain simple enough recipes for anyone with some cooking experience to follow. Ingredients are easy to find in most supermarkets.
All of these books introduce the basics without frying your brains with an overload of information.
How much prior experience do I need?
If you already know your kitchen ways it certainly helps. Chinese food is in many respects forgiving and recipes are open to experimentation. The only word of caution for absolute beginners would be to pay attention in how you handle the pan or wok with hot oil. The technique of stir-frying is called for throughout Chinese culinary opus. Make sure you get familiar with this technique before buying items or trying it yourself.
These Youtube videos might come handy:
What to look for in a good cooking book?
The first thing to do is to assess your skill level honestly. Different books are written for different skill levels. Check the titles presented below and see which one attracts your attention. The preferences differ, and the book can make or break your interest.
Also look for a clear description of ingredients, techniques, and utensils needed to prepare a recipe. A good book usually covers some background to the recipes which is the case with all books listed here.
Do I need special kitchen utensils for preparing Chinese food?
Owning a wok is certainly recommended but not necessary. Still, if you want to get close to the distinct taste that attracts us to Chinese food, you might consider buying a wok. Aside from that, there are some Chinese kitchen utensils like bamboo steamers, spatula, strainer that come handy but can always be exchanged with the stuff you already have in your kitchen.
Do I need hard to find ingredients for Chinese recipes?
Most recipes call for ingredients that are easy to find in grocery store. These days, Asian aisle is almost always present at any reasonably big chain store.
In case you don’t find it there, you can always order it online which is my preferred way to go about buying stuff like Chinese vinegar or certain kinds of soy sauce.
An excellent way to begin your Chinese cooking adventure is to have a look at these books:
Book 1: Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao
If you are new to Chinese cooking and want to delve into making delicious Chinese dishes ASAP, then look no further. This is probably one of the most straightforward, easy-to-follow books out there.
After a short intro, it takes you on a pleasant journey introducing essential cooking techniques, utensils and ingredients, spiced up with engaging anecdotes from Bee’s life, before presenting close to a hundred well-written recipes.
The presentations, short and to the point, are also equipped with detailed images to give you a clear idea what to do.
This book is packed with great tips and tricks, my favorite being how to tenderize meat with plain old baking soda. I use it all the time, even when I am not making Chinese food.
This book could be easily subtitled Chinese cooking demystified. I think this book is great even for someone with above average experience in Chinese food making. After almost two decades making Chinese food at home, I found a good few extremely useful tips.
Also, if you don’t own a wok, you can just use an ordinary fry pan to prepare all the recipes. The only thing you need is a kitchen, this book and a short shopping list for your local grocery store.
If you can’t find any of the few specific ingredients in your local area, the book offers helpful appendix with online resources. Nowadays, even the most exotic ingredient is only a click away, but for the recipes, in this book, you won’t need anything you can’t find at Asian aisle of any bigger grocery store.
In many ways, this book contains a lot what one might call Americanized Chinese recipes. These are all time favorites by which most of us got to know and love Chinese food.
Book 2: The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home
I bet your first contact with Chinese food was the one from your local takeout restaurant unless your relatives are ethnic Chinese (in which case I consider you lucky).
The pictures of dishes in this book are so good your mouth will start to water just flipping the pages.
If you liked it, you have probably worked down the menu’s general list of wonton soup, sweet and sour chicken, Sichuan shrimp, Peking pork chops, General Tsao chicken, etc.
Did you know that all of these can be prepared in about twenty minutes or so and you don’t even need a wok?
That’s pretty COOL!
Besides, Chinese food is much healthier than any of your favorite American takeaways.
If you are a fan of your local Chinese takeout and want to reproduce their goodies in the forgiving safety of your kitchen, then that's the book for the job.
For someone with no experience in Chinese cooking, it has a substantial Chapter about Chinese cooking utensils and how to use them.
One thing that I like about this book is how easy to follow the recipes are. It won’t give you a headache by arming you up to your teeth with hard to understand the culinary jargon. On the contrary, it gives you just what you need. No more no less.
However, I do miss is at least pinyin romanization of the original Chinese names for dishes if not the characters themselves. That's just a nerd in me who likes this stuff. Sorry;)
Also, if you are a beginner, be noted that Chinese food outside China is quite different than what experts dub as "authentic Chinese food." Therefore, the recipes presented here can be dubbed as “Best of Chinese-American Cuisine.”
However, if you are looking for a light-hearted, quality intro to recipes you order from your preferred Chinese takeaway, look no further.
Diane Kuan also writes an excellent blog where you can get many great tips and tricks about Asian cooking for free. Be sure to check it out.
If you have been intimidated to prepare Chinese food at home, this book will come as a refreshing encouragement. Also look: Diane’s blog. http://appetiteforchina.com/recipe-archive/
Book 3: Everyday Chinese Cookbook
Passing along the torch of family cooking tradition, Katie's book is as refreshing a collection of Chinese recipes “Greatest Hits” as it is a loving homage to Katie Chin’s mom, Leeann.
Katie also writes a blog. It’s a great read and resource for refreshing Chinese cooking ideas and recipes.
What I like about this book is how the rational Chinese mind shines through Katie’s instructions and notes how to exchange different ingredients. For example black Chinese vinegar for balsamic vinegar in the Kun Pao Chicken recipe.
Now, if you are looking for authentic Chinese cooking and you don’t have a lot of experience, this book is a place to start. Even recipes like Steamed Cantonese Whole Fish are attainable by chefs of any skill level
But note that it also includes all-time American favorites like Dim Sum, Mu Shu Pork, Beef with Broccoli, and General Tso’s Chicken.
The book is printed on quality paper, and binding is made to last.
Check out her video on how to make Wonton Soup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1bKcK87vr8
Oh, and my favorite way to make homemade wonton wrappers: http://www.chinasichuanfood.com/wonton-wrappers/
Book 4: Every grain of rice
Every grain of rice comes with a lot of insights into Chinese eating habits and traditions.
The recipes are mostly authentic, and I find them to be the closest thing to Chinese home cooking I’ve had a chance to taste in my travels.
This might sound strange since the author is English, but I must say that Dunlop simply nails it, even more so, because she just knows what kind of information Western mind finds interesting.
If you are looking for Western takeout staples, you might be disappointed. In such a case a would rather look some of the above books.
If you are looking for more vegetarian Chinese recipes, this book will breath fresh air into your quest since Dunlop includes a lot of vegetarian adaptations.
Like all the above books it gives you an excellent foundation in cooking techniques and ingredients accompanied by quality imagery.
Besides recipes, there are suggestions on menu structure for different numbers of people.
It includes a very comprehensive ingredient glossary at the end which is especially handy to identify preserved items if you are not familiar with Chinese characters.
Book 5: Stir-frying to the sky’s edge
This is my authoritative book on stir frying as well as a veritable encyclopedia of recipes intelligently ordered by different (geographic) Chinese culinary traditions.
The techniques described in this book are authentic as it gets and it is where I started to appreciate the delicate taste that comes along a well-seasoned woks’ patina.
Young has meticulously gathered a lifetime's worth of information on the ways the stir frying technique has evolved by following the Chinese immigration around the world through time.
Besides having a very thorough introduction to cooking with wok, it has a very insightful chapter on how to season a newly purchased carbon steel wok.
Young has created a real masterpiece on stir frying greatly needed by those aspiring to achieve wok mastery.
If your primary focus is stir frying, then Stir-frying to the sky’s edge will keep you busy and lick your fingers for a long time.
I feel so excited for anyone brave enough to try Chinese cooking for him or herself. It is my sincere hope that these books will start your journey on the right foot.
As I said before, build on small successes and most importantly enjoy the trip.
You won’t succeed every single time but when you do it will be ever more gratifying. I have learned so much about healthy and tasty eating through preparing Chinese food.
I love the books described in this article and each of them has contributed a piece to the puzzle of my Chinese cooking ability.
If you are still unsure which one to choose, you can download free samples on your Kindle app.
I also like when books include accurately spelled Chinese names in pinyin as well as the characters. It enables me to look for variations online and thus get new ideas. Some books do a better job than the others, though. This, I think, is of particular importance if you want to delve deeper into the secrets of preparing Chinese food.
I hope you've come to realize the endless possibilities that come with exploring Chinese recipes. I am ever grateful for the experience.