In most Asian families, food and cooking are very much central to our lives. We celebrate many special occasions using food as symbolism. But it’s the everyday cooking that grounds us, giving much comfort. This post is a book review of Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook, 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen. Just in time for a Mother’s Day gift!
As an everyday cook knows, there are few requirements for a good everyday recipe. It has to be simple, the ingredients must be readily available, and of course it should taste good!
To be honest, I never heard of Katie Chin, nor had I heard of her mother, Leeann Chin. Leeann was a special woman, born in Guanzhou, China and moved to Hong Kong for an arranged marriage. In 1956 their family immigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Long story short, being an excellent cook, she began teaching Chinese cooking which led to catering and eventually running thirty restaurants in Minnesota!
Through Katie’s childhood stories about growing up in Chinese in Minneapolis, you find a warm and down to earth family. I came to appreciate that Leeann had to improvise at a time when there was little or no basic Asian ingredients in middle America. I myself, having lived in Kuwait in the late 1990’s understand her situation. You learn to make adjustments that actually work just fine. In the book, Katie includes the family recipes for sauces that her Mom created at the time when these were hard to find. These are wonderful!
Last week, over a few nights, I tried several recipes and my husband, Robin, even managed to try one too! I chose a few recipes that I’m familiar with in a Chinese restaurant but often don’t bother to make at home. We made Crystal Shrimp Dumplings, Hot and Sour Soup, Kung Pao Chicken, General Tso’s Chicken, Napa Cabbage and Tofu Salad, and the Honey Barbecued Pork.
As with any new recipe, it takes time to read and gather all the ingredients because you’re unfamiliar with their process. I wanted to do justice to the recipes so for the most part, I stuck to them as written. After trying a couple recipes, I decided to lessen the salt and sweetness just because we prefer our dishes that way. But, that’s the beauty of cooking at home, you can adjust it to your liking!
One night we had General Tso’s Chicken, with the salad and hot and sour soup. The chicken was flavorful, but I think we’d add a bit more chili to give it a stronger kick. The soup was to our liking; light, clean tasting and not too strong a vinegar flavor, which happens often in restaurants. The Napa Cabbage is very colorful with lots of different textures. The recipe needed an Asian pear, but this time of year, I couldn’t find one in the supermarket. Instead, I used a Bosc pear because it’s firm and similar to the nashi, Asian pear. It has great visual appeal, but I don’t know if I messed up on the volume of the Napa, but there was just not enough dressing. Next time I’m going to double the dressing, to get more flavor.
A few nights later we tried the Crystal Shrimp Dumplings and Kung Pao Chicken. The Kung Pao was okay, but again, maybe I just needed more kick and less sugar. The dumplings are basically shrimp gyoza. I make pork gyoza so I understand the process. This recipe included cilantro, which I love, so I added extra for a stronger flavor. These came out excellent! A definite keeper. The interesting part is the dip she used. It was half soy sauce and half balsamic vinegar with a sprinkle of green onions. I have not used balsamic vinegar in my Asian cooking, but I actually really like it. It has a more subtle flavor than rice vinegar so it takes away that edge. The dipping sauce is also a keeper. The recipe follows, so I hope you do try it!
Here is Katie Chin’s Crystal Shrimp Dumplings Recipe.
- 8 oz. (250g) shelled and deveined medium-sized raw shrimp
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Dash of white pepper
- ½ teaspoon dark sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon all-purpose cornstarch
- 1 egg white, divided in two portions
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
- 20 store-bought round dumpling wrappers (gyoza wrappers)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1.2 cup (125 ml) water
- Dipping Sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion (scallion), white and green parts
- Soak shrimp in salted water to remove fishy taste
- To make filling, first chop the shrimip into a paste with a knife or a food processor. (I used a food processor)
- In a medium bowl, combinet the shrimp, salt, sugar, pepper sesame oil, cornstarch, ½ egg white and cilantro.
- In a separate small bowl, beat teh remaining ½ egg white with 1 tablespoon water for sealing the dumplings.
- Make the dipping sauce: Mix the soy sauce, balsamic venegar and green onions. Set aside.
- Place 2 teaspoons fo the filling in the center of each dumpling wrapper. Brush with the egg mixture along the edge. Fold over to form a hlf-circle.
- Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over meium-high heat. Add all of the dumplings and pan-fry for 1 minute.
- Add the water. Cover and cook for 1 minute, then remove the cover and continue to cook until the water is completely gome, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately wit the dipping sauce.
And finally, my husband tried the Honey Barbecued Pork. Basically, this is Char Sui Pork. I guess they must have felt the Chinese name was intimidating to non-Asians, so they put a Western description. But, maybe they should have included the Chinese name because if they go to a restaurant they’ll know what Char Shui is. We enjoy Char Shui every now and again. My kids used to love it because it’s sweet. But, since we’re empty nesters, we decided to halve the salt and sugar, and it still came out quite delicious. My husband was happy he did a good job.
If you are new to Chinese cooking, this is wonderful book to start with, especially for those who live in the West. The ingredients are familiar to us and are readily available. She even includes a stir fry with kale!
Katie understands cooking at home, because that’s what she does. Many times I’ve read cookbooks that are good reads, but very impractical to actually use for those living in the U.S. An everyday cookbook has to be something you can pick up and feel comfortable to make at home for your family.
The book is full of those recipes, as well as some for special occasions. But, just through trying a handful of recipes, I know that with Katie I am in good hands. I’m looking forward to trying her sauces and some new recipes. And I must say thank you to Katie for encouraging me to extend my everyday cooking recipes. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get in such a comfort zone that I tend to cook the same things over and over again. Change is good!
This cookbook will be a perfect Mother’s Day gift, or simply a gift for any food lover. You’ll know that they’ll find a new recipe to extend their cooking repertoire. And to all Mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day!