Take a food trip by way of exotic cookbooks

Sunday, March 30, 2003

NEW YORK -- Throughout the year, armchair cooks happily travel the world by way of books. Here are a few new flavors to try:

"The Food of Asia," by Kong Foong Ling, is a varied collection of more than 300 recipes, attributed to top chefs, drawn from all the major Asian countries.

The book's first attraction, before anyone even thinks of going to the kitchen, is visual, its wealth of color photos. Food photos by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni focus on dishes and ingredients. Other photographers contribute location shots, views of countries and regions, chapter by chapter, and vignettes that introduce you to their people.

Dishes are given both local and translated names -- Asam Laksa Penang, is Sour Penang Noodle Soup, from Malaysia. In the Indonesia section, Kenus Mebase Bali is explained as Balinese Squid, prepared with lime juice and chilies among other seasonings.

Basic flavors, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment are explained in the book's opening chapters, followed by introductions to each region and its recipes.

To help you sort out the profusion of dishes, each country's chapter includes suggested menus ranging from family meals to dinner parties.

"Patricia Yeo Cooking from A to Z" is a first book from Yeo, executive chef at AZ, a popular Manhattan restaurant, written with Julia Moskin. Yeo grew up in a Chinese family in Malaysia and brings a wide knowledge of Asian cuisines to her own spirited style of cooking, but in her introduction she points out she learned to cook in New York and San Francisco. She says her recipes "follow the basic outlines of American food but have the unmistakable zing and bright flavors of Asia."

"Shunju: New Japanese Cuisine" is by Takashi Sugimoto and Marcia Iwatate. In his foreword, Chicago chef Charlie Trotter refers to Shunju as "Tokyo's pioneering restaurant group." He writes of its "return to the essence of Japanese cooking," and its "traditional meets modern" style.

The book is well designed, with lavish color photos. However, recipes, which are grouped by season, may be more evocative to glance over than practical to execute because of unfamiliar ingredients and measurements.

"Best of Korean Cuisine" is by Karen Hulene Bartell, who emphasizes the distinct flavors and ingredients that differentiate Korean cooking from Chinese or Japanese.

Because Koreans correlate specific foods with the lunar calendar and the four seasons, the book's recipes are organized in sections for the seasons and 12 signs of the Asian horoscope.

"1,000 Indian Recipes" is written by food writer and cooking teacher Neelam Batra, born in India, now living in California. She has simplified and adapted recipes from home kitchens, reflecting traditions of regions throughout India.

"A Taste of Turkish Cuisine" is a collaboration between Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman. Ilkin is wife of a former Turkish ambassador to the United States; Kaufman is an American food writer. Their collection of 187 traditional recipes is accompanied by a history of Turkish cooking and a glossary.

"Cuisines of the Caucasus Mountains" by Kay Shaw Nelson includes "recipes, drinks and lore" from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. Nelson calls the Caucasus a picturesque ancient region of great diversity where "whatever the regional or cultural differences, all of the people share a fondness for fine food."

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