Eat More Vegetables + Plant-Strong Cookbooks

Eat More Vegetables + Plant-Strong Cookbooks

As an extension of my intention to prioritize self-care this year, I am resolving to eat more vegetables. That means doing my best to include something green in every meal and eating the rainbow to benefit from all the goodness the plant kingdom has to offer. It also means finding new vegetables to try and learning how to cook them. For that, I have a collection of new cookbooks to help me out, which I'm going to share here in hopes that you can get some inspiration too. 

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part IV: Malaysia

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part IV: Malaysia

Honestly, I'm not a stickler for authenticity when it comes to home cooking. But you already know that based on what I've been sharing on my blog. I made a vegetarian rendang, originally a traditional meat-based Malaysian dry curry, with beetroot and then again with pumpkin. So you know where I stand. 

I've been thinking a lot about my own food culture. The one informed by my Malaysian background. The one influenced by my move to the United States. In my American kitchen, I combine the Southeast Asian flavors I'm homesick for with the California vegetables I'm so in love with in the same pan. That is my food culture now. Put pumpkin in my laksa (Malaysian spicy noodle soup)? Let's try it! These dishes, although not strictly authentic, taste like home for me now. 

It is with this sentiment that I'm writing this installment of My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks series, the focus being the three Malaysian cookbooks released this year.

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Heirloom Tomato Confit + Tomato Tasting Party at One Acre Farm

Heirloom Tomato Confit + Tomato Tasting Party at One Acre Farm

We never let summer go by without sinking our teeth into peak-season heirloom tomatoes but recently found ourselves with way too many after returning from a tomato party at One Acre Farm. I've written about some of the fun things we get to do when we volunteer there but I can't believe I haven't told you about tomato season at the farm. They grow more than 20 varieties of tomatoes there!

I was so smitten with all the tomatoes during my first year there I didn't recover in time to report about them. But hey, we were more prepared this year and here we are with all the photos and notes from the tasting session to share with you. Plus, a giant bag of precious heirlooms and a recipe for extending their lifespan just a little longer. 

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part III: New Indochina

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part III: New Indochina

2017 has been an exciting year for Southeast Asian cookbooks. I've compiled a list of newly released cookbooks that highlight the cuisines of mainland Southeast Asia, historically known as Indochina and includes Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

I've had the privilege to visit all these countries and enjoy the amazing food, and I really value the opportunity presented in these cookbooks to recreate some of the recipes in my own kitchen, all the way here in California. Thailand and Vietnam dominate the list, a testament to the popularity of their food in the West, while the release of a cookbook by a successful Burmese restaurant chain signals a growing interest in the food of Myanmar. I would love to see more attention given to the food of Laos and Cambodia as I think their contribution to the identity of the Southeast Asian flavor profile should be acknowledged. 

I'm saving the Malaysian cookbooks for another list so come back here for the next installment in this series. To see the previous lists on this cookbook series, click here for the classics and here for travel-themed cookbooks.

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Asian Style Pesto Noodles with Roasted Green Onions

Asian Style Pesto Noodles with Roasted Green Onions

Is it obvious that I'm mad about cilantro and green onions? It's very common for these greens to appear as garnishes in Asian food, hence the liberal sprinkling you see on many of the dishes I've written about here and here. Every now and then, I do something radical with them, like green onion hummus

One of my favorite ways to eat these greens together is in a Chinese dipping sauce that often comes with poached chicken in Malaysia. And that is essentially the basis of the ingredients in this flavor-packed pesto. 

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Thai Basil Zucchini and Bell Pepper

Thai Basil Zucchini and Bell Pepper

I could very well say that vegetables make me a better cook. When I first moved to the US about three years ago, I spent countless weekends at the farmer's markets. It was from there that I discovered new vegetables and learned how to cook seasonally. Those trips motivated me to volunteer on a farm, find out how food was grown, and try to grow my own vegetables

Zucchini was one of the first few things we planted during my first summer here.

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Vegetarian Pad Thai with Fishless "Fish" Sauce

Vegetarian Pad Thai with Fishless "Fish" Sauce

I love it when a recipe challenges and teaches me a few new tricks. This vegetarian Pad Thai sparked an entire post about fishless fish sauce, in which I set out to investigate the commercial fish sauce substitutes available in my local Asian supermarket and put three vegan fish sauce recipes to the test at home. Click here to read the results and find the vegetarian fish sauce to make this all-time favorite Thai noodle dish.  

There are a few things we can learn from this recipe found in the brilliant vegetarian cookbook Good Veg by Alice Hart. Most important of them is that whether you call yourself vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or lessmeatarian, meatless cooking poses more delicious opportunities than you realise. This book is filled with ideas highlighting flavor profiles from all over the world, including to my delight many recipes inspired by Asia and Southeast Asia.

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part II: The Classics

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part II: The Classics

I only started using cookbooks after I moved to the US and had to learn how to cook Malaysian food while away from home. It was equal parts desperation and curiosity that led me to the kitchen and the creation of this blog to document my culinary adventures. I am a much better cook these days but I didn't achieve that all by myself. I had my parents on the phone for guidance, friends showing me recipes to save my life, and cookbooks providing the proper foundation for lifelong kitchen skills. Yes, an urgent craving for rojak is a matter of life and death!

So this is why I've started writing this cookbook series. Maybe you're homesick like me and need to soothe it with food from home. Maybe you've been to Malaysia or other parts of Southeast Asia, tried the food, and your life is forever changed. Maybe you're curious about Southeast Asian food and want to try cooking it. 

This list is made up of classic Southeast Asian cookbooks with recipes that are as reliable as time. My focus here is on Malaysian food, but you will soon realise that some of the recipes from the neighboring countries are closely related. 

To see the travel-themed books in the first part of this cookbook series, click here. To start cooking, click here for a list of recipes on my blog.

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South Indian Coconut Vegetable Curry

South Indian Coconut Vegetable Curry

When we think of Indian food, the first few things that come to mind are red curries and naan bread. Little do we know that these are generally North Indian staples and there's a whole different world of cuisine in South India.

Take this fresh-looking curry for example. It hails from Karnataka, a state in the south-western region of India, and gets its appetizing green color from a chewy curry paste made with grated coconut and cilantro. It's nothing like the curries we usually get in Indian restaurants here. 

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part I: Travel

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part I: Travel

Cookbooks on Malaysian food are rare in America but that is about to change when three cookbooks solely dedicated to Malaysian cooking hit the market in the next few months. Yes, three, and I am beyond thrilled! This shows a growing interest in Malaysian cuisine, the food I grew up eating, the food I learned to cook from my parents, and the food that soothes a homesick heart in my American kitchen.

Before we get to the new books (covers shown above), I'd like to tell you about the cookbooks that have helped me cook Malaysian food at home since I moved here. With suggestions from friends in the food business, bookstores, and publishers, I've assembled a collection of cookbooks with Malaysian recipes that I think is worthy of the attention of anyone interested in Malaysian cooking at home. These are books that I cook with and I'd like to share them with you through a series of posts starting with this one. 

Today's line-up is a mixture of old and new Southeast Asian cookbooks inspired by travel.

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Chinese Broccoli with Garlic (Gai Lan) + Getting to Know Asian Greens

Chinese Broccoli with Garlic (Gai Lan) + Getting to Know Asian Greens

With the arrival of spring comes the desire to go outside and explore, and one of my favorite things to do is visit the farmer's markets and peruse the stands for new vegetables to try, a passion I've diligently documented in the Spring Discovery series on this website. With the help of friends and vegetable-focused cookbooks, I've made many delicious discoveries since moving to America from Malaysia. 

This year, my focus turns to Asian vegetables, some I grew up eating and took for granted, some I've known about but lost track of since I moved due to name inconsistencies or differences in appearance, and some completely new to me. It's time to get reacquainted with some old friends and make new ones.

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Indian Spiced Okra with Kenyan Coconut Rice + Celebrating Diversity

Indian Spiced Okra with Kenyan Coconut Rice + Celebrating Diversity

Lately I've been making foods that I've never had before, allowing books like Shane Mitchell's Far Afield: Rare Food Encounters from Around the World to guide me in my exploration of new flavors. Whenever life stresses me out, I retreat to the kitchen. If I had to express myself succinctly without delving into the current political climate in the US, I'd say the last few months have been really disturbing.

In cooking I seek solace and I always find it, the discovery of a new ingredient or the excitement of trying a new recipe never fails to provide me with a sense of meaning in a time of confusion. Having Indian-style spiced okra with Kenyan coconut rice on the same plate makes perfect sense for me right now. And yes, they are tasty together!

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Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Peanuts for a long life, sticky rice for togetherness, red beans for love, oranges for good fortune... And all that sweetness for a sweet life in the new year!

Make no mistake, Chinese New Year is about food: the preparation, cooking, and eating are all a part of the ceremonious celebration that lasts about two weeks. It is when we eat special foods that carry symbolic significance for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. It is also when food is in abundance and generously shared to bring forth a full and contented spirit to start the year with. At this time of the year, more is always better and sharing truly is caring!

Today, in celebration of the lunar new year, I have two sweet recipes for you: Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi that are especially delicious enjoyed together. The recipes are adapted from the impressive China: The Cookbook, my friendly cooking companion this festive season. And it could be yours too as I'm giving away a copy! (Scroll down for details on how to win.)  

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A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

On New Year's eve, we stayed in and had sushi with Japanese whisky mixed with coconut water, watched two episodes of Black Mirror over popcorn and ice cream, and fell asleep at 11.30pm. The next day, we woke up without a hangover nor that feeling of regret in the pit of our stomachs. It was the best countdown ever, and the most obvious sign of um, graceful aging. 

Another day, another year. 2017 is here. I slept through its arrival, but I have a whole year to catch up so I'm not going to worry too much about it. Around the same time last year, I was standing on an old wooden ladder to put a fresh coat of paint on our kitchen walls. This year, on the first day of the new year, I was standing in the same kitchen making a cup of Gratitude Tea and counting my blessings.

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