"A Spoonful of Ginger," Nina Simonds

Pros: Luscious food, clear directions, interesting stories
Cons: Occasional ingredients need to be special-ordered (but only rarely)
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 7/6/2000

Nina Simonds is a resident of Massachusetts who has spent time researching and learning quite a bit about Chinese food. (She also has two other fantastic cookbooks that I know of – Asian Noodles and “Asian Wraps.”) In the process, she learned quite a bit about the Chinese philosophy of “food as medicine.”

The theories are fairly complex. But at their base they’re about Yin and Yang, the two major types of energy, and about balance. In addition there are different types of flavors, associated with different seasons and with different parts of the body.

What all this boils down to is a lot of very delicious recipes, along with tips and hints about which ingredients might be used for which physical effects by Chinese doctors. (And, of course, the note that one should not try to treat one’s own medical problems without oversight from a qualified doctor.)

I have no idea if the Yin/Yang theories are valid, but certainly there are a number of intriguing stories and personal anecdotes peppered throughout the book that tell of maladies treated by these methods. Even Ms. Simonds has found good luck with them – enough so that she felt a cookbook to be in order. Apparently a lot of Chinese home remedies tend to be fairly strong and somewhat unappetizing. So, like the Imperial Herbal restaurant in China from which she takes some of her inspiration, she decided that these remedies should be blended with the finest of Chinese cooking to create dishes that can be enjoyed in their own right, regardless of whether you’re ill.

In this, she succeeded marvelously.

I believe this to be the best of the three cookbooks by Ms. Simonds that I have access to. The Grilled Beef with Thai Spices is absolutely incredible – tender and full of good spicy flavor. The Flash-Cooked Ginger Beef is every bit as good – although the 3/4 cup of shredded fresh ginger may look daunting, it tastes fabulous. The Broccoli with a Soy-Lemon Dressing was pretty good, and I’m not a big fan of broccoli. The Wild Mushroom Fried Rice was a sheer delight, and I thought I didn’t really like mushrooms. The Flaky Scallion Pancakes are so good that you should make a double recipe – the extras are worth the additional time and effort. Best of all, however, is the Two-Spice Vanilla Tapioca Pudding. It’s light, comforting, and richly spiced, and you’d never know that it was made with soy milk instead of cream.

This book is filled with luscious photographs (both full-color ones of food, and black-and-white ones of various people and scenes), fascinating stories, and wonderful food. I would recommend it to anyone with a taste for Asian cooking.

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