"Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking," by Ming Tsai

Pros: Delicious flavors!
Cons: Occasionally difficult directions
Rating: 4 out of 5

First posted 7/24/2000

My fiancee and I do occasionally watch cooking shows on the Food Network: mostly Good Eats, and Iron Chef. I have a confession to make, though. We’d seen ads for Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West,” and we were totally uninterested in watching it. We love Oriental food, but Ming seemed so… bland. I don’t know how else to explain it.

We regret that decision now. On a lark we got Ming Tsai’s cookbook, Blue Ginger. And I can now say, having made some of his recipes and read some of his commentary, that he is an interesting person and a great chef. Perhaps he just needed a better ad campaign.

First of all, this is a big, thick, heavy cookbook that earns its cover price. It has a nice page in the back that lists conversions between US and Metric measures. He has a good list of mail order sources for various specialty ingredients, a number of which include web site listings.

Working backward, there are some incredible desserts in this cookbook. None of them made me say, “yeah, nice, but I can find that in five other cookbooks” – these are all inspired and unusual. For example, Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with Cardamom Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce. Jasmine Tea Souffles. Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee – which oddly we liked best after it had been torched, and then plastic-wrapped and left in the fridge overnight; it ended up a cross between creme caramel and creme brulee, the best of both worlds. The East-West Spice Cake with Cardamom Cream is divine. I’m looking forward to making the Green Tea Mousse with Sake-Marinated Dried Cherries.

We’ve found a few recipes a little difficult to put together as directed, which is why this cookbook gets a 4 instead of a 5. The Prosciutto and Asian Pear “Maki” was delicious, but messy. The East-West Spice Cake overflowed the ramekins and would perhaps have been better made in an actual cake pan. The wrappers for the Pork and Ginger Pot Stickers with Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce were a little difficult to work with, but they became the best pot-stickers I’ve ever had. Ming’s flavors are perfect.

True to his reputation, Ming mixes traditional Oriental techniques and ingredients with Western techniques and ingredients to marvelous effect. He includes such marvelous recipes as: Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup with Bell Pepper-Bacon Salsa (Soups chapter); Lobster and Mango Summer Rolls, Oyster Corn Fritters with Two-Vinegar Emulsion (Dim Sum chapter); Sticky Rice Pouches with Garlic Flashed Scallops (Rice and Noodles chapter); Crispy Scallops with Carrot-Star Anise Syrup (Seafood); Pomegranate-Marinated Squab with Thai Quince Chutney (Birds); Spiced Venison with Parsnip Puree and Parsley Oil (Meat); Tea-Smoked Salmon with Wasabi Potato “Latkes” and Fuji Apple Salad, Lobster in Lemongrass Broth with Truffled Shiitake Flans (“Over the Top”).

Each recipe is introduced with a few words from Ming, often working in family tidbits or the background of various recipes. I often skip these sorts of things in most cookbooks, but his are interesting and include useful details about the recipes.

There are a number of black-and-white pictures in this cookbook. Some are for atmosphere more than an actual look at the recipes, but they are beautiful. In the middle of the cookbook (and in a couple of other places) you’ll find a handful of gorgeous full-color photos of Ming’s creations.

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