Pros: Good range of recipes of various styles and types; delicious dishes
Cons: At least one recipe that really didn’t impress
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 1/2/2004
I recently had the opportunity to make a lot of recipes out of our dim sum cookbooks, so it’s given me a good feel for the differences between them. While Fiona Smith’s Dim Sum: delicious Asian finger food adds an exotic twist to dim sum, and Ellen Leong Blonder’s Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch makes a wonderful starter book, Vicki Liley’s “The Essential Kitchen: Dim Sum” is a more general book. It doesn’t have the level of in-depth instruction that Blonder’s book has, but it certainly has a fair amount. Its recipes are more traditional than those of Smith’s book, but they don’t always come out as well.
Each recipe comes with a beautiful color close-up photo on the facing page. Ingredients and directions are well-separated and clearly delineated, with the directions broken into relatively small paragraphs. Each recipe lists the number of individual items it makes. Even the ingredient and technique sections that begin the book come with handy color photos.
Technique and Ingredients
There are brief sections on serving dim sum, tea to go with dim sum, equipment and utensils, ingredients (a handful, anyway), cooking methods, and forming dumplings and buns. There is also a second, separate glossary of ingredients, this time without pictures, in the back of the book.
It seemed to me that the recipes in this book called for more unusual ingredients than the two other books mentioned above–I had a harder time finding lots of appealing recipes for which I could get ingredients in this book. It’s a close call, though. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, many ingredients can be found in your average grocery store these days, and places like ethnicgrocer.com carry additional items.
How about fresh mango pudding? Mini vegetable spring rolls? Steamed pork ribs? Shrimp balls, or snowpea shoot dumplings? Recipe sections include dim sum classics, dumplings, buns, pancakes parcels and wraps, seafood, pork, vegetables, and desserts.
I like this book’s recipe for Chinese barbecue pork, although it isn’t my favorite. The pork sausage buns are fabulous (the Chinese pork sausage was one of those things I had to order online), although the amount of dough didn’t cover the indicated number of sausage links nearly as well as the pictures and description imply. The steamed pork buns were absolutely wonderful, and the golden shrimp balls were similarly stunning (and I’m not usually all that fond of shrimp).
The quick sweet-and-sour sauce (an amalgamation of ketchup, pineapple juice, tomato paste, sugar, and white vinegar), however, was something that we ended up throwing out. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t good enough to be worth using, either.
The book contains a good range of recipes, some of which you can make without needing any unusual ingredients. The directions are clear and good, and most of the results are quite delicious. There are just enough small flaws, however (like that sauce), to keep me from giving this book its fifth star. It’s quite worth using, but there are other dim sum books I’ll use more often.