"The Essential Kitchen: Steaming," Brigid Treloar

Pros: Wonderful flavors; easy recipes; fantastic photos
Cons: A few hard-to-find ingredients; expensive
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I’m always on the lookout for good healthy cookbooks. Not because I’m a health nut, but because I refuse to sacrifice quality and taste for healthiness. This means that I have to look a lot farther and harder for good healthy cookbooks.

Much of this need is taken up by two series of cookbooks: the Cooking Light Annual Recipes, and the Weight Watchers Annual Recipes (recipes from the magazines bound up in book form each year). But we like variety, so just two series of cookbooks isn’t going to cut it. Hence the purchase of this book, “Steaming.” I’m not honestly all that fond of steaming, even though I know it’s healthy. It can be a pain to do, and it’s hard to beat the flavor-inducing qualities of browning, roasting, or frying food. We decided to try this cookbook anyway. And we’re so glad we did!

The Details

Many of these recipes have an Oriental flare, but not all of them – there’s a wider variety of recipes than that. This cookbook is part of The Essential Kitchen – a recent series of cookbooks from Periplus. This offering is much more impressive than their “Wok” cookbook so far. Most of the gorgeous photos show the use of a bamboo steamer, but a section on equipment near the front will explain plenty of other options to you. There’s also additional information on steaming tips and ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients, some of these recipes do call for ingredients that not everyone will have access to. Luckily this is a relatively infrequent problem (the new one for me was “seasoned tofu pouches” ).

There are 40 recipes – not a huge number – but they’re interesting, flavorful, and well-executed. Most of them are relatively easy, with a few more time-consuming recipes. The photos are very attractive, and the layout is clean and clear: Ingredients are separated from instructions by additional small photos, and instructions are broken up into manageable chunks.

The Recipes

Appetizers and Starters brings us just four recipes: Chili-chicken dumplings, Ginger-sesame pork rolls, Hazelnut and watercress pumpkin soup (it looks gorgeous!), and Chicken balls on rosemary sprigs.

Rice, Noodles and Grains starts off with “perfect steamed rice” and “sushi rice,” and then moves on to some recipes: Sushi tofu pouches, Creamy coconut black rice (last I checked you could get black rice from Indian Harvest), Savory rice bites, Garlic and cumin lentils, and Chicken with apricot and almond couscous stuffing.

Meat and Poultry starts off strong with Mini chili tomato meatballs with udon noodles. These are absolutely delicious and fairly easy; try to find Oriental noodles if you can, as they have a noticeably different texture from normal American noodles and it makes a big difference. There’s Blue Castello and avocado chicken, Pork with mustard pear on potatoes and yams, and Pesto and sun-dried tomato veal.

The Seafood chapter includes a recipe for Snapper with hazelnuts and orange glaze, Thai curry fish in banana leaf cups, Mussels with garlic and lime butter, and Calamari salad with lime and chili dressing.

Vegetables and Salads is a surprisingly strong chapter. The garlic mashed potatoes look wonderful. There are two marinades provided for steamed corn on the cob; the simpler one, which we tried, gave the corn a wonderful yet subtle exotic flavor of soy and garlic. The green beans with macadamia and garlic butter are extremely simple for such a luxurious dish.

There’s even a Desserts section, including Hot mocha and brandied raisin souffle, Mini Christmas puddings, Chinese lemon date and walnut cake, and our favorite, Grand marnier creme caramels. Make sure you keep the water at a low simmer to keep the texture creamy and soft!

We’ve enjoyed every single recipe that has come out of this cookbook. Many of these have gone into our growing “favorite recipes” mental listing. In fact, the only thing that keeps this book from garnering the coveted five out of five is the expense-to-recipes ratio ($17.95 for 40 recipes is high), and the occasional use of hard-to-find ingredients with only a few suggestions for substitution.

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