When is it just as much fun to “read” a cookbook as it is to cook the recipes? When your cookbook is “The Illustrated Wok,” which doubles as both a cookbook and a work of art.
“The Illustrated Wok” is a Chinese cookbook, but calling it that alone seems an understatement. The book was put together by a thoughtful group of editors and writers at The Cleaver Quarterly, an online journal of contemporary Chinese cuisine. The editors began by reaching out to 40 “next-generation” chefs, asking each to choose one restaurant-quality recipe that reflected their deep connection to Chinese cuisine. Next, they assigned each recipe to a different illustrator, giving them the challenge of using their art to bring the dish to life.
Why illustrations? As the editors put it, “Illustrators can make your mouth water with photo-realistic renderings, but they go beyond photography in their ability to conjure up unreal scenes, bring metaphors to life, sculpt space, and collapse time.” The result is a book that is both beautiful and widely varied from page to page, with images ranging from classical to pop art to fantasy.
We received this book as a gift and it was such a delight we couldn’t wait to a) just sit down and read the whole thing; and b) cook recipes from it – and what better response could you hope for from a cookbook?
We picked a recipe that was relatively easy and required fairly basic ingredients that most of us would either have on hand or easily be able to purchase. The recipe – Dry Fried Green Beans with Charred Ginger & Peanut Sauce – borrows from Sichuan tradition but takes it in a new direction. The beans, which would traditionally be deep-fried, are instead stir-fried on a wok and flavored with a zesty peanut sauce.
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
- 3 T. chunky peanut butter
- 3 T. soy sauce
- 1 T. rice vinegar
- 1 T. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice
- 2 T. oil for frying
- 1 lb. green beans, trimmed
- Heat a wok or cast-iron skillet on high heat until lightly smoking. Add the ginger slices and char on both sides until slightly blackened, about 4 minutes. Remove the ginger from the pan and mince it. Combine ginger with the next five ingredients, then whisk or blend thoroughly.
- Add the oil to the pan (carefully, if it's still hot), and heat on high until simmering. Add the green beans and stir briefly to coat in the oil, then let them sit for a minute or two to brown. Continue to toss every minute or so to let new beans blacken against the hot surface of the pan, until most of the beans have dark spots and the remainder are still bright green - approximately 6-8 minutes.
- Remove beans from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and toss with the sauce. Serve on its own, or over noodles or rice.
The result? This recipe is super-tasty, super-easy, and (perhaps best of all) super-fast. And as you’re letting the beans char, you can possibly do double duty on another cooking task, like working on a main course or some rice.
Want to incorporate the kids into the cooking process? Chef Li recommends having your youngest kids snap the ends off the beans for you. Young kids can also help put together and whisk the peanut sauce. Last but not least, your older, stove-competent kids can supervise the stirring of the beans in the wok.
We’ll be spending more time curled up with this book in the next few months, so we’ll let you know if we have more favorite recipes. In the meantime, if you want your own copy, you can order one for $25 from The Cleaver Quarterly here.
Blogger disclosure: This cookbook was given to me as a gift from a family member. This post represents my opinions alone. I have no affiliation with the book or its publishers.