One of the most overlooked part of a cookbook is the section of sauces and seasonings. It’s often placed in the back with few or no photos, in a chapter that’s unceremoniously titled “Sauces” or “Basics”. If you’re a cookbook reader who only goes for recipes with pretty pictures, you’re likely missing out on a treasure trove of secret recipes. I always look at that section of the book because that’s where a cookbook writer or chef stores key and oft-used recipes that they rely upon. It’s not a discard section of the book but rather chock full of ideas and techniques that will help you master the recipes in the book and perhaps use to tweak your regular repertoire.
That’s how I ended up with over 2 cups of Dale Talde’s kung pao sauce in my fridge. Talde is based in New York and highly creative, mixing and matching ideas. He’s Filipino-American but his cookbook, Asian American, mixes traditions. For example,Thai miang kam, usually served on wild betel leaves (la lot) are prepared with Japanese shiso, Korean sesame leaves and Vietnamese tia to (all three are perilla leaves but with different flavors). Char siu pork is served with an apple salad and tahini mustard. I can imagine this kind of food in modern cafes in Asia but it’s happening in Brooklyn, New York. There’s also a nachos recipe.
The book's tone is slightly irreverent but also peppered with humility. The occasional image of Talde with overly endowed women send a message of parody. His outfit always includes an apron to remind you that he's a cook. He often sports a goofy look even as he tries to look tough. In all honesty, I ignored most of the images and paid attention to the text, which is full of verve. Asian American is a fun book that unleashes fresh ideas to consider and tinker with.