The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen, by Laura B. Russell

© Laura B. Russell

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Many gluten-free cookbooks aim to take the most common gluten-containing meals and transform them into substitutes safe for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance to eat. This works fine, but some of the cookbooks wind up with a disturbing sameness to them, since they cover many of the same subjects (i.e., pasta, breads and baked goods).

The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen, by Laura B.

Russell, represents a refreshing alternative to cookbooks explaining how to transform typical American cuisine to fit the gluten-free diet, since it focuses exclusively on Asian dishes — those from Thailand, Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam.

The lavishly-illustrated volume, which contains around 100 gluten-free Asian recipes, makes truly gluten-free Asian cuisine accessible for anyone with the time and ambition to collect the necessary ingredients.


Book Decodes Asian Gluten Ingredients


It's tough enough identifying gluten on food labels in the supermarket — many people (me included) are intimidated by the idea of trying to choose safe ingredients in an ethnic or international store where there's also a language barrier.

Russell makes this task easier, with a detailed guide to the ingredients she uses in her recipes that specifies where to find them (grocery store, natural foods markets and/or Asian/international markets), and a clear notation when those ingredients may contain gluten.

In addition, she spends another several pages on tools and techniques needed to properly prepare various Asian dishes. You're likely to already own some of the tools (most of us have basic frying pans and saucepans in our kitchens), but you'll almost certainly need a steamer for some of these recipes, and you may want to invest in a wok, as well.


Recipes Include Sauces, Stir-Fry Dishes, Desserts


Once you've digested the ingredients lists and the instructions on technique, you're ready to delve into the recipes ... which means you're in for a treat. The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen is gorgeous, with photographs that entice you to try new cuisines.

You've got plenty of choices here, ranging from appetizers (it's such a pleasure to be able to have Asian-style appetizers that aren't drenched in wheat-containing soy sauce) to desserts such as Thai mango with sweet rice. There's even one for a blackberry mojito, made with sake instead of rum.

In between appetizers and dessert, you'll find recipes for multiple stir-fries and other dishes that stem from different Asian cultures. For example, Russell includes recipes for Green Curry Chicken (one of my favorite Thai dishes) and Kung Pao Chicken (which I haven't had since I went gluten-free).

There's also a lengthy section on recipes made with various Asian noodles — mainly rice noodles, but also soba noodles (made with buckwheat) and even sweet potato noodles. To help you identify the various noodles (and make sure you're getting gluten-free varieties), Russell includes a pictorial guide.


Recipes Require Time, Specialized Ingredients


There's no getting around the fact that you'll need to devote some time to these recipes — both to obtaining the various ingredients and to learning how to cook them once you've got them. However, that's not unique to Russell's collection of recipes — any Asian recipe collection (gluten-free or not) will require that kind of time commitment. Simply put, well-made Asian cuisine is complex (which is why pre-made sauces are so popular).

You also don't have to make a complete main course every time. Some of the sauces will freeze well, and Russell recommends keeping them on hand in either the refrigerator or freezer to dress up simple chicken breasts or fish fillets, or to create a quick mid-week stir-fry dinner.

I like this idea, and may implement it myself.

However, what makes The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen so special is the time Russell takes to decode the unfamiliar ingredients, explain where gluten can lurk in each, and detail where you might find them most readily.

Given the well-worded, detailed instructions, I won't hesitate to delve into the aisles of an Asian grocery store, on the hunt for noodles made from acorn starch or kuzu root. And I also won't hesitate to try gluten-free Asian dishes outside my cooking comfort zone.


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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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