Yummer Reading

Yummer Reading

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

by Fuchsia Dunlop

W.W. Norton, 256 pp., $29.95

Fushsia Dunlop's first book, Land of Plenty (see "Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa," December 12, 2003), had a huge impact with Sichuan cuisine fans, and the glowing advance word on this, her new Hunan-centric effort, prompted many of her fans to order the British version before it was released here in the States.

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook lives up to the hype and, in the manner of Land of Plenty, reveals the subtle intricacies of Hunan's spicy, bold, colorful, graceful, and subtle cuisine. Native son Chairman Mao once said that you can't be revolutionary if you don't eat chiles, but the region's food is much more multidimensional in flavor than his proverb. Smoked, stewed, and steamed dishes are as important as piquant stir-fries, while sweet flavors are largely absent.

Dunlop gives her customary in-depth analysis of the historical forces that shaped the cuisine, the background, legend, anecdote, and the techniques and ingredients required. She concentrates on street foods and hearty home-style dishes, which are the most accessible for the Western cook. Many of the 120 dishes, such as Aromatic Duck Salad, offer multiple variations on the original recipe.

The reader will find simple dishes that are easy to prepare; all are dishes that go together quickly but yield surprisingly complex results. One taste of steamed-rice-studded Pearly Meatballs, bacon and smoked bean curd with black beans, colorful dry-braised trout with shiso leaves, yellow-cooked salt cod with fresh chiles, chicken with silver needle tea, Chairman Mao's favorite red-braised pork, or beef slivers with coriander, and you'll know that you're not at your local corner strip-mall Chinese buffet. These are the recipes that she coaxed from the peasant master cooks from all of the regions of Hunan province.

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