I get the feeling that parts of Australia are a bit like the Bay Area–an abundance of top quality produce and cuisine influenced by Europe and Asian settlers. There is also a lack of orthodoxy, a flexibility and willingness to experiment when it comes to food. All of this can be found in the cookbooks written by Kylie Kwong. Kylie Kwong is a television personality, celebrity chef and restaurateur in Australia of Chinese descent. While I’ve never seen any of her television shows, or dined in her restaurants, I am a big fan of her recipes and her style.
The first book of hers I became acquainted with was Simple Chinese Cooking. Like all of her books the photography is excellent, the recipes straightforward and the writing clear. But what really impressed me was her choice of recipes. There were some very traditional ones like Hot and Sour Soup and Dry Fried Sichuan Beef, but there were also salads! Not just Chinese Chicken Salad, but Eggplant Salad, Soy-Dipped Radish Salad, and Tofu and Celery Salad. This is simple stuff that could be done on a weeknight but is exciting and filled with vibrant flavors. And she isn’t afraid to tweak the classics either, like adding a salad layer of iceberg lettuce to a “mapo” style dish of ground pork and tofu.
My favorite Kylie Kwong book of all might be Heart and Soul. Knowing the title probably tells you everything you need to know. These are the recipes the author loves the most. When you are passionate about something, anything, it shows. The book features gorgeous photos and great recipes but this time they are not just Chinese recipes, although they sometimes have a Chinese sensibility like the Roast Cinnamon Chicken with Lemon and Cider Vinegar Dressing. A more French style of roasting a bird is employed with pepperberry butter smeared under the skin but the tangy lemon and vinegar adds piquancy to the dish that feels somehow Chinese. There is also Braised Moroccan Style Baby Lamb Shanks, Italian Mushroom Ragout and some recipes using decidedly Australian ingredients like Fresh Mud Crab Salad and Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce.
The third Kylie Kwong book in my collection is called Kylie Kwong: Recipes and Stories. While it’s actually the first book in publishing order, it’s the third book I read and it’s the most personal of the lot. It’s all about Kylie Kwong’s extended family and their recipes, so many of the recipes come with a story or two. It reads a bit like a memoir and having already been intrigued by her other books and recipes, I wanted to savor every page. It’s particularly fun to see how each of her siblings approach a similar recipe like chicken wings. I also enjoyed seeing her mothers recipes, because we are all influenced by our parents cooking in one way or another, right? The recipes for Chris’s Spicy Dry Fried Green Beans, Mum’s Bread and Butter Pudding and Goong Goong’s Homemade Pickles are favorites of mine from this book. With her easy style, enthusiasm for great ingredients and focus on basic techniques you are bound to find your own favorite recipes in each of her books.