Over the last year and a half, I’ve watched my colleagues, and tons of Epi readers, exuberantly cook through the Hetty McKinnon recipes we’ve published on our site: The Deconstructed Falafel Salad from her second cookbook, Family, is one of those rare, elusive perfect salads thanks to its balance of crunchy spiced chickpeas, cooling cucumber, a creamy tahini dressing, and, oh, did I mention it gets served on a bed of pita chips? Her Miso Squash Ramen recipe achieves such depth of flavor, the whole internet can’t stop making it. Her roasted cabbage steaks topped with crispy croutons, spicy chickpeas, and a luscious garlicky mayo proved unequivocally that vegetables can be the main attraction in any meal.
Now, McKinnon’s latest cookbook, To Asia, With Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories From The Heart, is one of the most cookable books of the year. So, at risk of ruining any mystery around the McKinnon magic, here are three clever sweet spots she hits—yet again—in To Asia, With Love.
Vibrant and comforting—and always meatless
McKinnon’s recipes are vegetarian. That’s not revolutionary in 2021—but every vegetarian (or even every enthusiastic green, legume, and grain eater) has that one person in their life who equates vegetarian food with austerity. This book will prove them wrong. But it also doesn’t go OTT trying to prove itself as “fun” vegetarian food.
Bon Appétit’s Sarah Jampel says it best: “As someone who is always struggling to find a vegetarian meal that is (a) not 100 components, (b) not just starches, and (c) also not just vegetables, I really admire the way that Hetty can make a well-balanced, meat-free main.” In To Asia With Love, that’s a potato and chive omelet that she describes as “similar in vibe to a Spanish tortilla, but with much less technique.” Or a gorgeously messy sheet pan of chow mein—one that I’ve already seen replicated on Instagram over and over again. Which brings me to my next point: This food looks impressive...
Either dead simple—or an approachable project
These are highly Instagrammable recipes, but I might not mean that in the way you think. The food isn’t meant to be delicately, artfully plated. Rather, it’s forgiving of a little muss, but still impressive looking enough that you want to share it, whether it’s a weeknight dish or something a bit more special.
In every recipe, each ingredient is essential: “I admire the way she uses ingredients both creatively and judiciously. It doesn't feel like there are any clinger-on-ers because every ingredient serves a purpose,” Jampel says.
Very few of the recipes in To Asia, With Love are project recipes, but flip through once and you might feel pulled to spend an afternoon folding dumpling wrappers around one of 12 filling suggestions, as I did. “Her recipes have a way of encouraging you to do something you’ve never done before, without making you feel like you’re being pushed,” says Epi’s editorial assistant, Tiffany Hopkins, who points to McKinnon’s tutorial on hand-pulled noodles.
Somehow new and nostalgic
I was on my first flip through McKinnon’s new book, and already hungry, when I fell instantly for the smashed cucumber salad. The traditional vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic dressing gets a slightly different treatment: McKinnon adds tahini for creaminess (which also makes the dish a little heartier, taking it from side to main course territory.)
There are occasionally dishes that wax nostalgic, like the Hong Kong–style French toast, a gloriously sticky, condensed milk–drizzled treat. But there are plenty more, like that cucumber salad, that take a dish you might already love and add a little McKinnon twist: an Australian nod to Vegemite appears in a recipe for buttery miso noodles. Her shakshuka takes inspiration from Chinese tomato and egg.
Gloriously (and forgivingly) riffable
To Asia, With Love is a cookbook for new cooks—and seasoned cooks who don’t like to be held to a rigorous set of cooking rules. If you don’t have quite the right ingredient, or if you make a little mistake…you’re fine. As Jampel says, “Hetty’s dishes also aren’t so exacting—there’s often room to reinterpret or tweak—they’re not precious!” Stick to the recipe, or let it spark your imagination—either way, you’re headed somewhere delicious.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious