When I went gluten-free in 2004 the food I missed the most wasn't bread, cake, or cookies. It was Asian food. I would eat Chinese, Korean, and Thai nearly every week, either at lunch during my work-day or dinner with the family. Finding a gluten-free option at any restaurant is a challenge, and the language barrier present at many Asian restaurants complicates things even further. You might be fortunate to have a P.F. Changs or a PeiWei nearby, but their limited GF menu can get boring.
So, I was very excited to receive The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura Russell. Flipping through it, the first thing I noticed was that it's a lovely book design. There are full-page color photos throughout, the color palette is nice rusty-red and gold, and the typography is pleasing. Ordinarily I prefer to read a page set in a serif type (think Times or Garamond), but the more modern slab serif and sans serif typefaces chosen by this designer is a comfortable read and looks cool too. The cover features french-flaps (looks like a dustjacket, but it's on a paperback book) with metallic gold ink on the inside. This high production value easily makes it a good gift book.
Ginger's recent birth gave me the opportunity to be the cook in the house. The first recipe I choose was Russell's Thai Coconut Chicken Soup. We're no strangers to unusual ingredients here at the Spunky Coconut, but I needed to buy four things I had never seen before. Far from discouraged, I saw this as a fun grocery-mission. I had no problem finding Asian fish sauce. Thai Kitchen sells it near their coconut milk, and it even says "gluten free" on the label.
Fresh lemongrass wasn't at my local health food store, so I bought a bag of dried. For my first attempt I just threw a bunch in the simmering soup. Don't do this. The soup wasn't cooking long enough to soften the dry grass, so it felt like I was eating the occasional pokey pine needle. For the second time I put the dry lemongrass in a ball tea infuser, which worked well. The flavor went into the soup, and I easily pulled the leaves out before serving. I eventually did find fresh lemongrass. Oddly enough, it wasn't at Whole Foods or any other specialty store. It was at Safeway. It's not organic, but it's used in such a small amount that I'm not concerned.
I had never heard of galanal before, and never found it. The book suggested using fresh ginger rood instead, which worked great. I haven't found kaffir lime leaves, but lime zest is an easy substitute. It will be fun hunting for these atypical ingredients, but in the mean time it is no problem using more conventional substitutes.
The soup was delicious and I'm excited to try more recipes. Russell's book has a nice variety of sauce, noodle, vegetable, poultry, and meat dishes. There is a useful guide to ingredients, which explains what things are, where to find them, and which are at risk for gluten. The book design itself is sharp and would look good on any shelf.