I had never actually cooked anything by Rick Stein before until I came across this book while bored and thinking of what to cook for dinner. Of course, I knew who he was. I knew he was adored by many a housewife, and, after cooking a few recipes from his book, I most definitely joined the fan club.
Far Eastern Odyssey is incredible. Originally I was going to lift some pages out of my parent’s book (shhh) but I realised I would be taking 90% of it, so I’m most definitely going to be buying it. Featuring food from Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it truly encompasses the far East of Asia. To date (and over only a handful of weeks) I have made 12 dishes from the book, and would have loved to have made more but didn’t have time to get the right ingredients. My dinner table has been replete with mouth-watering dishes from burning hot prawn and noodle salads to slow cooked, melt in your mouth braised pork.
Far Eastern Odyssey features big, bright and captivating pictures which draw you in and make you want to cook the food while at the same time giving you a glimpse of Asia as Stein experienced it. Recipes are written in a minimalist font allowing for easy reading – no over the top, poncey fonts like in some cookbooks. He also added in handy conversion tables at the back, and descriptions of ingredients which may be unusual to the reader. Though some ingredients can be hard to find they are essential for the dishes, and are most definitely worth seeking out.
One point I should make is that this book is not for those looking for a quick, easy meal: while the recipes aren’t too difficult to make they can be time consuming, with spice pastes and other meal components being made by scratch. Doing so results in an incredibly flavoursome meal which is impossible to achieve using pre-made ingredients.
Another point, which one will inevitably find if they were to buy the book, is that if you use the same amount of chilli Stein does, you may be burned from the inside out. Well, that’s a little extreme, but here is an example of the chillies included in just one spice paste I made: 8 dried red Kashmiri chillies, and 6 medium-hot red chillies. While Kashmiri chillies are not very hot and are mainly used for the colour and light flavour they impart, when used in bulk like that and with the other chillies, the result for most people would be inedible. This is easily solved, though: just don’t add as much chilli. Simple.
For those who are pressed for time, or just can’t be bothered with my waffle, here is a summary of the pros and cons.
- Exquisite dishes (which is the most important, at the end of the day): literally every single one I have tried so far has been incredible.
- A large selection: from a seven countries comes 150 dishes, and there is enough to cater to everyone.
- Easy to read
- Visually appealing: as much a feast for the eyes as a feast for the belly
- Good guidance: Stein holds your hand and walks you through each step in the recipe
- Story telling: interesting excerpts and small stories at the beginning of each recipe and each chapter
- Contains helpful conversions, notes, useful equipment, descriptions of unusual ingredients, and even suppliers.
- Some ingredients can be hard to find, and quite a few others aren’t a common pantry item
- Some recipes can be quite involved and take a while to make (but they’re worth it!)
If you like good Asian food and don’t mind spending more than twenty minutes cooking dinner, buy this book. The variety, flavours, and general quality of the book are incredible. I’m hungry thinking about it.
Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey can be bought here
The beautiful images in the book were taken by James Murphy Photography, make sure you check out their site!