Andrea Nguyen’s new cookbook, “Asian Tofu” (Ten Speed Press, $30), might sound like a succinct, single-subject treatise. However, the book—her third—is actually a robust tome, almost like a biography of the soybean, from how it’s used in multiple Asian cuisines to how it’s relevant in contemporary American food culture.
Nguyen, who lives in Santa Cruz but grew up in San Clemente, uses nearly 100 diverse recipes to tell this story. Her clear descriptions of the various forms of tofu are so useful that it will inspire you to get a shopping list together. I love that she includes super-clear, compelling instructions for making tofu at home. I haven’t yet, but I know it’s only a matter of time.
While Nguyen is realistic about most cooks buying tofu in the familiar rectangular plastic tub—she cites both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as having great product—in O.C. we’re lucky to have delicious options. One of the real treats in “Asian Tofu” is her description of Dong Phuong Tofu in Westminster, maker of artisanal tofu products. “I was just [in Orange County] last week to visit my parents in San Clemente,” she said in email. “Of course, I stopped in Little Saigon for a bowl of pho and to shop. There were warm, freshly made loaves of tofu, so I bought several for my mom.”
Her blog, Viet World Kitchen, is lively and info-packed, and a great complement to her books—the earlier two are “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 2006), and “Asian Dumplings” (Ten Speed Press, 2009). When it comes to food writers who blog, Nguyen was an early adopter, and she continues on the avant edge with enhanced e-book editions of “Asian Dumplings” and “Asian Tofu.”
Something else groovy: Nguyen developed an Asian Market Shopper app, available from iTunes ($3.99). I put it to good use at my favorite 99 Ranch, where with its help I was able to ascertain that I had indeed found the correct type of baked, pressed tofu, as well as the brand of fermented black beans Nguyen recommends. The app’s got photos of most-often-used ingredients, brief but detailed descriptions, even an aural pronunciation guide—plus a selection of pan-Asian recipes from Nguyen, greatest hits like kung pao chicken and pad Thai, linked to the ingredients for each. Now how handy is that to have on your Personal Communication Device?
I’ll have a recipe from “Asian Tofu” in Taste of Orange County tomorrow. (Update: Here’s the recipe―Pressed Tofu and Peanuts in Spicy Bean Sauce.)