In the past, Asian cooking has had me flumuxed.
Time and again, I would traipse down to Chinatown, armed with high hopes and a shopping list of exotic ingredients. I would spend hours chopping, dicing, mincing and grating. I followed every recipe to the letter, standing red-faced over a steaming wok, surrounded by countless bowls of garlic, ginger, and the like, watching and waiting for the magic to happen.
It never did.
No matter what I was making or how much care I took, the food felt heavy, glutinous, over-sauced - just one step removed from fairly average take-away.
And then, I met Kylie.
For me, opening a Kylie Kwong cookbook is like entering a culinary portal where producing light, delicately balanced, Chinese-inspired cuisine is suddenly within my power.
Her approach is simple: use only the freshest, best-quality ingredients you can afford and then don't tamper with them too much. Let the food stand on its own merits.
In South Australia, where we have access to beautiful, locally grown produce year round, this is easy to do, and the quality of the raw ingredients, I find, is more than adequate to make up for any personal failings of my own.
Add to this the fact that Kylie Kwong is a natural teacher and story-teller, and I am 90% of the way there.
When I read her recipes, which are more essay-and-tutorial than ingredient-and-sequence-of-events, I feel that I am entering her world, seeing food and cooking through her eyes, as an engaging and gratifying, whole-of-life experience rather than a chore, undertaken out of necessity and in isolation. Her passion is both palpable and infectious.
Most importantly, the instructions are comprehensive enough to provide the final, and previously missing, ingredient: confidence. With Kylie, I never feel that I am cooking in the dark, aiming for target I cannot even see, let alone taste.
Stumped for a weekday dinner menu for guests, I recently turned to her website and, of course, found the answer:
Although I'd never attempted either dish before, I was confident that they would turn out - thanks to Kylie, not me. And they did. Teamed with brown rice and blanched asparagus, topped with soft-boiled eggs, dill and parsley (another Kylie special), it was a simple, lovely meal - special and delicious, but not too taxing for a Tuesday. Success.
Thank you, Kylie.