Adventures with the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Understanding cooking as a communal act is a central premise in Patricia Tanumihardja’s The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. That’s why when I first decided to tackle making a dim-sum favorite from scratch, I didn’t attempt it alone. I asked my friend and neighbor, Jeanette, someone more experienced in the art of Asian cooking than I, to join me.

Asian GM

Jeanette is also the one responsible for my newfound love of the 99 Ranch Market. Mark my words. Do not be intimidated by your local Asian grocery. Explore. Enjoy. If your trips are anything like mine, they will undoubtedly yield simple treasures (pristine portobello mushrooms for significantly less money than seems reasonable) and unexpected delights (red bean ice cream!—who knew?). The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook is also an informative resource for those who are unfamiliar with the staples of Asian cooking. Hint: White pepper and sesame oil are versatile must-haves for your pantry!

So after rigging a makeshift steaming operation using a mismatched skillet/basket/lid and investing some time prodding and primping the skins . . . the gloriously authentic result is pictured here: Our shiu mai was a hit!

Though my grandmother happened to be Norwegian and not Asian, I know she would be proud of our accomplishment. Like many of the women who inspired Tanumihardja’s collection, my grandmother knew the value of a well-cooked meal and wasn’t afraid to spend extra time and effort making something special to nourish her family.

Maybe your grandma taught you how to make Norwegian rømmegrøt, or oyako donburi, or nothing at all. Regardless, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook offers a wealth of ethnic specialties that are accessible to the modern home cook. And whether they’re of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, or Indian descent, it’s clear that all of these Asian grandmothers have something delicious to add to the mix. So follow their lead: Take some time to slow down and savor the legacy of another generation’s or another culture’s culinary favorites. You won’t regret it!

Shiu Mai (Pork and Shrimp Cups)

Dried black mushrooms give these tidbits an earthy flavor while water chestnuts add crunch. And this dim sum staple is easier to make than you may think. Look for fresh or frozen round shiu mai skins in Asian markets—the thinner the better. If you can’t find shiu mai skins, thicker gyoza or wonton skins (trim off square corners before using) will do. The skins come in packs of about 50.

Time: 2 1/2 hours

Makes: 3 dozen (10 to 12 servings)