cookbook club: To Asia, With Love

Welcome to the second book of our summer cookbook club! Our theme this season is Summer Vegetables – perfect for a time when local farmers’ markets are thriving, and maybe even your home garden. After easing into our vegetable-focused cooking adventure with Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast: Spring, Summer, we begin our journey of exploration of other continents. Asia and Africa await!

summer cookbook club selection

Our next book is To Asia, With Love: Everyday Asian recipes and stories from the heart by Hetty McKinnon. This is Hetty’s fourth book. Beginning with Neighborhood, then to Community, and Family – with each we join her on a journey continuously closer to her heart.

Not only did we have the opportunity to cook from this delightful book, we also had the pleasure of welcoming Hetty McKinnon into our group meeting last week. She is an absolute delight and we were all grateful for the time she took to share her story and answer all our pressing questions!

Hetty McKinnon was born and raised in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Brooklyn. Her parents are from Guangdong province, not far from Hong Kong. Like many first-generation kids, she grew up with a rich menu of traditional old-world dishes and a good dollop of the new. And the new was quite diverse – Sydney, like New York City, has a bubbling melting pot of cuisines at the heart of its culinary culture. 

In Sydney, McKinnon’s interest in food and love of feeding people led her to start a salad delivery service, delivering throughout her neighborhood by bicycle.  That grew into the Arthur Street Kitchen, which in turn inspired three cookbooks. In 2017 she launched Peddler, a twice-yearly recipe-driven magazine documenting “the in-between moments of food – from the ingredients, to the making, the eating, the sharing, and all the small moments in-between.” Peddler then inspired a podcast called The House Specials that I highly recommend.

Her fourth and most recent book, To Asia, With Love, is more personal. It’s about her own vegetarian home cooking. But it’s really about her parents. 

about the book

“This book is a celebration of how flavor can so powerfully connect us to our past and create pathways to our future.”

Hetty McKinnon

I love to read cookbooks. Honestly, before this cookbook club, I rarely actually cooked from my books. I devour new cultures, ingredients, techniques, and flavor combinations. It’s the words that matter most to me. Pictures are nice too. But I want to know the story behind them.

To Asia, With Love is a real love story. Even the end papers tell part of that story (no spoilers here, but if you ask in the comments, I’ll tell you there). McKinnon took the photos herself. With her father’s old camera. With real film! She writes of her experiences as a mother cooking for her family while recalling memories of her own mother’s kitchen. The sentiment is universal – especially for those with closer connections to immigrant roots. Yet the experience of reading them is intimate.

rooted in the east. hints of the west. global interpretations.

The recipes in To Asia, With Love are about real-life home cooking. Cooking from a home pantry that is made up of all the familiar flavors that reflect your life, so far. Bottles and jars containing memories and souvenirs of places you lived, places and people you loved, and the building blocks of personal history. In Hetty McKinnon’s case, that’s sesame oil, soy sauce, condensed milk, vegemite, and so many different kinds of noodles (and more!).  

I haven’t really written much about the fact that all the recipes are vegetarian, and most are gluten-free (or offer suggestions). That’s because you don’t really notice. And I mean that as a compliment (coming from a devoted omnivore). The recipes are easy and enjoyable to read, simple to prepare, and deeply satisfying to tuck in to. If you want to add meat or seafood, no problem. But try them as they are. Maybe you won’t miss it. 

the cooking part… what we cooked

Breakfast
Leftover Rice Jook with toppings
Condensed Milk French Toast
Miso Oats with Egg & Avocado 
Lunch
Smashed Cucumber Salad with Tahini & Spicy Oil
Bánh mì Salad
Spicy Sesame “Tantanmen” Ramen
Red Curry Laksa Noodle Soup 
Dinner
Sheet Pan Chow Mein 
Peppery Bean Sprouts with Tofu
Cumin Tofu Stir-fry
Mapo Tofu
Pad Thai Salad with Shredded Cabbage & Kale
Dessert
Flourless Soy Sauce Brownies
Mango Pudding
Lychee Ginger Soft Serve 
  • Pepper tofu noodles
  • Cucumber Salad
  • cucumber salad with sesame
  • French toast breakfast
  • Miso Oats
  • Rice Jook
  • miso eggplant
  • mango pudding
  • veggie dumplings
  • Beet Dumplings
  • Veggie Chow Mein
  • everything oil
  • grilled caesar
  • black and green beans
breakfasts 

The breakfast recipe selection is where east and west really do collide. In my experience, in Asia most breakfast is savory and often based on noodles or rice in broth. There are a few great options for exploring this style of breakfast. But there are also a couple standouts for new twists on global favorites, like the Tomato and Egg “Shakshuka” and my personal favorite, Condensed Milk French Toast. That one left me wondering, “where have you been all my life?”

smashed cucumber salad with tahini and spicy oil

So easy. So simple. So delicious! Toasted sesame paste is common in some Chinese cuisine. But it’s not always easy to find. But tahini is. This is just another example of where McKinnon makes it easier for us to get to the real point – enjoying the delicious food!

red curry laksa noodle soup

My first experience with laksa was at a restaurant in NYC that was a magical mash-up of flavors from Singapore and Australia and France and who-knows-where else. I just assumed the laksa was repping Singapore. Turns out, it’s also a traditional comfort food in Sydney. Learned something new. And I also got to enjoy my own trip down memory lane while slurping laksa noodles in the comfort of my own home.

dumplings!

I didn’t get around to making dumplings (yet). But several club members did and shared their process. The fun thing about the dumpling recipes in To Asia, With Love is the flavor combinations! No boring veggie dumplings here. McKinnon offers a dozen options by season so you’re using the freshest and most flavorful. For us, that included beet and ricotta, peas and chives, and zucchini, pesto, and goat cheese. 

sheet pan chow mein

Hands down the most popular recipe in the book, I think. First of all, sheet pan anything is huge these days. But more importantly, this stuff is GOOD. And it makes the best Chinese left-overs ever. I know of a couple dozen homes that will be eating this on the regular after last week’s class!

lychee ginger soft serve

Another recipe I haven’t made yet. This time because of an equipment issue. Not an ice cream maker – that’s not necessary! Now that my new food processor and blender are here, I’ll be making this next. I’ve been told by reliable sources that this is worth rush shipping charges! Adjust the ginger quantity to suit your taste.

flourless soy sauce brownies

If anything, I’d like more soy sauce flavor in these brownies (not something you’d expect to read, huh?). That said, these are the gooiest fudgiest most satisfying brownies I’ve had since I’ve been living on land full time (a reference to my America’s Test Kitchen days). Everyone else who tried them agree with me. Our biggest challenge with the recipe? They need to set up for at least an hour after baking (preferably overnight if you want them to look good). Don’t care what the look like? Still give them the hour. Totally worth the wait.

Have you cooked from any of Hetty McKinnon’s books? I’d love to hear what your favorites were and what you thought. Leave me a comment below!

Want a copy of the beverage pairing matrix I created for this menu? Follow me on Instagram and send a direct message with your email address – I’ll send the beverage pairings for To Asia, With Love AND Greenfeast: Spring, Summer!

In closing, as always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC. Their beloved live program, Talks & Tastes, went virtual and we’ve all reaped the benefits of this twist of fate. If you missed this season’s club registration, stay tuned, we’ll return in the fall with four exciting new books!

You can catch up with my previous post HERE.


Sign up for my newsletter and follow @Wander.Eat.and.Tell on Instagram to be one of the first to know when registration opens for the Summer Cookbook Club!

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