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Cracking The Coconut [Hardcover]

Su-Mei Yu
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 21 2000

For centuries Thai cooking has been among the world's most highly regarded cuisines and also among the most mysterious. For the first time the tastes, techniques, and traditions of Thai home cooking have been gathered into one extraordinary book: Cracking the Coconut by renowned Thai chef, teacher, and writer Su-Mei Yu.

More than a simple recipe book, this is a masterful work about the art and history of Thai cooking and the people who have shaped it. But, most important, it's about preparing, eating, and thoroughly enjoying the food of Thailand.

By taking readers step by step through shopping, preparing, and serving, Cracking the Coconut dispels the notion that Thai cooking is difficult. With Su-Mei's engaging narrative and easy-to-follow recipes, Thai cooking is suddenly accessible to everyone.

The wonder of Thai food begins with exquisite contrasts in flavors and textures. Su-Mei carefully explains each ingredient and its importance. Rice is the soul of Thai cooking; coconut is its heart; salt, garlic, cilantro, and peppercorns are its spirit; chile water is the crown jewel; and chiles (prikk) and fish sauce (namm pla) are the high notes and accents in the final dish.

Su-Mei shows you how, through the simple acts of mincing, pounding, and grinding, spices release their wonderfully fragrant oils and scents as they evolve into pastes. These spice pastes are what adds the intensity and depth of flavor so unique to Thai cooking. And of course, there are very detailed instructions for cracking a coconut.

You'll be able to create such evocatively titled dishes as Crying Tiger, Galloping Horse, and A Thief's Salad, which taste as intriguing as they sound. More familiar dishes such as satÉ with peanut sauce, mee krob, cucumber salad, and padd Thai will easily become family favorites.

Cracking the Coconut allows cooks of all levels to re-create the beauty and elegance of Thai home cooking in their own kitchens. From silky Steamed Fish Custard in Banana Pouches and Spicy Green Papaya Salad to zesty sauces and accompaniments to desserts that rival those of any cuisine, Cracking the Coconut will take you on a culinary journey never before possible.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Americans love Thai food. Among the best cookbooks exploring this rich, tantalizing cuisine is chef-restaurateur Su-Mei Yu's Cracking the Coconut. Insisting that there can be no true Thai cooking without homemade "core" preparations (such as various chili pastes), Yu includes precise, accessible recipes for these and other essential ingredients while outlining fundamental techniques in vivid detail. Readers learn the proper hand motions for cracking a coconut, how to wrap ingredients in banana leaves, and how to work a mortar and pestle, the central Thai-kitchen implement. The book's 175 recipes are divided between chapters devoted to essential ingredients or dishes. The chapter on Thai curry ("the signature dish") explores the basics of preparing this exciting fare and includes such delicious recipes as Red Curry with Roasted Pork and Green Banana and Sweet Green Curry with Meatballs. A chapter called "The Secret of Thai Salads" offers recipes for a small repertoire of essential dressings and such tempting recipes as Apricot, Shrimp, and Pork Salad and a salad-feast called, simply, Lamb and Roast Duck. Yu provides cultural notes and cooking lore throughout the book, often drawing from her recipe-hunting travels abroad. It's hard to imagine a better start for anyone wishing to "cook Thai" than this fully illustrated book, which perfectly balances recipes and instruction to make it an innovative standout. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

Owner of San Diego's Saffron Restaurant, Yu takes her Thai cooking seriously: she expects readers to pound curry pastes by hand in a mortar and pestle (a process that takes about 30 minutes)Dand don't even think about using canned coconut milk unless absolutely necessary. In compensation for all this work, Yu provides flawless and authentic recipes full of the fresh flavors of Thailand, such as Grilled Mackerel Salad with pickled garlic, coconut and peanuts and Beef and Pumpkin Stew with kabocha squash and cilantro. Recipes are organized loosely according to main ingredients, and in one chapter simply because they represent "The Thai Philosophy of Food," which consists of juxtaposing contrasting tastes. A chapter on fiery curries includes Red Curry with Roasted Pork and Green Banana and Sour-Orange Curry with Tender Vegetables. Aside from the work of grinding the curry paste, these can be assembled relatively quickly. Another chapter focuses on "The Big Four Seasonings," or salt, garlic, coriander root and peppercorns, and provides a recipe for a paste of the four that can be used in everything from fish batter and deep-frying batter to meatloaf. Noodle dishes are both hot (several types of Pad Thai) and cold (Cool Noodles with Jungle-Style Sauce). Thai salads are original and refreshing: Pomelo and Shrimp Salad and Banana Blossoms with Chicken Salad. Yu also writes beautifully of her own experiences cooking and eating in Thailand. For Thai novices and for those who are seeking to delve more deeply into this sophisticated and often surprising cuisine, this book is a must-have.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Delicious food but time consuming May 21 2003
Su-Mei Yu's book is tasty and yet informative. Not knowing a lot about Thai culture, I found the chapters breaking down the origins of the food to be most interesting. In one instance she gives a synopsis of how important the coconut is to the Thais but also explains how to prepare the coconut so you will be able to prepare the food authentic Thai-style. The instructions on how to prepare the food are very concise and simple.
Most of the recipes are from scratch, which means if you have limited time, it is not the cookbook for you (on avg it takes me 2 hrs to create one dish including the chopping/pounding of the curries and cooking time). All the curries/chile waters/pad thai involve many ingredients, so unless you have a strong interest in Asian cooking, it might not be worthwhile to purchase the book for one recipe. For example, she talks about creating tamarind juice from soaking tamarind pulp in water and advises against short-cuts such as pre-processed tamarind juice. Unless you have other recipes you want to use this ingredient for, its going to sit in your cupboard. I also found that the recipes call for a huge amount of spicy chiles, so cut down on it if you can't handle the heat.
Also, there are a minimal amount of pictures in the book, if you don't have any idea what certain ingredients look like or haven't had exposure to Thai food, you might have a hard time figuring out what the dishes are supposed to look like. Pictures of the ingredients would be very helpful as well.
Overall, the book is one of my favourites. Well written and entertaining, it is a cookbook for serious (and patient) cooks. The recipes are delicious and the flavours are complex. But for beginners of Asian cooking or for people on the go, you might want to try something simpler.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very nicely done! April 16 2002
I had some hesitation in purchasing this book because the name didn't seem very thai, (half thai myself and was raised on the "real deal" as well as have been in several towns in thailand for months at a time pre-cooking years, I didn't want an americanized version of thai food) but then I had seen you on the show Cooking Live where your methods were in the same manner my mother cooks, but more of an easier measuring manner as opposed to trying to write down her recipes by watching her and her "eyeing" measurements! I just have to know the measurements before trying to alter it!
I love this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who would want to learn the basics in traditional and not americanized thai cooking, and also who is not wanting to take the lazy way out as that other reviewer was referring. The book is to show you how to make it from scratch, and not looking for a review of canned goods or just out of the can. If all of the ingredients were exactly the same and just in a can, why would a cookbook even be needed?
I don't know of many grocery stores, let alone asian markets, ESPECIALLY in California that wouldn't have fish sauce! I've lived in 4 different parts of the country since leaving home, and haven't ever had any problem in finding the majority of the ingredients shown in this book. From Indianapolis, to Phoenix, to Las Vegas and now a very small town in Michigan, they have their own asian section in the local grocery stores!
Also, such as the other reviewer criticized Pad thai, each creation varies in the preparation per cook as it would in any family, just as I'm sure everyone has a different way to prepare something as simple as meatloaf. I love this book and its a good substitution for moms cooking, but yes every time I'm at home, I do put in my orders for my moms home cooking, just as any other person would with a great cooking mom! Khap Kuhn Ka Su-Mei!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but neither authentic nor practical March 5 2002
By A Customer
Thai cooking is a passion of mine. As such, I was keen to read Cracking the Coconut to better understand authentic Thai cuisine. While the book did provide amusing stories and descriptions of Thai food and culture, the recipies fell short of providing authentic Thai flavor. Many ingredients not found in local markets can be obtained through mail order and the internet and substitutions are not always the right choice -- miso for shrimp paste, salt primarily used instead of fish sauce, and olive oil and wine anywhere. Yet some recipies are right on the mark.
Comparing the two recipies for Pad Thai is indicitative of the hit-or-miss nature of the book. The signature technique - cracking a coconut-follows a western method and is actually more time consuming and hazardous than using traditional techniques. Even Thai cooks in Thailand don't do all the laborious grating that is required here, they buy the grated pulp or even the milk already processed.
Very few people have the time to start from scratch every time. I think more effort to evaluate products such as curry pastes would make the recipies more approachable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Thai cookbook Feb. 12 2001
After looking at maybe 20 Thai cookbooks and buying a few others, I now wish that I bought this one first.
The author grew up in Thailand, and clearly did extensive culinary research in the preparation for the book. In addition to the recipes, she offers some rather specific techniques as well as background on ingredients. In this sense, it is similar in concept to Rick Bayless' cookbooks on Mexican cooking. While I can't claim an extensive experience in Thai cooking and culture to comment on its authenticity, the ingredients and techniques are identical to those I learned at cooking school in Thailand, and the results taste familiar as well.
I agree with some of the comments above as to the need to some of the somewhat labor intensive preparation of curry pastes she advises. I have made them from scratch (not really that hard, if you have done it a few times and have a strong arm for the mortar and pestle) and used prepared ones, and, while I think the homemade ones are better (more subtle, more complex, more "fresh"), I usually use them only for special occasions. And after the homemade ones have sat in the fridge for a while, the difference is less distinct. But I appreciate a cookbook that at least encourages you to try to make your own paste!
I also agree that the homemade coconut milk exercise is not worth the trouble. The coconuts I can get here in Michigan are just not consistently that good, and I can't tell the difference in the finished product. Still, I was glad that I had a chance to try making it at least once.
Yes, the author does offer substitutions, such as miso for shrimp paste, but she also makes it clear that these are substitutions and describes the rationale for them.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book on Thai cooking
I will probably have to buy a new copy in the next couple of years because the one I currently own is falling apart...especially the sections on making curry pastes. Read more
Published on May 15 2004 by "bertsayers"
5.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the negative reviews
This is the best book on Thai cooking I have come across. I beleive it would be the only book I would like to be a castaway with. Read more
Published on March 9 2003 by Brian Sunderland
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book to have!
I have travelled extensively around the world. I have had truly wonderful authentic meals and some horrible ones too.
I own this book and love it. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2000 by V. Martin
2.0 out of 5 stars Not quite authentic
Sawadee kha. I lived in Thailand for more than 2 years and have frequently travelled back there since, to say that I enjoy eating and cooking Thai food would be an... Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2000
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite What It's Cracked Up to Be.
Cracking the Coconut is quite interesting in exploring traditional Thai cooking as it was done historically. It is a good read but somewhat less useful as a cookbook. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2000 by Eugene Stiles
5.0 out of 5 stars A passionate, wonderful book. Great, easy recipes.
It's clear from the very outset, that Su Mei Yu has a great passion, as well as knowledge and skill when it comes to Thai cooking. She shares them all beautifully in this book. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2000 by Charlie
5.0 out of 5 stars My friend LOVED it.
I am always trying to find new and fun cookbooks for my best friend who is an avid kitchen experimenter. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2000 by Jane Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly More Than Just a Thai Cookbook!!!
"Cracking The Coconut" is much, much more than a Thai cookbook. Within the pages of this book, the reader will learn Thai history and food history. Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2000 by Paula A. Armstrong
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking the Coconut-Classic Thai Home Cooking
Su-Mei Yu's book is extraordinary. It differs from other Thai cookbooks in that she gives you "all" of the secrets that make Thai food sensational. Read more
Published on Aug. 3 2000 by Merry Street
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