Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce provided a copy of 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die and produce for me to cook with. I was not compensated in any other way, and all opinions are my own.
Chef Jet Tila will tell you he’s “just a kid from East L.A.”…but with the longest sushi roll, the largest granola bar, Food Network TV personality and a repeatedly Googled and requested Drunken Noodle recipe on his long list of accomplishments, I’d say he’s being pretty modest! Adding to the list is his fantastic new book, 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die, which I received at a media luncheon at Melissa’s Produce, where it was an honor to meet Chef Jet. Filled with fun anecdotes, essential information and recipes packed with “Yum” – as in the actual Thai word yum, that “…translates to the perfect balance of spicy, sour, salty, sweet and savory” 101 Asian Dishes will make you want to run to purchase every ingredient listed so you can get cooking right away!
As we sampled a number of dishes from the book expertly prepared by the chefs at Melissa’s Produce, we heard about Chef Jet’s background. Growing up in Los Angeles with his Chinese grandparents and his parents who were born in Thailand, he learned to cook first from his grandmother. He would shop with her and sit on the counter to watch her cook until he was old enough to help. Then he worked at his family’s restaurants and markets. Because his family ran the only market in the city that had the “exotic” ingredients restaurant kitchens wanted, he met many well-known chefs too. He taught cooking classes in his mother’s back yard, earning a full cover article in the Los Angeles Times in 1999, which increased demand for his classes exponentially.
He expanded his knowledge even more at culinary schools in France and Japan and then honed his skills at great restaurants in L.A. and Las Vegas. He met and was mentored by some Food Network celebrities you may have heard of – Alton Brown (who wrote the book’s forward), Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.
Chef Jet considers himself one of the chefs that are “artisans who want to study and cook the foods from the past that have profoundly influenced and interested them.” He wants to cook the classics and learn about their roots, and understand the hows and whys of each dish. And in learning he teaches us, through his book. From explaining the meaning of yum, to listing the core ingredients found in every Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese kitchen, to notes on shopping and ingredients – including what to substitute and how to make your own – Chef Jet provides so much information you’ll find yourself marking every page multiple times. I read the book like a novel; every recipe has background information, fun facts or recommendations for cooking.
Here are some things I learned from Chef Jet’s presentation and his book:
Don’t use a non-stick pan – you’ll get more and better crispy bits.
An ingredient people don’t use enough is Oyster Sauce. It captures all the flavors better than soy sauce.
Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce is not the same as Sambal Oelek.
Blend big batches of the sauces every month and keep them in squeeze bottles ready to go (a great way to impress your friends!).
Potato starch is better than corn starch for frying – you’ll get a crispier, lighter fry and it will thicken your sauces like corn starch. (Don’t worry if you only have corn starch on hand; it will work just fine!)
The importance of mise en place (having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go, especially for stir frying) – in Chef’s own words: “Wok cooking is the equivalent of a roller coaster: once you’re on, you’re on! There’s no crying, there’s no getting off the ride.”
Picking the dishes to be included in the book was a challenge. Chef Jet considered what people could accomplish anywhere in the country, not just in large markets (as far as accessibility of ingredients and such). What recipes weren’t overly complicated (people can dive deeper later)? What tastes good? Well, From what I can tell everything in this book is going to taste fantastic – I’ve tried two recipes so far; I’ve even made one of them twice!
The Chinese Chicken Salad makes a light but filling savory summer dinner, for sure – and the recipe makes a big batch of dressing so you’ll be able to make more than one large salad without having to make more.
I have made the Mongolian Beef twice, and it’s definitely a keeper! It’s easy and quick to prepare.
You can marinate the meat in advance – for a couple of days, actually – and I also made the sauce ahead. When I was ready to cook, all I had to do was prep the vegetables and heat the wok (mine is nonstick, apologies to Chef!).
Everything works perfectly together – the colors make a beautiful presentation, the sauce is sweet and tangy, the chile peppers bring a bit of heat (of course add more if you’d like!)
Served over rice it’s just delightful! I’m so excited to cook more dishes from this book. Get yourself a copy and you’ll know exactly what I mean ~ in the meantime, try the Mongolian Beef recipe below ~ enjoy, y’all!
Cooking is like Kung Fu – the more you do it, the more enlightened you become about it. Chef Jet Tila
- 1½ lbs. flank steak, trimmed
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tsp. minced (fresh) ginger
- 3 Tbsp. oyster sauce
- 3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbsp. soy suce
- 3 tsp. white vinegar
- ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4-6 dried chiles
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into large dice
- ½ green bell pepper, cut into large dice
- ½ medium onion, cut into large dice
- 2 green onions, sliced
- Slice the flank steak across the grain into ¾"-thick slices on an angle to make planks, then cut the planks ¾" cubes.
- Place the steak in a shallow bowl and add baking soda, salt, cornstarch, water and vegetable oil.
- Massage all the ingredients into the meat.
- Set it aside until ready to use, or you can cover and refrigerate for a few days.
- For the sauce, combine all the ingredients and set aside.
- To make the stir fry: heat the oil to medium-high in a wok or medium saute pan, and saute the garlic until light brown.
- Stir in the beef and allow to cook undisturbed for about 30 seconds.
- Stir and scrape the pan and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Stir in all the vegetables and let them cook for about 2 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.
- Add the sauce, stir constantly and let cook for about 2 minutes, until the sauce thickens.