Recipes from our Asian Grandmothers


The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
by Patricia Tanumihardja
Photography by Photo by Lara Ferroni
Sasquatch Books, Seattle 2009

If this gorgeous cookbook fulfills the author’s quest for extended family, we are all the beneficiaries! The warm-hearted profiles of 10 seasoned cooks add a rich personal history to the recipes. Each of the profiles is displayed on a beautiful background motif representative of the country whose cooking tradition is featured. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Laotian, Korean, and Filipino cuisines are covered, as well as the inevitable mingling that happens through family migration around the globe.

We love the recipes for their use of “real” flavoring ingredients instead of the ubiquitous fish and oyster sauces so often used in similar recipes. Prefacing the recipes is an invitation to cook intuitively, a chapter called “The Asian Pantry,” and a clear explanation of Asian cooking techniques, setting the mood for a joyful adventure in cooking. The recipes we chose to present with our What’s in Season and Koda Farms articles are just enough to whet the appetite. 




Clay Pot Lemongrass-Steamed Fish (Pla Nueng Morh Din)

Photo courtesy of The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Adapted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Patricia Tanumihardja.

Steaming whole fish on a lattice of lemongrass in a clay pot leaves it silky, tender, and imbued with a subtle citrusy scent. Any white fish with natural fat, such as trout, Pacific cod, or striped bass, would work well in this simple Thai dish from Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen, who learned to make it from her grandmother, Kimsua. Pranee remembers her grandma’s frugal nature: she would only use the discarded outer layers of the lemongrass to line the clay pot for this dish, saving the tender white core for others. Clay pots are relatively inexpensive and are available in many Asian markets. You will need a 12- to 14-inch clay pot for this recipe, or you can use a steamer. 

  • Serves 2 as part of a multi-course family-style meal.
  • ¾- to 1-pound whole trout, head and tail intact, scaled, gutted, and cleaned
  • 4 plump stalks lemongrass, trimmed and bruised
  • 1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
  • ½ cup water, or more as needed

Lay the fish flat on a cutting board. To ensure the fish cooks evenly, use a sharp knife to make 3 or 4 diagonal bone-deep cuts in the skin perpendicular to the backbone about 1 inch apart. Turn the fish over and repeat.

Fold one lemongrass stalk in half and rub it all over the fish, inside and out. Discard. Gently rub the salt into the skin of the fish and inside its cavity.

Tear each of the 3 remaining lemongrass stalks into 4 strips. Lay the lemongrass strips in a grid-like pattern on the bottom of the clay pot in 3 layers. Trim the stalks if they don’t fit. Place the fish on top of the lattice, tucking in the tail if necessary. Add enough water to reach the bottom layer of lemongrass without touching the fish.

Cover and bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Once steam starts to appear from the hole in the lid, about 5 minutes, check the water level and add more water if necessary. Steam for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork at its thickest part. Check on the water level at least once more during steaming.

Serve the fish from the clay pot, or carefully transfer onto a serving plate using two spatulas. Spoon the liquid over the fish before serving.


Stir-Fried Beef with Mustard Greens

Photo by David Gans

Adapted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Patricia Tanumihardja

Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multi-course family-style meal.

  • 1 pound flank steak or top sirloin
  • 1 plump stalk lemongrass trimmed, bruised, and halved crosswise
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut lengthwise into 6 slices
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 8 ounces Asian mustard greens, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (6 to 7 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Handle the beef partially frozen so that it is easier to cut (if it’s fresh, place in the freezer for about 30 minutes). Cut the beef along the grain into 1½-inch-thick strips. With your knife at an angle almost parallel to the cutting surface, slice the meat diagonally across the grain into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Then cut into about ⅛-inch slivers.

Preheat a large wok or skillet over high heat for about 1 minute. Add the beef, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and salt. Stir-fry until the beef just loses its blush, 1 to 2 minutes. The beef will release its own juices that prevent it from sticking to the pan.

Add the mustard green stems and the sugar. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the leaves and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender and bright green, another minute. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Discard the lemongrass and ginger and serve with freshly steamed rice.