I’ll probably get a lot of flak for this, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway.
I cringe whenever I see anyone listing their primary occupation as a “social media influencer.” Okay, no one in their right mind would turn down a US $250,000 paycheck for a single Instagram post, but I still shake my head whenever I see someone like Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid making the headlines for doing something as mundane as, I dunno, going braless and looking “on fleek” while walking their pooch/beefcake/designer bag of the month.
Becoming a sought-after endorser once you’ve distinguished yourself in your chosen field is one thing. Having the same clout just because you grew up on a reality show and are really good at taking selfies is ridiculous, not to mention potentially harmful to your millions of followers. (I’m looking at you, Fyre Festival promoters.)
So, despite being born into the millennial generation, I’ve shied away from all but one form of social media and its influencers. I haven’t got a Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, er, Twinstagramsnap account, and I wouldn’t have known of Chrissy Teigen had a friend of mine not mentioned her new cookbook.
After a quick Google search, I found out that Chrissy Teigen is a swimsuit model, TV personality, and oh, John Legend’s wife. I normally look askance at celebrity cookbooks, but I was intrigued when my friend wrote that she wanted to try just about all the recipes in Teigen’s. We both have more cookbooks than is practical, but she had never said that about any of her other tomes, even those penned by Ina Garten (sacrilege, I know), so when Fully Booked had a 20% off sale last January, I snapped up a copy.
Teigen’s cookbook is simply called “Cravings,” with the phrase “Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat” embossed above the title. With the author herself sporting a low-cut blouse and holding up a taco in one perfectly-manicured hand on the cover, it’s all too tempting to dismiss it as another “influencer” product that trades manufactured glamour for substance. But boy, are you in for a surprise once you browse its pages.
For starters, “Cravings” actually delivers on its promise. Unlike some cookbooks that stick to a theme like Italian cuisine or entertainment-worthy food, the only unifying factor that Teigen’s recipes have is that they’re for dishes that you would actually want to eat. Think Cheesy Cheeseless Scrambled Eggs with Burst Cherry Tomatoes, Dutch Baby Pancakes, and a Pot Pie Soup with Crust Crackers. Teigen’s crooner husband even makes a guest appearance, with John’s Breakfast Sandwiches making it to the line-up, though not his famed Macaroni and Cheese because the author claims that “…my mac is better. If you want to try his, google it. These pages are expensive.”
Given Teigen’s Thai lineage, there are also recipes for more exotic dishes like a Pounded Thai Papaya or Green Bean Salad and the Thai pork and rice porridge called Jok Moo, which comes with an equally rib-tickling introduction: “I really believe there is nothing this soup can’t cure…. Violently Ill? You’ll keep this down. Been stabbed? Apply to the wound. Headache? Put in a Ziploc and apply to the forehead.”
Perhaps the best surprise of all is that not only are Teigen’s recipes scrumptious, but holy cow, that woman can actually WRITE. I enjoyed reading her witty and down-to-earth introductions as much as her scrumptious recipes, and after you read the following excerpt from her Pull-Apart Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy, perhaps you’ll understand why: “Have you ever pictured a pig lying in a bathtub full of syrup, drinking syrup? (I have pictured this.) Then pictured yourself dipping a sweet, maple biscuit into that bathtub and then putting that biscuit into your mouth? That’s what this is.”
With all the hilarious narrations and mouthwatering recipes in the book, I was hard-pressed to pick just one to try out for this review. I eventually settled on the Chinese Chicken Salad with Crispy Wonton Skins, primarily because I usually hate leafy vegetables and vinegar and I wanted to see if this dish could change my mind about either.
So did it succeed? In Teigen’s words, HELL YES. Her take on Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Chicken Salad (which she describes as the f*cking b*mb, but shhh, don’t tell the TSA) was sooo beautifully-composed in more ways than one. The vibrant reds, greens, and oranges of the vegetables were a sight to behold, and the Asian-y dressing was a perfect medley of sweet, sour, and salty, with none of that vinegary smell that tends to put me off my food. Each forkful was absolute bliss, with the cool crunch of the cabbages and carrots providing a respite in the current unbearable heat and chunks of store-bought rotisserie chicken and crunchy strips of fried wonton skins adding heft and texture to the mix. I’m also pleased to report that the salad tastes even better after a night in the fridge. One bite of its tasty, dressing-doused leaves the morning after, and I was craving the stuff the entire day.
A celebrity influencer who can actually cook AND write? Assuming she didn’t hire anyone to come up with the cookbook anecdotes, consider me a convert. Go out and get your own copy of “Cravings,” stat.
Chinese Chicken Salad with Crispy Wonton Skins
Adapted from “Cravings” by Chrissy Teigen
For the Crispy Wontons:
3 (8-inch) square wonton wrappers or 6 (4-inch) square wrappers
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the Dressing:
1/3 cup peanut or vegetable oil
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard (I used on-hand grainy mustard since I couldn’t find this.)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Salad:
½ rotisserie chicken (I used an entire one from Chooks-to-Go as our local chickens are smaller)
½ medium head Napa cabbage, cut into 1/2 –inch slices (about 6 cups)
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, cut into julienne strips
½ cup thinly-sliced red onion
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Make the crispy wontons: Stack the wonton wrappers on top of each other. Cut the wrappers into strips ½ inch wide and 4 inches long. (If you’re using the 8-inch wrappers, first cut them in half into 4 x 8-inch rectangles.)
In a medium saucepan, heat 3 inches of oil over medium-high heat until one of the strips puffs up and sizzles as soon as it hits the oil. Working in batches, drop a handful of the wonton strips at a time into the oil and fry until puffed and golden, about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried strips to paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt. Repeat until done.
Make the dressing: In a blender, combine the oil, rice vinegar, mustard, soy sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, honey,
garlic, and salt, and blend until smooth. Trust me, you want to bust out the blender for this to make it all smooth and creamy.
Make the salad: Remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Using your hands, shred the meat into very thin pieces you would want to eat in a salad (about 3 cups of meat in the end). Place the meat in a bowl with the napa and red cabbages, cilantro, carrot, red onion, and scallions. Pour in ½ cup of the dressing, toss to coat, and top with the wonton skins. Serve the remaining dressing on the side for salad touch-ups.