Simple, earthy, fiery, and fresh, Hmong food is an exciting but still little-known South Asian cuisine. In traditional Hmong culture, dishes are created and replicated not by exact measurements but by taste and experimentation—for every Hmong recipe, there are as many variations as there are Hmong cooks—and often served to large, communal groups. Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang have gathered more than 100 recipes from Hmong-American kitchens, illustrated them with color photos of completed dishes, and provided descriptions of unusual ingredients and cooking techniques.
Cooking from the Heart is the first cookbook to clearly set out the culinary traditions of the Hmong people as well as the cultural significance such traditions hold. The recipes are accompanied by anecdotes, aphorisms, and poems that demonstrate the importance of food and cooking in Hmong culture and offer a dramatic perspective on the immigrant experience. Scripter and Yang outline diet restrictions and taboos as well as how herbs and foods are traditionally used for healing purposes. The dishes featured in Cooking from the Heart range from well-known items such as egg rolls and green papaya salad to more unfamiliar dishes such as Nqaij Qaib Hau Xyaw Tshuaj (Chicken Soup for New Mothers) and Dib Iab Ntim Nqaij Hau Ua Kua (Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup).
The oral tradition by which these recipes have been passed down has meant that Hmong cooking has not yet reached a wide audience in the United States. While designed for an American kitchen, Cooking from the Heart encourages readers to seek out Hmong herbs and vegetables only recently introduced in the United States. After all, the authors say, the essence of Hmong cuisine is cooking with an adventurous and creative spirit—from the heart.