Simply Vietnamese Cooking from Author Nancie McDermott is an easy introduction to the light but dynamic food of Vietnam. It’s your introductory “paints” and “brushes” from which to create an artistic palate of fresh and flavorful foods. Think flavorful condiments, delicate and robust dipping sauces and sizzling rice dishes. You’ll find everything you need here. This cookbook is a complete repertoire of Vietnamese dishes from the always tantalizing spring rolls to the less known table-top fondue feasts to the simple country meals of rice and fish.
This is a traditional style cookbook with a few tips, variations and tales intermixed among the recipes. Recipes are grouped by serving types: Appetizers, sauces, entrees snacks, noodles and so forth. Suggested menus are included for those of us who can’t figure out what dishes complement each other. The author reminds the reader that Vietnamese cuisine relies on local fresh ingredients. Like making wine, the less we get in to the way of what Mother Nature gives us in the raw, the better the dish is likely to taste.
The glossary of Vietnamese ingredients is extremely helpful. If you were wondering what crab claw herbs are…you can find out on page 219. On page 220 find out the difference between red perilla and eau kinh gioli (Vietnamese balm.) Want to stock up your pantry with Vietnamese staples? It’s all laid out for you on page 222. Most of the ingredients necessary to the recipes in the book are available in local grocery stores. For the hard-to-find, McDermott lists sources that can be found on line or via snail- mail.
I’ve asked fellow home cook and Asian food lover Adrianne Morrison to work with me on this review. In the end, we both felt if you have never tried Vietnamese cooking or just want to supplement your restaurant visits with some exceptionally tasty at home Asian fare, this is the book for you. It makes a perfect shower gift, birthday present or let’s get healthier or try something new together this year gift.
We gave it five stars for content and readability, but overall four stars as we desperately miss an array of big glossy pictures. We really like seeing what each dish should look like. On the other hand, this book retails for under $20. If it were “coffee-table picturesque” you can double that price.
Fish Sauce. I don’t have any and that’s exactly why I am missing-out on making some really good tasting meals. With fish sauce and this cookbook, I bet I can wow you with dishes you wouldn’t expect to come from my kitchen. As a child I remember going out for Chinese food — it was a real treat — sometimes my dad brought it home in those special cartons. But Mom never cooked “Asian” and so neither do I — did I — until a cookbook like Simply Vietnamese cooking by Nancie McDermott landed in my hands.
I especially appreciated the informational “Glossary of Vietnamese Ingredients” and “Resource Suggestions” (in case you can’t find locally what you need to make your recipe selections). I think you will be surprised by what you can find in your larger grocery store… ask if you don’t see it right away. However, since you are a cookbook person willing to try new recipes, I expect you will also be up for the adventure of seeking out nearby Asian markets — I highly recommend such a diversion from your regular grocery trip.
Fish Sauce. Per the Glossary, “Fish sauce is the quintessential Vietnamese ingredient, used in almost every dish, except sweets.” (p..224) So, what if we focus on incorporating the 17 page “Sauces and Other Basic Recipes” section of this cookbook, into our weekly meal planning/cooking repertoire? We’ll be easily on our way to a whole new dimension of smells and flavors we, as the home cook and others can enjoy right away.
As for which full recipe to try first? I’m going for “Cha Ca Fish with Fresh Dill, Hanoi-Style” (p. 104-5). Yum! The recipe includes a marinade made with our new friend, fish sauce plus turmeric & ginger, and the “Accompaniments” of thin dried rice noodles (which we bought on our field trip) with a double recipe of “Everyday Dipping Sauce” (p. 200), “Pineapple-Chile Sauce” (p. 207) (which we already learned to make and have ingredients in our pantry) plus fresh lime, dill, mint, green onions, peanuts… What’s not to love?
I am having a culinary “moment” here. Could it be that there is finally a Vietnamese cookbook that I can actually understand and follow? Yup. This would be it. I have a penchant for the distinctive flavors of Asian food. The lovely seduction of fragrant and pungent fresh herbs used, as well as the subtle tastes of simmered meat and fish in fish sauce and sugar, or the decadently sweet taste of sticky rice and unsweetened coconut milk, calls to my soul. Now, the book that brings all that into my home kitchen, is here.
Recipes are quick and easy, simple to follow and require relatively little cooking time. Many dishes can be made in less than half an hour, and the results are outstanding. You’ll need to have your pantry stocked accordingly or frustration will be your middle name – just sayin’. McDermott’s recipes are worthy of the best Asian restaurants. Ingredients can be found in most grocery stores, and standard cooking equipment found in most North American kitchens will work. Photos are sparse but striking.
Try this recipe from page 72 in your home kitchen. Its a delicious sample of what’s waiting for you in this cookbook.
Shaking Beef with Purple Onions and Watercress
Courtesy of Simply Vietnamese Cooking by Nancie McDermott © 2015 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.
A few easy steps and you’ll have a hearty centerpiece for a quick meal with rice, or a spectacular starter. This popular dish is traditionally served with Red Rice, a simple fried rice with a generous dollop of tomato paste which transforms everyday white rice into a handsomely colored accompaniment for this special-occasion dish. I love a dish of sliced, chilled spears of cucumber served alongside.
12 oz thickly cut steak, such as New York strip or rib-eye
1 tbsp ﬁsh sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1⁄2 tsp granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup very thin onion slices, preferably purple onion
2 cups bite-size or torn pieces of watercress
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1. Beef: Cut beef into big, bite-size chunks, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) square. In a medium bowl, combine fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and pepper and stir well. Add beef, toss to coat evenly and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes while you make the salad. Or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
2. Watercress Salad: In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and stir well. Add thinly sliced onion and toss with dressing to wilt and soften. Add watercress to the bowl but don’t toss yet.
3. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until a bit of garlic sizzles at once. Add beef and let cook on one side, undisturbed, until nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Shake pan to turn meat and cook other surface same way. Add garlic and continue cooking, shaking and searing meat, until evenly browned and done to your liking. Remove pan from heat and set aside while you prepare the serving platter.
4. Toss watercress to coat with dressing and mix with the wilted onions. Arrange the salad on a small serving platter. Scoop up steak, pile in center of watercress salad and serve hot or warm.
Part of the traditional meat-centric banquet menu known as seven-course beef or bo bay mon, this dish calls for a juicy steak, cut into generous chunks and speedily seared in a very hot wok or skillet. The name “shaking beef” provides a recipe instruction for the cook, as this hearty dish gets shaken and tossed about by the cook, who shakes the pan deftly, tossing and turning throughout its fairly brief cooking time. Its simple sugar-and-soy sauce seasoning receives a Vietnamese flourish from the flavorful trio of lime juice, freshly ground pepper and salt traditionally served on the side.
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Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes
Nancie McDermott, Author
16 color photos
Publication Date: September 2015
NANCIE MCDERMOTT is an expert on the food and culture of Thailand, where she lived for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. She has traveled extensively throughout Asia and has written 10 cookbooks, including 300 Best Stir‑Fry Recipes. She is a frequent guest chef on television and radio and also writes for newspapers and magazines. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.