Andrea Nguyen is widely recognized as a virtuoso of Vietnamese cooking, but that doesn't mean her cookbooks are historical volumes filled with obscure or hard-to-find ingredients. Quite the contrary, actually. Last year, she won a James Beard Award for her home-cook-friendly The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam's Favorite Soup and Noodles (Ten Speed Press, $22).
And her new cookbook, Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors (Ten Speed Press, $25), eliminates the need for specialty grocery shopping by offering recipes for 80 favorites — from cult-status Shaking Beef and Glass Noodle Soup to Sizzling Rice Crepes — that can be made with ingredients found at most mainstream supermarkets.
We caught up with Nguyen, of Santa Cruz, Calif., to learn about Vietnamese ingredient hacks, Instant Pot favorites and a new way to use overripe bananas.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: I started thinking about this book years ago. Whenever I traveled around the United States, I'd visit a typical supermarket as part of my research. I love open-air markets, but I want Vietnamese food to be part of everyone's repertoire, so I needed to see where most Americans shop.
In Cleveland, I went to Giant Eagle. In Montgomery, Ala., I went to a Piggly Wiggly and a Publix. In these places, I found many of the staples you need, from fish sauce and noodles to turnip greens and Sriracha. We talk about cultural divisions in this country right now, but I feel like grocery stores are the meeting ground.
Q: You learned ingredient hacks from your mom and have some of your own. Favorites?
A: For decades, my mom substituted Swans Down cake flour for rice four to make banh cuon, steamed rice rolls. Thanks to trends in gluten-free, you can find white and brown rice capellini, which I use for lettuce wraps and rice noodle salad bowls. I love pomegranate molasses as a tart-sweet replacement for tamarind. If your grocery store doesn't have it, you can always cook down some Pom juice. And anchovy paste is a worthy stand-in for fermented shrimp sauce.
Q: We love your reimagined classics, such as Smoked Turkey Pho. How did that come about?
A: People started asking me about using turkey to make pho so I made it with leftover Thanksgiving turkey when I was working on The Pho Cookbook. Then I thought, 'What if people didn't have roast turkey around and just wanted to go to the grocery store and make pho?' When I was in the Alabama grocery stores I discovered smoked turkey parts — legs, neck — and they're wonderful for matching the soup's spice profiles. The thigh in particular has big flavor.
Q: Thank you for being pro Instant Pot. What do you use it for?
A: Pressure cookers are a great technical hack for making soup doable on weeknights. You can make soups and stews in addition to crowd-favorites like Honey-Glazed Pork Riblets. I've made them for my entire family — parents, siblings and their kids — and the quadrupled batch was all gobbled up. Instant Pots are also good for fermentation and making yogurt. They're great time savers.
Q: Your book has one cake recipe and it's our new favorite way to use overripe bananas. Can you tell us about its origins?
A: I think I made it 12 times before I got it right. In Vietnam, they make this sweet dish in the rice cooker lined with bread on the bottom because they don't have ovens. This version, Banana-Coconut Bread-Pudding Cake, works beautifully with extra-rich, full-fat coconut milk and any soft, squishy inexpensive bread. If your bananas are too firm, use a fork to poke four or five sets of holes in each one and microwave in 30-second blasts until soft. It works perfectly.
Food on 04/10/2019
Print Headline: Vietnamese Food uses super market for ingredients