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 supermarkets.
We caught up with Nguyen recently to learn about Vietnamese ingredient hacks, Instant Pot favorites and a new way to use overripe bananas.
QUESTION: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
ANSWER: 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 Seattle, I went to Kroeger’s. 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, like 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: What do you use the Instant Pot 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.
SHAKING BEEF is a Vietnamese restaurant favorite and a cinch to make at home, says Nguyen.
Her recipe calls for well-marbled tri-tip or New York steak cut into small cubes and seared quickly with a back-and-forth shaking of the skillet.
She serves it over a cool salad of watercress and arugula, but any greens will work beautifully for this weeknight dish.
VIETNAMESE SHAKING BEEF
By Andrea Nguyen
- 1-1/2 pounds steak, such as bottom sirloin (tri-tip) or New York strip, trimmed and cut into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
- >> Marinade:
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced and mashed
- 1-1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce, or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- >> Salad:
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar or honey
- 2 pinches fine sea salt
- About 4 grinds black pepper
- 1-1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 cups lightly packed watercress, baby arugula or other salad greens
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, basil or other herb leaves, torn (optional)
- 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
In a medium bowl, stir together marinade ingredients. Taste and, if a saltier finish is needed, add up to 1-1/2 teaspoons more oyster sauce. Add beef, toss to coat well and let marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature.
To make salad: Rinse the onion in a strainer under cold running water for about 10 seconds; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar and water. Add onion, top with watercress and add mint and tomatoes, but don’t toss.
Set a large skillet that can get very hot (such as carbon steel or cast iron) over high heat and add enough canola oil to film the bottom.
When oil is shimmering, carefully add beef, spreading it out in one layer, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, shaking the pan every 30 to 60 seconds to sear beef on all sides; it should be medium-rare.
(To minimize mess, cover pan with a splatter guard and flip meat with a spatula.)
Quickly toss salad and transfer to serving dish. Pile cooked beef with juices on top; serve immediately. At the table, ceremoniously combine all the ingredients and invite diners to dive in. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.