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SEPTEMBER 2008 COTM: Winner is "Vietnamese"

By a bit of a margin, the COTMs for September will be:

INTO THE VIETNAMESE KITCHEN, Andrea Nguyen and PLEASURES OF THE VIETNAMESE TABLE, Mai Pham

There's certainly interest in Cradle of Flavor as well, so hopefully it will come up again in a subsequent month.

MMR

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  1. Thank you, MM! I'm looking forward to this and I like going from one country to another. I'm guessing the Vietnamese cuisine is going to be vastly different than Greek. Can't recall if I've ever had any Vietnamese food....but that's another thread.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      Oh - I think you'll enjoy it. I cooked quite a few Vietnamese dishes from the HSSS book when it was COTM and continue to do so. I think it will be a nice change. My husband and I were talking last night about the fact that we think we could eat just French, Italian or Spanish food for the rest of our lives and be quite content, but based on cooking from the Greek book, we couldn't say the same about Greek food. Despite the many recipes, it seems as if a lot of them strike the few same notes. So last night I pulled out Stitts and Goin for dinner! I am going to make the Greek snail recipe tonight, and goodness knows I have tons of ingredients still to use up!

      1. re: MMRuth

        We definitely agree with you about French, Italian and Spanish foods! However, I would like to delve into Mexican as well; I haven't really cooked much of that cuisine at all. I do have a few more Greek dishes to try, and I must write up last night's entree of Pasta with Tahini Sauce and Carmelized Onions. It really was pretty good - I didn't think DH would like it, but he did!

        Thankfully we have a large Asian market in a neighboring town so I think most of the Vietnamese ingredients will be easy to find. There's a huge inventory of meats and seafood. I'm dying to start!

        1. re: MMRuth

          Wow! Only French, Italian and Spanish? I couldn't live without Chinese food.

            1. re: oakjoan

              Sorry - what I meant was, I could live on only French food, only Italian food or only Spanish food, if I had to, and be quite content. I don't feel that way about Greek food. That's all!

              1. re: MMRuth

                I agree whole-heartedly. I find nutmeg/cinnamon in savory foods to be off-putting.

        2. My copy of Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table" is on the way. Woo hoo! Here is a link to her website and some recipes.

          Lemon Grass Restaurant
          http://www.lemongrassrestaurant.com/c...
          http://www.ichef.com/news.cfm?itemid=...
          Lemongrass Beef Recipe
          http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...
          Pham's recipes on Epicurious
          http://www.epicurious.com/tools/searc...
          Pham's recipes on Food and Wine.com--pad see yew and chicken soup with jasmine rice and ginger
          http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pa...
          http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ch...
          Salad
          http://www.recipesource.com/fgv/salad...
          Dipping Sauce and Table Salad
          http://www.mercurynews.com/recipes/ci...

          Andrea Nguyen has a website, too
          http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/

          I really hope to get back into the COTM groove in Sept.

          Thanks MMRuth!

          ~TDQ

          7 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            TDQ - How did you decide which book to get? I need to go look at both of them. Another thing that I recall from the limited Vietnamese cooking that I've done is that there's not a lot of fat, or at least added fat, and that there were not too many special ingredients - I think the only things I've bought in the past were fish sauce, and various rice noodles/rice paper.

            1. re: MMRuth

              Honestly? It was almost entirely for practical reasons. It was widely available used more cheaply than Nguyen's book (because it's older, I think, 2001 vs. 2006). Plus, I took Nguyen's book out of the library about 4-5 months ago and made a note of all the recipes that would fit my core plan, so, that combined with Nguyen's website, I don't feel in a hurry to get ahold of that book again. I've made a promise of sorts to myself that, if I add to my cookbook collection, I will endeavor to buy used books. It's both a budgetary thing and a "save the earth" thing. Now, if halfway through Sept a lot of the COTM participants turn out to love Nguyen's book more than Pham's, I might go out and get a copy of that, too, fickle gal that I am.

              Both books were Beard nominees the year they came out (Nguyen's book lost out to Cradle of Flavor, funnily enough). I figured I couldn't go wrong either way. Both are rated very highly on Amazon, though Nguyen's book had no detractors (out of 18 reviews) and Pham's book had a couple out of 28 reviews. But, the complaint from the Pham's detractors seemed to be that they weren't interested in Pham's personal stories (I am--I adored Dunlop's as it really made the recipes come alive for me. I've been to Southeast Asia, but not Vietnam, so I think knowing more about the context of the recipes would be meaningful to me) and they thought the ingredients were too hard to find and the recipes were too hard. But, I'm not worried about those last two criticisms--the Twin Cities have some amazing Vietnamese markets and I participate in COTM specifically to challenge myself and to grow in cooking technique and ingredient knowledge, with the gentle support and assistance from my fellow (and more knowledgeable and skilled) COTM 'hounds.

              Someone mentioned in one of the Amazon reviews that Pham's book has no photos--I think that's untrue--it's just that the photos are in B&W whereas I recall Nguyen's being in full color. If that's important to you, you might want to confirm the facts on that as it could be a major deciding point.

              I don't know if any of that insight into my personal craziness helps.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                There's photos in PLEASURES OF THE VIETNAMESE TABLE, Mai Pham
                and some stories too
                I'm a longtime fan of this book - the ginger steamed fish, the lemongrass shrimp (great on a grill), the hanoi shrimp cakes (which also work great as sweet potato only fritters)

                p.s. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/392330
                this thread might be useful for those looking for comparisons of the two books, and info on Nguyen

                1. re: pitu

                  That's a great thread - thanks.

              2. re: MMRuth

                The only special ingredients I've found hard to get are the herbs, some of which aren't available in Britain. Most of the other stuff - fish sauce, rice paper, rice crackers, lemongrass, green papaya - are available in Asian supermarkets. I needed annatto seeds for one recipes, and I found those in a local ethnic store which happened to stock some South American ingredients, as there's a burdgeoning Colombian population round these parts.

                1. re: greedygirl

                  I'm going to try to get into this month's Vietnamese cooking. We live in an area that has many, many Vietnamese restaurants and food stores. To tell the truth, my husband and I used to eat at a couple of places nearby at least twice a week for several years. I also did a fair amount of cooking. At that time I got realllllly sick of star anise and stopped eating at the restaurants and cooking Vietnamese food. That was about 4 or 5 years ago and I am now ready to try again.

                  That said, both of us never stopped being in love with bahn mi, those wonderful sandwiches on sweet french bread rolls, and continued to eat them during all that time.

                  Now I want to learn how to make the fish cakes that they used to serve at a favorite restaurant and which were discontinued...I guess they were too "weird" for the folks who ate there. Does anybody have the books yet? If so, can you tell me if there is a recipe for fish cakes? They're more like fritters - very crispy on the outside.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    There are shrimp cakes in the Mai Pham book, but no fishcakes. You could probably substitute fish for the prawns. I don't have the other book, but there are several COTMers who do.

            2. I'm excited too! We went to Vietnam in March and had some lovely food. Very fresh flavours, and they also do some interesting riffs on French food, thanks to their history. I bought the Mai Pham book when I got back, but haven't made that much from it yet so I'm looking forward to September (although I'm away for two weeks of it, in Turkey).

              I was hoping that The Glorious Foods of Greece would prove a revelation about Greek cooking, but so far I'm pretty much of the opinion I started with - it's fine for a week or so, but I wouldn't want to eat it all the time. But to be honest there are very few cuisines that I don't get tired of after a few weeks - Italian being one exception, and Thai, and actually Turkish food is very good too. French food is too rich for my taste, although I've noticed recently a move towards lighter food.

              9 Replies
              1. re: greedygirl

                Agree, re: Turkish food. Let's tuck that thought away for a future COTM. The friend I share a garden with is 1st generation Turkish-American, and I'm betting she'd love to join in on a Turkish COTM.

                I'll be gone through the first week of September myself, but will be back on the 9th and definitely ready to go. I've enlisted the enthusiastic participation of a friend this morning, and we're both very much looking forward to it.

                Thanks for organizing, MMRuth.

                1. re: clepro

                  As you have both books, clepro, how do they compare? And which one would you recommend?

                  Before my time, but Arabesque was COTM at some point, and that covers Turkish, Moroccan and Lebanese food. The great thing about Turkey imho (and there are lots of great things - it's the new Tuscany, don't you know) is that they rarely import anything, as they can grow most vegetables all year round in some part of the country. The part we've visited a few times grows tomatoes by the truckload in the cooler months, for example, but imports from more mountainous reasons in the summer, when it's too hot to grow anything. Turkish yoghurt is to die for too.

                  Interestingly, TGFOG has a recipes for fried cauliflower which seems very similar to one of my favourite dishes in Turkey. I must try it once cauliflower is in season again.

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    Sorry, just saw this.

                    I can't really say, not being anything near proficient with Vietnamese cooking. But a few things to consider, if you're thinking of purchasing just one or the other:

                    POTVT has a lot of personal and "travelogue" writing. All of which I enjoy, but I know some people like their cookbooks sans nonfood talk. Most (maybe all) are recipes the author gathered on trips back to Vietnam from street vendors and people doing home cooking; the recipes reflect that. So I would imagine--again, I don't know--that the recipes here represent authentic Vietnamese cooking. Recipes are detailed, although with less help with technique than Nguyen provides. The lack of color photos can be rough for those of us who aren't familiar with many of the ingredients. If I'm remembering correctly (I'm not at home at the moment), she includes quite a few Vietnamese vegetarian dishes and covers claypot cooking.

                    ITVK has more of a French-Vietnamese feeling, I'd say, than does Pham's book. Lots of photos, information about techniques and a great ingredients list. A section on charcuterie and pretty much everything you might want to know about handling rice paper. The recipes seem to be a bit simpler than Pham's and more keyed to American kitchens, which could be a positive or negative, depending on your preferences. Not saying that Nguyen's recipes don't seem to be authentic, just that they seem to be written from more of a handholding for Americans' perspective than are Pham's.

                    1. re: clepro

                      Thanks - I'm also trying to decide which one to buy - hoping to get a look at both over the weekend, so any more thoughts that you might have on the issue would certainly be welcome.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I'll try to look at ITVK this weekend because I don't have it, but POTVT I think is a nice starting point for Vietnamese cuisine. Essentially the standards are there, and I wouldn't consider it too difficult of a book for someone unfamiliar with the cuisine. I like that is has basically the All-Star type dishes from different parts of the country- Northern dishes Bun Cha Ha Noi and Cha Ca Ha Noi, Middle Vietnam's Bun Bo Hue, and many Southern dishes that are more familiar. The Banh mi recipe is fine, but I think her pickled daikon is too sweet, and I think she doesn't explicitly point out that many of the other meats in the book could be fillings for the sandwich. If I recall her recipe is for the loose "meatball" one.

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          You remind me of one thing I noticed about ITVK when I had it out from the library and that's that she was constantly referring you to other sections in the book--go to this page for the sauce or that page for the meat or that page to see the pickled vegetables. I found this referencing all over the place to be a bit annoying, but, this is likely because I'm a bit of a disorganized cook, I'm afraid. I'm the type who scans the recipe the night before and makes an ingredient shopping list for the next day. You have to be really careful not to miss the quick reference to page whatever so that you pick up those ingredients on your shopping trip, too.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I just got ITVK from the library today and have only flipped through it rather quickly, but it doesn't seem to me as though the cross referencing is as plentiful or as onerous as it seemed to you. In most instances where there is a cross reference, there's only one and that's for a dipping sauce or a marinade that's used in a number of different dishes. It just wouldn't make sense to restate it in it's entirety within every recipe that uses it. Quite a few of the cross references are to descriptions of the ingredient and aren't so much another recipe as a definition, as in how to reconstitute dried mushrooms, for example.

                            As I said, I've only looked at it superficially so far, but I'm very excited about it nonetheless. I started writing down recipes I might like to try but gave up almost immediately as I seemed to be writing down nearly every other recipe.

                            This could be fun!

                            1. re: JoanN

                              That's good to know, Joan. I just know that before I returned the book to the library I was going to try to copy down just a copy of recipes, bahn mi sandwiches for certain and maybe one or two others and once I got into them, I realized I wasn't just copying down one page, but 2-4 pages for each. At at a glance it seemed like a simple thing, but once I got into it, it was as you say, the meat came from this section and the pickled vegs were from another section and the sauce came from yet another place in the book. So, it would seem that on the surface the recipe for a bahn mi sandwich is just a 1-2 page thing, but by the time you do the vegs and the meat and the sauce, it's really quite a lot of steps.

                              ~TDQ

                      2. re: clepro

                        Very helpful comments clepro, thank you!

                        ~TDQ

                2. Ooh, I've got this one, so I think I will join in. I think the book is very solid. I need to see if she has Cha Ca Ha Noi, because I'd like to try that at home.

                  1. I'm excited too, but have to tell you that when I told my husband (aka my main guinea pig) that next month was going to be Vietnamese food, he sort of rolled his eyes with a look of extreme disinterest. So ... I'll do as much as I feel he can handle. I've surprised him before by making him like new things (see: tofu, chickpeas, brussels sprouts).