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September COTM “Vietnamese”: Sauces, Condiments, Garnishes, etc.

September 2008 Cookbooks of the Month:

Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen.

Please post your full-length reviews of recipes for sauces, condiments, garnishes, etc. here. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the book or author and page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe. This thread includes:


Chapter 1: Layer After Layer (Essential Sauces, Condiments and Aromatic Herbs)


Chapter 12: Basics

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating!

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  1. Caramel Sauce (ItVK, page 316)

    Since so many of Nguyen’s recipes call for Caramel Sauce, this was an obvious recipe to start with. It’s very easy to make, especially if you have experience with either caramel or a dark roux, but you do have to be watchful toward the end. She suggests about 20 minutes to get it to a dark tea color, but mine took only about 17 or 18. Her instructions on what to look for are very clear, though, so the timing wasn’t a problem. The resulting sauce is the color of black coffee, slightly viscous, and bittersweet. The recipe makes a cup and the first recipe I tried with it, Shrimp Simmered in Caramel Sauce, calls for only two tablespoons. But she says it keeps indefinitely in a kitchen cupboard. Is this going to be the chopped, salted chilies of ItVK? Looks promising so far.

    I was going to post my own photos, but discovered that the author’s Web site has an excellent series of photos that show you exactly what it should look like every step of the way. If you’re the least bit intimidated by the thought of trying this, check this out:


    3 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      thx for pointing out those caramel photos!

      1. re: JoanN

        I made this (p. 30) from Pham's book, after looking at the link above. Her method is actually much quicker, and doesn't require filling the sink. You put the sugar in a small sauce pan, cook for 2-3 minutes until it starts to brown, then stir for another minute or two until it is all dissolved and dark brown. Then remove from heat and stir in gradually the boiling water. After taking the caramel off the heat it continued to darken to almost black, with a reddish hue for a moment. No photos until I get my new laptop!

        1. re: MMRuth

          For those who don't have this book, the proportions are 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup boiling water. Now that I think about it, I may have added 1/2 cup boiling water, so I suspect my sauce is not quite as viscous as it should be.

      2. Light Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (nuoc cham lat), Pleasures of the VT, p. 26
        Marinated Chilies (ot ngiam giam), PVT, p. 38

        Hopefully heading to the Asian market tonight to stock up on Vietnamese ingredients, but had a package of chilis and so yesterday was able to make a couple of condiments.

        The Light Dipping Sauce is used for Hue specialities, including the Steamed Rice Cakes with Shrimp (p. 105) I plan to make. A stock is made with shrimp shells (I save and freeze these when shelling shrimp) and water, and then mixed with sugar, fish sauce, rice vinegar and chilis - I used one red, one green. She says this keeps for up to two weeks.

        I've made her Marinated Chilies a few times before - they're great to keep in a jar in the refrigerator. Sliced chiles and garlic cloves are blanched for 5 seconds, and then marinated in rice vinegar mixed with sugar and salt.

        1. Marinated Daikon and Carrots (cu cai ca rot chua), PVT, p. 38

          I made this because it's a key ingredient for one of my favorites - banh mi. Instead of slicing them per the directions, I used a Benriner mandoline to julienne the vegs. They're tossed with salt, rinsed and drained, and then pickled in rice vinegar and sugar.

          I was going to make her version of banh mi on p. 94 with its ground pork/five-spice sauce, but after picking up a roasted duck at the local Asian market, I decided to make duck banh mi for lunch. I bought some nice French rolls at the Asian market, toasted them, and then spread Japanese Kewpie mayo on both sides and layered duck and some crispy skin, thinly sliced cucumber, daikon and carrot, fresh cilantro, a sprinkling of marinated chiles (p 38), and drizzles of nuoc cham lat (p. 26). We both love any kind of banh mi. So good, I could have eaten three of these.

          8 Replies
            1. re: Rubee

              Rubee: The banh mi look great! Even the bread looks authentic. Did you get it at a Vietnamese market or what?

              I have another, more general, question here: How much 5 spice powder and star anise do the recipes call for? I mean, do most of them contain those spices? Those spices are the reason I have not really participated in this thread because both myself and my husband got thoroughly sick of that taste after overindulging by eating at a local place way too many times in too short a time. Since then, I have shied away from Vietnamese recipes calling for them.

              Banh mi, however, do not count in this ban...or is it this BANH?

              1. re: oakjoan

                I've made 7 recipes from ItVK and one from PofVK and not one has called for either five spice powder or star anise. And I haven't gone out of my way to avoid them because I like both a great deal. I know that ItVK has at least one recipe each that calls for these spices, but not much more than that. Take a look at some of the recipes linked to on the main thread. I think you'll see that use of those spices is fairly minimal.

                1. re: JoanN

                  Pham's pho calls for the star anise...


                2. re: oakjoan

                  I got the bread at an Asian market, and it was great for banh mi. I checked the ingredients and it didn't have rice flour, but still got nice and crackly-crispy when toasted in the oven. I'll definitely buy it again.

                  As Joan N mentions, there are many, many recipes that don't call for 5-spice, though I've made one so far (the duck soup). Concidentally enough, I'm making another dish using 5-spice tonight - Grilled Five Spice-Chicken. My husband isn't a huge fan, so for his pieces, I skipped the fresh ground toasted star anise at the end. I have a whole bunch of other recipes marked, however, and those are the only two that have 5-spice.

                  E used to like all Vietnamese, until I made a dish one night that was heavy on lemongrass. I overloaded him, and now he hates it. Ever since, he can pick out the smallest amount of lemongrass in a recipe, so any I make this month with that ingredient will be just for me.

                3. re: Rubee

                  Everyday Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Do Chua), Pg. 192, ITVK, Andrea Nguyen

                  This was a very quick basic pickle that has good sweet and spicy flavor with slight crunch. A simple recipe that consists of kneading thin matchsticks of daikon and carrot with a combination of salt and sugar. When the volume has been reduced and the strips are pliable drain in a colander and rinse, blot, return to original bowl. A brine is then poured over..

                  The brine ingredients are sugar, vinegar, and water. The vegetables sit in the brine for at least an hour. After that what is not consumed at the meal can be stored in the fridge for one month. So mine are sitting in a quart mason jar and will be eaten till they're all gone. I liked the simple flavor, but thought it was a little too sweet so I think I'll slice a few jalapenos and add them to the jar. Also, sliced onion would be another addition. Guess I'll play with this a while... They did work well and contributed another accent to Nguyen's Banh Mi on page 35 in which the pickles were used.

                  1. re: Gio

                    Gio if you remember, can you report back on how the flavours develop as you work through your jar?

                    Now you have me craving Banh Mi!!

                    1. re: Breadcrumbs

                      I'll certainly try to remember, BC. We've had the pickles twice since making them and the first time, I think a night later, they seemed the very same as at first. The second time they seemed slightly softer. If my brain lets me, I serve them again tonight with a Grace Young chicken recipe I'm making.

                      ETA: Ahem... the roast pork recipe report for Banh Mi...

                      Char Siu Pork, Pg 142, ITVK, Andrea Nguyen

                4. Ginger Lime Dipping Sauce (Pham, 27) and Sweet Soy Sauce with Chilies and Lime (Pham, p. 30)

                  Made these to go with the whole poached chicken. Pham says she prefers the Ginger-Lime, but we liked the other better (both were good though). Very straightforward to prepare. I did have a big oops with the Sweet Soy sauce one ... realized when I started making this that I had no idea what sweet soy sauce is (she says to see page 31, but I didn't see a thing about it there, and when I tried looking at the ingredients chapter didn't find anything there either). I thought about using mirin instead, but then just used regular soy sauce and at the end added a bit of water and some light brown sugar until I liked the tastes, so maybe my sauce wasn't at all what she had in mind. But ... husband didn't find it sweet at all (I think he had no idea there was sugar in it), and in fact it is very nice and spicy. I used the chopping method instead of mortar and pestle. I'll make this soy sauce dipping sauce again, definitely. And I'm going to buy this book. I love it.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: LulusMom

                    I might make this at the weekend. I'm assuming sweet soy sauce is the same as kecap manis? Does anyone know for sure?

                    1. re: greedygirl

                      According to Cook's Thesaurus the substitute for kecap manis is equal parts brown sugar and soy sauce and the substitute for Thai sweet soy sauce is three parts soy to one part brown sugar so one would presume that Indonesian kecap manis is sweeter than Thai sweet soy sauce.


                      1. re: JoanN

                        Wow, so I figured it out correctly?! Kinda proud of myself, because that is almost exactly what I'd say the measurements came out as. Thanks JoanN!

                    2. re: LulusMom

                      I made these tonight and they were both a hit, although we preferred the sweet soy one. Both were fairly spicy, because I used Thai birds eye chillies and didn't remove the seeds. I substituted kecap manis for the sweet soy sauce, without any problems. Although it's supposed to be sweeter than the Thai version, I didn't find it too sweet at all.

                      It's a close call, but I think I prefer the Dunlop dipping sauces for poached chicken. Will probably make this again though.

                    3. Pham dipping sauces...all easy, all tasty, all depends on what you feel like eating
                      Ginger-Lime p.27
                      Soy-Lime p. 29
                      Chili-Lime p.30
                      I make which ever one of these I have the ingredients for, and whatever we feel like...mostly for pork or seafood or veg fried spring rolls (I get frozen ones from vietnam that have a soviet packaging from Hong Kong market in Sunset Park Brooklyn)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: pitu

                        I made the Chili-Lime one last night to serve with the mussels - really loved it, quite spicy, though I only used jalapenos. I really like her method of creating a paste of certain ingredients in the mortar and pestle before adding them into the liquids, as I think it helps incorporate the flavors into the liquid.

                      2. Soy-Lime Dipping Sauce (nuoc tuong pha), PVT, p. 29

                        I made this to serve with Grilled Five-Spice Chicken (p. 147) but it was also good drizzled on the Scallion Noodles. Nice balance of flavors with just the right amount of heat. Another great addition to the jars of condiments and sauces I've been making out of this book.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Rubee

                          Soy-Lime dipping sauce, also to go wit hthe Grilled-Five Spice chicken. Very good, couldn't be easier, and as long as you have a chili lying around (I have a little ziplock full of thai chilies that have lasted so far 2 weeks in the fridge) incredibly easy to make. Goes perfectly with the chicken, and I think would go pretty well with any of the other things in this book.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            I only recently realized that Thai chiles freeze well and can be used directly from the freezer. Nguyen mentions it in the Ingredients section and then I noticed them being sold that way in the huge Asian market near my mother's house. I'd been throwing them out when they got all wrinkly. Now, I either buy them already frozen (they're actually much "fresher" than the so-called fresh ones I'd been buying) or pop fresh ones in the freezer as soon as I get home from the market.

                            1. re: JoanN

                              This is *very* useful information. Next little baggie of them I get I'll put half in the freezer. Thanks.

                              btw, I share your "problem" although mine seems right now to be due to the Pham book, simply because it is the first one I got and I've cooked mostly from it. But the two things I've made from Nguyen have also been really good. I feel like I'll be using these recipes over and over for years.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                This is a fantastic tip, JoanN... I was just wondering how people were storing their chile!


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Yep, thanks for the tip JoanN. I never seem to get through all my Thai chillies before they go mouldy so wil definitely be giving it a try.

                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                    Another method that I use on alot of things and is working beautifully with the chiles is: pick through and remove all questionable looking ones, put in glass jar and stuff in paper towel to close gap between chiles and lid. Replace paper towel when it feel damp. My packet from several weeks ago has yielded NO wrinkly guys and I am thrilled. I also do the freezing thing when the yield from my garden and my Dad's is overwhelming, but for some recipes I do not like the softness that results from freezing. Plus I like to munch on one while I am eating so I like them crunchy.

                          2. Sweet Soy Sauce with Chilies and Ginger, PVT/Pham, Pg. 30

                            Sweet soy sauce is made by combining garlic,chili and ginger in a mortar and pestle and pounding it into a paste. Then the result is combined with a bit of water, minced ginger - old not young - chili paste and Thai chilies sliced into rings. I played around with the sweet and sour components till I acheived the taste I wanted. Everything is mixed together and set aside for flavors to blend.

                            I served this along with roasted baby acorn squash slices, which I had drizzled with a bit of canola oil and S & P. Generally I use a honey based drizzle when I roast this squash, but because the dipping sauce is sweet, I kept the squash as simple as possible. It was quite good and I'm even thinking about serving this at Thanksgiving.

                            The other dishes for this meal were the Garlicky Chicken and Pot Roasted Rice which recipe I have from another Viet. book.

                            22 Replies
                            1. re: Gio

                              So, sweet soy sauce isn't an ingredient in and of itself? I was a bit confused by that, since she listed it as an ingredient, and then refers to p. 31, where I didn't see anything about sweet soy sauce.

                              Ah - just looked in the index, and the reference should be to p. 37 "sweet soy sauce" is a dark soy sauce (which contains molasses) and is thicker and sweeter than regular dark soy sauce (aka black soy sauce).

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                Yes MM - if you read the first line on page 31 she says to create the sweet sauce you put the garlic, chili and sugar in a mortar & pestle.....

                                1. re: Gio

                                  I think that is the instruction for the Chili Lime Dipping sauce that starts on the bottom of p. 30 ....

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    It is.... but I think that's a reference for the SSS. .....It's the only mention of a garlic/chili/sugar combo on that page. I got so frustrated looking for her SSS instructions. I must haver read pg. 31 six or seven times+, finally I decided that's what she wanted us to do.... Anyway, it worked when I added it to the other ingredients. Next time I'll research a bona fide SSS recipe.

                                    1. re: Gio

                                      If you have a chance - go to p. 37, where she does describe SSS - that might help - I think it's actually a different kind of soy sauce.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        I can't get to my cookbooks till later today.
                                        MM, do you think I misread 31 for 37??? Oy Vey!! Now I can't wait to see the book.....

                                        1. re: Gio

                                          No - the book says p. 31, but I think it was a typo and it's supposed to be p. 37. There's a inset with a discussion of various soy sauces.

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            Oh Good. Thanks for reassuring me, MM!! Another excuse to re-make that recipe.

                                2. re: Gio

                                  Sounds delicious! I have yet to buy a mortar and pestle, though Pham highly recommends one. Do think think, Gio, having a M&P made a difference in this recipe and others you've tried?

                                  I've also not yet bought a wok and am becoming increasingly frustrated by not having one, so, I might actually finally break down and get one. But, my kitchen is tiny. I just can't imagine where to store more equipment.


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    I really like using mine for these sauces. But, if you have a mini food processor, I think that would work well too.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      I have a coffee grinder (which I have marked with a label from a label maker, "FOR SPICES ONLY--NO COFFEE PLEASE"...but I suppose that's probably not enough because it can't handle "wet" ingredients, right? I have a "regular" sized food processor.. And a food little bitty food mill --about the size of a coffee grinder that I picked up for $1 at a garage sale that I figured I could use to chop nuts, etc. Do you think the combo of the coffee grinder+food mill might be okay?


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I think that your coffee grinder would work - though I've not done and haven't checked the manual (if I even still have it!) about using liquids in it.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Okay, I think I'll hold off on getting a mortar and pestle...for now. Thank you both for your thoughts!


                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      I made mine by just chopping the ingredients - not even the food processor, and loved it. So ... not a problem.

                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        I think I may have to take this back ... I believe that I actually did use my mini-prep. And while I do agree that the mortar and pestle will give the best results, I was still loving my sauces. Don't let the lack of M&P stop you from trying.

                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                          I absolutely agree with Lulusmom about not lettting the "lack of M&P stop you..." Use anything that will give YOU a satisfactory result!!
                                          I didn't have it when we were cooking from the Spanish book and relied on knife skills only. That worked.....

                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I bought a marble mortar and pestle at Marshall's, a discount department store. It's about 5" diameter X 6" tall and very heavy. I Love using it. Grinding and pounding the ingredients gives you more of a paste result rather then a mash. Plus all the juices are kept within the paste to add more flavor. Granted all the other methods cited are viable and recommended as substitutions, but as Pham says - the the processor gives a frothy result and would not be the same as the M & P.

                                        1. re: Gio

                                          I love my FP, but agree with Gio about the mortar and pestle. There's a difference between adding liquids to a seasoning paste, as opposed to adding liquids to minced ingredients - the flavors are more incorporated. I don't think you should skip the recipes if you don't have one, they're all still good. But you can find a small marble m&p for under $15.00, especially at an Asian market.

                                          Pic of the one I use:

                                          1. re: Rubee

                                            Yes - I do agree about that difference. I'd only made dipping sauces before using minced ingredients etc., and I think these are much better. Another possible option - when I need to make a garlic paste, I often just mince the garlic, sprinkle some salt on top, and then use my knife (the side of the blade), pulling it back and forth, to create a paste. That might work in these sauces, but using the sugar instead.

                                          2. re: Gio

                                            Okay, I'm convinced. I just worry about having so much stuff out on my little counter. But, I guess the good news is that summer is almost over (*sob*), so, at least I can put all my seasonal/patio dishes away to make room for new stuff. I wouldn't suppose there is such a thing as a m&p that does double duty as, say, garlic keeper or something to help me economize on space?


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              I often find myself storing whole cloves of garlic in my m&p, by accident mostly, but it works.
                                              It's actually a pleasure to use too.

                                      3. Scallion Oil (mo hanh), Pham-PVT, p. 32

                                        This is one of the simpler condiments to add to my Vietnamese pantry. Basically heat vegetable oil, add sliced scallions, and let cool.

                                        Recipe link:

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Rubee

                                          I made this to serve with Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs, and also really liked it. Wish I had more leftover!

                                        2. Simple dipping sauce, ITVK, pg 309

                                          I can't believe I'm the first to post about this. Talk about truth in advertising, this sauce is simple, indeed. Just three ingredients, 2 TBSP fish sauce, 3 TBSP water, and 1 or 2 Thai or Serrano chiles, sliced thinly. (We used 1 Thai chile). Throw it all together and let marinate 15 minutes and you're done. Easy and perfect with the grilled garlicky five spice pork steaks (pg. 143).


                                          1. Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (nuoc cham), Pham - PVT, p. 23.

                                            This is the quintessential Vietnamese condiment, and this version was a tasty one with plenty of heat (though of course I prefer mom's - she also adds ginger). In a mortar grind fresh chilis with garlic and sugar. Add the paste to water, lime juice and fish sauce. Finish with a sliced chili and some finely shredded carrot.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Rubee

                                              I made this again yesterday and I just want to reiterate how much more I like dipping sauce where the paste is made, than just chopping up the ingredients. Does you mother always use a mortar and pestle as well?

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                Yes, she does.

                                                In fact, I've found that I really like using the mortar and pestle now that I'm using it more frequently.

                                            2. Soy lime dipping sauce, p. 29. I made a half recipe of this to go with the lemongrass roast chicken. I didn't have any Thai bird chiles. I know I could have located some but I was afraid they'd be too hot for my audience anyway. I used a serrano pepper with most of the seeds and ribs removed. It was still too spicy for some tastes, though not mine. I thought it was delicious. I did use a mortar and pestle.

                                              1. Salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce ITVK pg 311

                                                We tried this with Nguyen's grilled chicken (which I posted about in the poultry thread.) I didn't love the dipping sauce. She calls for kosher or other coarse salt--we used fleur de sel and 2 Thai peppers. She suggests you just put out dishes of salt, white pepper, lime wedges and the peppers and have the guests assemble to taste. In my taste "to taste" was too much lime. I guess I'm not familiar enough with this cuisine yet to be able to wing it and I would have preferred that she specify more exact proportions.


                                                1. Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce, Nguyen, p. 309

                                                  Very very gingery, in a great way. I didn't have time to let it sit for the full 30 minutes "to let the ginger bloom" as she writes, but we loved it and it was lovely with the tuna.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    I made this last night to go with the tuna and we ate the whole lot between to two of us! I thought it needed the full 3T of fish sauce to give the correct balance of flavours, but I guess that's a taste thing.

                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                      This sauce was also great with basic boiled vegetables. In my case. Cauliflower. I did let it sit for 30 minutes because I was prepping other things.

                                                    2. Caramel Sauce (nuoc mau), Pham-PVT, p. 34
                                                      As MMRuth mentions above, this is very easy. Melt sugar in a pan until dark brown, and then add boiling water. Just remember to stand back a little when pouring the water into the sugar as it splatters a bit.

                                                      Fried Shallots (hanh phi), p. 33
                                                      This is a little different technique than I've done before (frying shallots in hot oil). In this recipe, the shallots and oil are combined in a pot and brought to a slow boil. I made this condiment to garnish the Cabbage Salad with Shrimp and Pork (p. 89), and Rice Rolls (banh cuon), p. 107

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Rubee

                                                        I actually made this last night from Pham's book. I didn't read the directions carefully and poured the boiling water all at once instead of slowly. There was some separation of the burnt sugar and water. So I had to reheat it to integrate it. I'm assuming if you add the water slowly the separation wouldn't occur.

                                                        It was delicious. Next time, I think I'm going to try making caramel sauce with jaggery instead of white sugar for health and taste reasons.

                                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                                            Jaggery is minimally processed "brown" sugar that's used a lot in Indian cooking. On its own, it's very buttery and caramel-like -- even though there's no salt, it kind of tastes like salted caramel. I think jaggery would be a good substitute for caramel sauce as there's a bit of smokiness to it. But I'm kind of curious as to what it would taste like if one makes caramel sauce with it.

                                                      2. Spicy Hoisin-Garlic Sauce -variation (Nguyen pg. 310)

                                                        Made up this tasty sauce to go alongside chicken meatballs on page 86. I didn't have any chicken livers, so went with the alternate recipe listed in the notes, substituting natural peanut butter for the organ meat.
                                                        Without the liver, this is a very straightforward recipe. Heat oil, garlic, and chile flakes to sizzling, add a touch of tomato paste, peanut butter, hoising and water, and bring to a boil. Thicken if needed with cornstarch slurry, and season with fish sauce if more depth is needed (it was). Top with chopped roasted peanuts and toasted sesame seeds.
                                                        This was pretty good as written, not overwhelmingly peanutty and a little sweet from the hoisin sauce. The garlic and chile heat was not what I had hoped for, so at the end I stirred in a good spoonful of chile-garlic sauce, which added a pleasant kick to the finished product. I made a half-batch, and that was plenty.
                                                        I am curious to see what this recipe tastes like with the liver so may give that a try in the future.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Allegra_K

                                                          Spicy Hoisin-Garlic Sauce (ItVK, page 310)

                                                          Made this to accompany the Grilled Lemongrass Beef Skewers on page 28. I had some chicken livers in the freezer, so went with the original recipe as written. As she says in the headnote, the liver imparts a great depth of flavor. I was afraid it might be weird, but it wasn't at all. My guests had no idea there was liver in the dipping sauce. I went with the lesser amount of crushed red pepper since I wasn't sure of my guests tolerance for heat, but I should have used the full amount, or even more. Agree with Allegra_K that both the garlic and heat could have been punched up a bit. Still, my guests started politely spooning small amounts of sauce on their plates and ended up dipping the meat directly into the sauce dish to get as much as possible into every bite.