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September COTM “Vietnamese”: Vegetables & Vegetarian Dishes

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 the vegetable and vegetarian dishes found in the chapters listed below. 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 7: Return to the Grandmotherland (Vegetarian Favorites and Other Meatless Dishes)


Chapter 7: Vegetables for All Seasons

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. Tangy Mixed Vegetable Pickle (ItVK page 194)

    It seems as though a bit of some kind of pickled vegetable is a fairly ubiquitous condiment in Vietnam. I wouldn’t have thought to serve something like this with the Honey-Roasted Duck Legs, but it’s what she recommends. And it’s delightful. Not too sour, surprisingly sweet. And a wonderful counterbalance to the richness of the duck and sauce. The recipe makes a lot and it keeps for three weeks in the fridge, so I imagine I’ll be nibbling on it for quite a while. With great pleasure.

    ETA: There were no chiles in this. It's not at all hot. I think if I were to make it again I'd add a few chopped Thai chiles just to give it a bit of heat. Just to see if it worked.

    1. Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry (ItVK page 181)

      Simple and very good. Nothing unusual, but an easy, partially do-ahead, side dish with good but subtle flavor incorporating a couple of my favorite ingredients. Would definitely do this again whenever an easy, attractive veg dish is called for.

      1. Chopstick beans in Garlic (PotVK, Pham, p.202)

        This is a very easy and fast side dish to make. I used the long beans recommended in the recipe, and was greatly appreciative of the advice to search for the skinny ones. These beans are less fibrous than some regular green beans can be, and the flavour is more refined, less vegetal that green beans. The texture is very nice.

        The direction about the egg through me for a loop. You saute chopped garlic in hot oil for 10 seconds, then throw in a mixture of a beaten egg, fish sauce and sugar. My concern was that the egg would immediately fry, and indeed, it did! I stirred it up, added my blanched long beans, water and salt, and let it cook, and in the end, there were little bits of fried, salty, fish-sauce flavoured egg amongst my beans. It was tasty, but looked a bit odd, not what I expected before I read the recipe. I am assuming that this was the intended effect?

        2 Replies
        1. re: moh

          I really liked this as well. I used string beans and they were delicious. What made this especially easy was that I blanched the beans earlier in the day so dinner was a snap. The egg directions were a bit confusing - I first added the fish sauce and sugar and then the egg. When I added the egg I stirred quickly and then covered. The resulting egg ended up being subtle and fluffy.

          A nice different use of string beans for me.

          1. re: beetlebug

            The bits of egg in my attempt were less subtle than your effort. Your picture looks very nice. My dish was a little clunky looking. But the salty egg did taste good. Perhaps I did not stir quickly enough, and so the egg was much more clumped.

        2. Mustard Greens with Garlic, PVK/Pham, Pg., 198

          This is pretty much a straight forward stir fry in canola oil and garlic...5 cloves! with added oyster sauce. Along with the Chinese mustard greens I threw in 2 handfulls of fresh mung bean sprouts because I Love Them. The greens were pungent and delicious. It was served with the Fish with Fresh Tomatoes. We like both dishes very much.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            I also made the mustard greens with garlic, PVK p. 198.
            Well, sort of. I went to the farmer's market and I didn't see mustard greens or any Asian green like bok choy so I got chard. It was good!

            1. re: NYCkaren

              I made this using mustard greens last night, and learned that I don't like mustard greens - too bitter for me. I'll try it again with bok choy.

          2. Twice-Cooked Eggplant with Garlic and Basil (ca tim xao rau que), Pham - PVT, p. 200

            I ended up making a few substitutions to this recipe. My Asian basil was too wilted, and I spaced and used oyster sauce instead of mushroom soy. Fortunately, it still turned out to be a very good dish. Searing the sliced eggplant beforehand, as Pham says, makes it stay "firm and delicate" instead of mushy.

            The sauce is made with garlic, shallot, fresh chiles, basil (I used what I had - a mix of rau ram, cilantro, and perilla), mushroom soy (I used oyster sauce by accident), soy sauce, and water, with cubed tofu. Once this is slightly reduced, add more herbs and serve. I liked this a lot, even with my mistake, so will definitely try it again to compare to the original recipe.

            2 Replies
              1. re: Rubee

                Twice-Cooked Eggplant with Garlic and Basil, Pham PVT p. 200

                I made this tonight. I forgot to buy Asian basil, and I only read the bit about not using regular basil because it was too strongly flavoured after I already washed up the regular basil. So I used less regular basil and added some mint to the mix to dilute the basil.

                I notice that I had much less sauce in my version than Rubee had in her version. When we added the 1/3 cup of water at the end, it evaporated very quickly, and the dish was very dry.

                I also was confused by the directions to not fully cook the eggplant the first time around, and then add the eggplant late the second time around and heat through, then serve immediately. I found some of the eggplant could have used a bit more cooking.

                I tried to use very high heat. I have gas, and my stovetop is pretty powerful, but I still was unable to get the great flavour of eggplant that you can get when you have high enough heat to get wok hai. So I was not as big a fan of this dish as I hoped. It was good, but not fantastic. I'm not sure I'll make it again, just because I can't get high enough heat to make the eggplant transcendental.

              2. Lemongrass tofu (Pham, p. 193)

                Wonderful recipe. Very simple to make. I mixed the marinade into the tofu using my hands to minimize breakage. I used thai basil instead of pepper leaves. Didn't have any shallots, so used a bit more garlic and onion. Would definitely make this again!

                1. Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-fry, Nguyen, p. 181.

                  Quick, easy, delicious. The flavoring sauce has oyster sauce, sugar, fish sauce, water and canola oil. Once again, I soaked the shiitakes for just 30 minutes, not 8 hours.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Russian Beet, Potato, and Carrot Salad - Nguyen, p. 186

                    This is the first thing I've made out of either of the two books that I wouldn't make again, though my husband said it was "not bad." (Damned with faint praise.)

                    The tastes were too muddy for me - which I should have guessed just by reading the ingredient list! It was okay, just didn't wow. Terrificly fun neon pink color, though!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: mirage

                      That dish did strike me as a bit odd - thanks for trying it and letting us know!

                      1. re: mirage

                        I'm thinking of making that for a Viet-themed barbecue tomorrow but that's put me off. How does it compare to a regular Russian salad, which in my experience you either love or hate?

                        1. re: greedygirl

                          If I were going to make it again, I would decrease the dressing amount significantly. The recipe calls for making the dressing and dumping the carrots and then potatoes and beets in as they are ready, which I did. I should have tossed the veggies and then mixed in the dressing to taste.

                          I didn't answer your question because there have been some "Russian Salads" that I've loved and some I've not liked. So.....

                          Anyway, I just re-read Nguyen's little introduction to this dish. She says her mother served this salad with a marinated roasted chicken. I might have liked this combination better (with the above modification in preparation). The flavor of the ribs was so clean (like most of the other Vietnamese recipes I've tried) that the salad just didn't fit, to my palate.

                          YMMV, of course.

                          1. re: mirage

                            Thanks for your reply. As I got beetroot and carrots in my vegetable box this week I might as well give it a go. I'm not wild about Russian salad (which I think is down to a year spent in Moscow when I was a vegetarian student - I ate a LOT of Russian salad), but Mr GG likes it.

                            Thanks for the tip about the dressing. I hate too much gloop, so adding to taste sounds like a good idea.

                        2. re: mirage

                          I did make it and we really liked it. I did make the dressing separately, as you suggested, but ended up using the whole lot and it wasn't gloopy at all. It went really well with the Lemongrass Grilled Riblets and Pham's Five Spice Chicken. Totally loved the colour as well!

                          1. re: mirage

                            I made this a couple of weeks ago and really liked it (but we're big beet and potato folks here LOL). Used the ready made baby beets from Trader Joes (too hot to fire up the oven for just this) and took the liberty of adding some defrosted green peas to it but otherwise thought it was a great compliment to the lemongrass riblets and scallion corn (as suggested in the book). Have to agree that the neon pink was definitely fun!

                          2. Grilled Corn with Scallion Oil, ITVK

                            We all really enjoyed this, but I'm not sure whether the scallion oil added much. I've never parboiled sweetcorn before grilling it, but it's a great idea and ensures very tender corn. Again, no leftovers.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: greedygirl

                              Have to agree - I kept re-reading the recipe thinking I had done something wrong because I couldn't taste the scallion at all. Won't do this one again.

                            2. Water Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic, IVK/Nguyen, Pg. 179

                              Since I could not find any water spinach I used farm fresh Chard, the "Bright Lights" variety. First you make the flavoring sauce comprised of a bit of sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce, canola oil and chopped garlic. The directions call for the spinach to be blanched, drained and squeezed but I skipped this step with the chard and went directly to the wok. It's the basic stir-fry technique adding the flavoring sauce aboout 4 minutes after the greens have been frying. After a few more frying minutes to blend the greens are done. Served with the Stir-Fried Minced (Pork) Bison.

                              Nice meal: Meat, greens, rice....we liked it!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Gio

                                BTW, water spinach has a lot of names. In chinese, the direct translation is empty heart vegetable (kung xing cai). It's also known as water convulus (sp?) and something else. But, the surest way to know is to look at the stems - their hollow. The leaves are on the small, skinny side and are tasty. Look for skinnier stems because they will be more tender. I usually cut off and compost the thick stems.

                                1. re: beetlebug

                                  Many thanks for that description, BB. Before going to Connors farm on Saturday we went to the Malden Super 88 and alas I didn't see that spinach. They usually have everything clearly labled, too. I really should remake the dish using the correct vegetable. BTW: The Bright Lights chard has hollow red stems too!

                                2. re: Gio

                                  Made this with the water spinach, which I'd never had before. I found the prep mildly onerous in that some stems were thick and others thin and I had to go through the rather large bunch stem by stem to sort out which to keep. (Sounds as though beetlebug's got the procedure down; perhaps next time it will go more quickly for me.) The leaves, as Nguyen said they would, require thorough washing; they released a lot of dirt. I did blanch, drain, and squeeze dry if for no other reason than that I follow a recipe at least the first time when working with a new ingredient. And I was surprised that such a seemingly huge bunch of greens reduced to such a small amount on the serving plate.

                                  I do a lot of stir-fried greens with garlic and I thought this was a particularly good one. The added sugar and fish and oyster sauces added a lot of umami to the dish. But the biggest surprise for me was the texture of the water spinach. The leaves are similar to many other greens, but the stems, although tender, remain a bit crispy. It was a textural contrast that I liked a great deal and will now be keeping an eye out for water spinach when I'm shopping in areas likely to have it.

                                3. Black Mushrooms with Bean Threads in Claypot (nam kho), Pham-PVT, p. 197

                                  This was delicious. I love bean thread/glass noodles anyways and this dish was really good with lots of flavor. It's also the first time I used fermented soybeans as an ingredient. I liked this - it gave a slight sweet richness to the sauce. I'll be making the Bean Dipping Sauce on p. 28 later this week to use this ingredient again.

                                  There's a certain amount of prep - soaking the dried mushrooms (I used sliced shitakes and wood-ear) and soaking the bean thread noodles for half an hour and blanching and draining the bamboo (I used canned), but the rest comes together pretty quickly . I also left out the lily-buds as I didn't have any, and cooked this in a regular pot instead of a claypot.

                                  Shallots and soybeans are sauteed in oil, add onion, mushrooms, chili flakes, soy, and sugar and saute for another 2 minutes, and then add bean threads, water, tofu, and bamboo shoots. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. I didn't think there was enough liquid to cook the noodles, but it ended up perfectly done. I garnished with chopped cilantro.

                                  1. Cabbage and Egg Stir Fry, ITVK, p180

                                    This was a delicious and simple supper for one tonight using minimal ingredients.

                                    You briefly stir-fry some chopped garlic in oil and then add sliced cabbage (I used savoy). When the cabbage has wilted and is tender but still crisp, stir in 2t of fish sauce and a beaten egg. Stir to combine, but remove from the heat before the egg is properly set - you want a custardy texture. Top with black pepper.

                                    I had a huge bowlful on its own with a couple of leftover spare ribs, but it would also make a nice accompaniment to one of the grilled meat dishes, or perhaps to fish.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      I must admit that the name of this recipe did not call to me. It turned out to be delicious, however! Really more than the sum of its parts and I bet it would be even tastier with the black pepper, which I inadvertently left out. I've been using Red Boat fish sauce and it really leaves a pleasantly savory, but non-fishy flavor. We both loved this dish and I'm considering making it again tomorrow with the leftover napa cabbage.

                                      1. re: emily

                                        I love when old threads like this pop up - and guess what? I just happen to have a cabbage sitting feeling unloved in the crisper. Kismet.

                                        1. re: emily

                                          It's what's for dinner tonight! Thanks Emily. I have half a large head of green cabbage and a couple of bell peppers, a few mushrooms. It's a clean-out-the-fridge night before shopping day.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            Cabbage and Egg Stir-Fry, Pg. 180, ITVK/Nguyen

                                            We made this for dinner last night an my notes tell me we made it a year ago too. 6 April 2012 to be exact. Totally forgot. But, it was delicious and definitely an addition to my Winter cabbage rotation. Instead of throwing in the few extra vegetables we simply followed the recipe exactly and then created a second stir-fry of garlic, ginger, sliced onion, red bell and green pepper slices, with dark soy sauce, and fish sauce. Steamed brown basmati rice was the third dish. Very, Very nice. Thanks for resurrecting the recipe, Emily.

                                      2. Basic Boiled Vegetable (Nguyen, pg. 175)

                                        I used cauliflower and I served it with the ginger lime dressing (pg. 309). I love cauliflower and loved the various flavors that the dipping sauce had. More under the dipping sauce thread.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: beetlebug

                                          I made this with green beans, which I boiled quickly ahead of time, and served at room temperature, tossing with the ginger lime dressing at the last minute - excellent and refreshing.

                                        2. Crispy Eggplant Slices - Nguyen, p. 182

                                          Hmmmm. Fried eggplant with a vietnamese dipping sauce. What's not to like? I used the skinniest italian eggplants I could find. The fried slices were moist and tasty on the inside, and crisp on the outside. They did stay crisp for a long time. I don't know how long they would have remained crisp - we ate them all.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: mirage

                                            Made this tonight for my 90-year-old mom who adores eggplant. Although Nguyen says not to use globe eggplant, and I bought the eggplant at an Asian market, the Chinese eggplant looked really worn out and the globe looked lovely so I chanced it. I got lucky. The eggplant had practically no seeds and cooked up beautifully. Mom loved it; she ate a lot more than she usually does. Wasn't sure what she would think of the Simple Dipping Sauce with garlic and chiiies, but she loved that, too.

                                            1. re: mirage

                                              Was coming back to post on a new recipe and was reminded that I had wanted to follow up on your comment, mirage, about not knowing "how long they would have remained crisp."

                                              When I made them a few weeks ago, about half the batch was left over. After being refrigerated overnight, I reheated them in a toaster oven and they crisped right up again. I don't recall ever having fried anything that crisped up again as well as these eggplant slices. Perhaps it's the rice flour in the batter? Whatever it is, I'm eager to try this batter with other ingredients and see if the results are the same.

                                              1. re: JoanN

                                                I've also been thinking about using that batter with other things, but I just don't fry that often. Let us know your results!

                                            2. Pickled Shallots (ItVK page 195)

                                              These soak overnight “to remove some of their harshness” before being pickled in a simple brine of salt, sugar, and vinegar and allowed to mature for 5 days. Nguyen says they “cut the richness” of certain foods, and they do indeed. I served them at a dinner party and my guests kept commenting on how good they were. I think part of it is that they’re absolutely gorgeous! So beautiful in the serving bowl; so lovely on the plate. And I’m betting they’ll be a marvelous substitute for Carole’s Pickled Onions (“The Zuni Cookbook”), which I always have on hand for sandwiches.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: JoanN

                                                Indeed, those are so pretty to look at, JoanN! What exactly did you serve them with?

                                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                                  I was out of the country for a very close friend's very significant birthday and I promised him a Vietnamese "banquet" for a birthday present. (As he is fond of saying, after a certain age all gifts should be combustible, comestible, convertible, or cash). I mention that, because otherwise you'd think I was nuts if I told you that I served them with Beef Stewed with Tomato, Star Anise, and Lemongrass; Honey Roasted Duck Legs; Shrimp in Spicy Tamarind Sauce; and Grilled Eggplant with Seared Scallion. Oh. And rice. Something to "cut the richness" was indeed in order.

                                                  1. re: JoanN

                                                    Hi Joann, Could you post or send me the recipe for Shrimp in Spicy Tamarind Sauce. i have been looking for a recipe :0)

                                                    1. re: vanity021

                                                      Here’s a link to the recipe:

                                                      And here’s a link to my report on the recipe along with a photo:

                                                2. re: JoanN

                                                  I completely skipped over that recipe, Joan. Now, having read your description, I'm going to make the pickled shallots ASAP. Thanks!