Thirty years, 52 columns each...times,
tastes, trends change when war is catalyst; one
of Franklin's best; his Syndicate copy send...
FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE WEEK JANUARY 21, 2007
PRIMARY COLOR FOOD
COOKBOOK NOOK by Peter D. Franklin
Thirty years ago, when I began reviewing cookbooks for this column, the nation had just extricated itself from war in Vietnam. Today, Vietnamese restaurants abound in the United States and cookbooks featuring Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine for American home cooking are becoming prevalent - and better. Three decades from now, can we expect to see a new melting pot filled with Iraqi flavors?
One of the best of the new breed of Vietnamese cookbooks is "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors," by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen (Ten Speed Press, $35).
When Saigon collapsed to the Viet Cong in 1975, the author (a young child) and her family were among the last to leave. (Her father was a military governor in the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem.) Among the few possessions the family took with them was her mother's worn notebook of recipes. "It was the means for our family to preserve its heritage,” Nguyen explains. "So consider this book a new, expanded version of that notebook."
Nguyen, who now lives in California, has packed her book with nearly 200 recipes adapted for American cooks who have adventure in their hearts. The dishes are going to be unfamiliar to most, and the ingredients may require a visit to a specialty store. The author makes some substitutions – smelts for Viet anchovies, for instance -- but often only the real thing will do the job. Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) is one of the more unusual ingredients, used in Southeast Asia to crisp ingredients for frying and pickling. The author says it can be found in the flour aisle of Viet and Chinese markets.
Many of the recipes require a dozen or more ingredients, requiring also considerable time to prepare. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the likes of Fried Shrimp Chips, or Banana Cake. The former, described as the Southeast Asian potato chip, can be prepared with just dried shrimp and cooking oil, and the cake calls for but 6 ingredients, including extremely ripe bananas.
The author has done an excellent job of providing insight into Vietnamese cooking and traditions. The chapter introductions and recipe notes are wonderful and illuminating; the glossary is quite adequate; the overall presentation is excellent. A glitch or two in the editing of the text surely will disappear in the next edition.
Walk right "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" and enjoy with the author her treasured traditions.
** ** **
In Vietnam this is a breakfast stew that is very popular, but here it is presented as a lunch or dinner dish.
BEEF STEWED WITH TOMATOES, STAR ANISE, AND LEMONGRASS
2 1/3 pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed (about 2 pounds after trimming) and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 hefty stalk lemongrass, loose leaves discarded, cut into 3-inch lengths, and bruised with the broadside of a cleaver or chef's knife
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 1/2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh tomato or 1 can (14 ounces) crushed tomato
generous 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 star anise (16 robust points total) (See Note)
3 cups water
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander or Thai basil leaves
(NOTE: This star-shaped pod is not related to anise seed.)
In a bowl, combine the beef, lemon grass, fish sauce, five-spice powder, ginger, brown sugar, and bay leaf. Mix well with chopsticks and coat the beef evenly. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
In a heavy-bottomed 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, add the beef and sear on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Each batch should take about 3 minutes. Reserve the lemongrass and bay leaf from the marinade and discard the rest.
Lower the heat to medium-low, add the onion, and cook gently, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the tomato and salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the mixture is fragrant and has reduced to a rough paste. Check occasionally to make sure the tomato mixture is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If it is, stir well and splash in some water.
When the paste has formed, add the beef, lemongrass, bay leaf, and star anise, give the contents of the pot a bit of a stir, and cook, uncovered, for another 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and penetrate the beef. Add the water, bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 1 1/4 hours, or until the beef is chewy-tender (a sign that it is close to being done). To test for doneness, press on a piece; it should yield but still feel firm.
Add the carrots and return the stew to a simmer, adjusting the heat if needed. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the carrots and beef are tender. (This may be made up to 2 days in advance. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate, then bring to a simmer before continuing.)
Just before serving, do a final taste test. Add salt or a shot of fish sauce to intensify the overall flavor. Or, splash a bit of water to lighten the sauce. Transfer the stew to a serving dish, removing and discarding the lemongrass, bay leaf, and star anise. Garnish with the Vietnamese coriander (or Thai basil leaves) and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 as a main course.
COPYRIGHT 2007 PETER D. FRANKLIN
DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
4520 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64111-7701;
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen:
Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
by Andrea Nguyen,
Photographer: Leigh Beisch
Ten Speed Press
This was her first book. She has since written for the
Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News. She
is a food writer and culinary instructor.
Background: The author's family was airlifted out of Saigon
in 1975. Recalling the televised scramble for a place on the
choppers loading people from the top of a bell tower, it is
little wonder they had anything more than the clothes on
their backs. Andrea Nyugen's mother managed to save the
most valuable thing for herself: An orange notebook of
recipes. Thirty years later the daughter has put to paper
this collection. It chronicles the food traditions of her
country: It is a foodway for what today is one of the most
popular ethnics on restaurant plates in America.
This from the Chicago Tribune: "Andrea Hguyen may be to
Vietnamese food what Julia Child was to French fare and
Barbara Tropp to Chinese cuisine."