Tag Archives: Vietnamese Recipe

Review of Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen

Image

Ever heard of tofu noodles? I hadn’t, since here in the UK we’re sadly not as well stocked on Asian ingredients as our cousins in the US. But if you’re a fan of Vietnamese home cooking, then you better have heard about Andrea Nguyen. Her blog, Viet World Kitchen, is an invaluable regular resource that provides great cooking advice from everyday meals to special holidays like the Tet festival. Her famous debut cookbook, Into The Vietnamese Kitchen, is one of my best Vietnamese cookbooks despite that it is very meaty, simply because Nguyen’s flavours are always excellent. Just swap, say, the chicken in her lemongrass and ginger curry for mock chicken, and the effect is still brilliant.

Nguyen has the great ability to impart detailed advice on basic to advanced cooking tips whilst keeping her writing extremely accessible to any home-cook. Even more rarely for cookery writers, she synthesises her ability to impart technical knowledge with fluent, original and fascinating writing about Vietnamese and Asian food culture and history. And so I was thrilled to see recently that she had published Asian Tofu, thinking how great it would be to read an Asian/Vietnamese cookbook with predominantly Vegetarian recipes for once!

Asian Tofu is an unusual gem of a book, combining vast amounts of information about Asia, food and cooking into a rich resource with unexpected levels of depth. You might think a cook book succinctly titled Asian Tofu would be a simple affair – I’ve read tofu books that certainly are. Indeed, tofu is an ingredient derived from the humble soy bean; a crop that Nguyen notes was cultivated in China largely because it simply gave a good yield in poor soil. But this book shows you how wrong you are if you think tofu, this staple Asian delicacy, is simple. Even I found the book challenged my preconceptions, despite that I’ve been cooking with tofu for years now. The book has so much new information that it bears reading more than once and trying out a couple of recipes before you really start breaking into it and becoming completely confident, but the results will drastically improve your cooking.

Not only does Nguyen provide simple but game-changing tofu cooking tips and detailed buying guides in her introduction that I have NEVER found in other cookbooks, she also traces the foodstuff’s history in Asia, detailing its spread from country to country from medieval Japan to 20C India. This journey is then mirrored in the following recipe chapters, each section opening with beautiful photographs and stories of a particular destination that Nguyen has researched in her book, such as a tiny local tofu making shop in the suburbs of Tokyo; a Sichuanese University professor’s impromptu home dinner party; a famous Taiwanese vegan restaurant serving briny mock eel. What is fascinating is that tofu is loved differently from place to place, with the Japanese and Koreans in particular preferring softer, silken forms of mouth-wateringly fresh tofu garnished simply, whereas further South in China, Vietnam and Thailand tofu is often enjoyed fried with a deliciously crispy and chewy outer layer and accompanied with vegetables and other ingredients.

Nguyen encourages the home-cook to explore all the different methods of cooking tofu, even mixing and matching different styles, with an interesting chapter opening on young second generation American Asians who are developing new ways to use tofu in Western or fusion styles, such as Eddie Huang’s ‘Tofu Hamburger’ with sweet chilli sauce. My personal favourite section was ‘Salads and Sides’, which has an abundance of highly flavoursome and fresh dishes such as ‘Spicy Lemongrass Tofu Salad’ and ‘Spicy Yuba Ribbons’.

IMG_3495

My attempt at Nguyen’s Vietnamese Lemongrass Fried Tofu (Dau Phu Xao Xa Ot). The tofu is deep fried and then fried again in curry spices and coconut milk so that the outer layer has fantastic flavour and texture.

So far I’ve been cooking up the Vietnamese recipes, such as ‘Lemongrass Fried Tofu’ and ‘Tofu and Tomato Soup’, and the results have been some of the best tofu I’ve ever eaten. Just blanching and draining the tofu, something I’ve never previously been taught to do properly, has had a huge impact on texture and flavour absorption. The next step is to follow the enticing looking guide to making fresh tofu from scratch at home, with the results apparently being akin to the difference between shop bought and home-made bread. And when that time comes I’ll be sure you update you here…

IMG_3510 IMG_3514

(Photos of Lemongrass Fried Tofu by Luke Walker)

Advertisements

Vietnamese Crêpes (Bánh Xèo) with Cinnamon

P1030428

Cinnamon flecks these creamy coloured, crispy pancakes. Bright Yellow kumquats, red chills and fresh green herbs make a colourful filling.

Making Bánh Xèo the other week at Lily’s, at the crucial moment we found that we were out of turmeric. But ingenuity came to the rescue, and we decided to use cinnamon instead. This worked surprisingly well with the coconut milk used to mix the rice flour into batter, creating a faintly sweet, delicate taste. I would still use turmeric, since the flavour and colour is really important, but try adding a bit of cinnamon and you might be pleasantly surprised… This would work well if you wanted to add a Vietnamese inspired dessert filling to the pancakes too, like sweetened mung beans.

Recipe (Makes 8 pancakes):


For the batter:
200g Bánh Xèo flour (rice flour mix that can be bought at oriental supermarkets)
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp vegetable oil
pinch of salt

For The Filling:
1 carrot, chopped into Julienne strips
3 spring onions, chopped into Julienne strips
200g beansprouts
1/2 pepper (red or green), blanched and diced or julienne sliced
1/2 bunch of coriander
1/2 bunch of mint, stems removed.
200g tofu, fried and chopped into roughly 1cm square pieces
1/2 red chilli, sliced diagonally
8 whole, large iceberg lettuce leaves

For the Nuoc Cham Sauce:
5 tablespoons of warm water
3 tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 kumquats, sliced lengthways (optional)
1/2 red chilli, sliced diagonally for garnish

IMG_1429

Mix the Nuoc Cham ingredients together, adding the chillis and kumquats at the end as garnish.

Combine the batter ingredients and whisk until there are no lumps left. Head a non-stick frying pan to a medium high heat and brush oil over the surface. Add one ladle of batter to the pan and tilt the pan to each side to  make sure the batter spreads evenly and thinly. When the bottom half is starting to brown slightly and become crisp, flip the pancake and cook the other side in the same way.

IMG_1433IMG_1440

Line up the filling ingredients, and on one half on the pancake surface, pile a few stalks of onion, pepper, carrot and beansprouts, a few pieces of tofu, one of two pieces of chilli and layers of herbs to taste. Add 1-2 tbsps of Nuoc Cham, wrap the whole pancake in a lettuce leaf and eat. And if you feel like it, keep dipping in Nuoc Cham as you take each bite.

P1030434

Vietnamese Omelette

IMG_1302  IMG_1305

Seemingly humble, nay, even strange (to Europeans) ingredients like squiggly black cat’s ear mushrooms render a delicious, mildly salty taste and lovely crunchy texture to this staple Vietnamese dish. 

This is my adaptation of my Tata Hélène’s recipe for Vietnamese omeletes, aka hairy omelettes as I used to call them, due to the crunchy ribbons of noodles, onions and mushrooms that thread through the eggs. The savoury, salty flavour that hits you from the mixture of fried eggs, onions, garlic, vermicelli noodles, dried cat’s ear mushrooms, pepper and thin soy sauce is like no other – you’ll not get over it, it is overwhelming and addictive. When we used to visit my aunt in Marseille, us kids would love these so much that on the last day of our visit, Hélène would make several big ones (with shredded pork) and stack them up on a plate for us to take away on the journey home. The last time she made them for us as children I ate so many in the car on the way home that I contracted salmonella from the eggs… I’m sure there a several lessons to be learnt from that story. But this summer she made some again for me, after many years of absence, and I can vouch for their enduring deliciousness – I was certainly no young fool in my childhood love for these.

Recipe: (serves 2 with side dish(es) and rice. Double the ingredients to make one big, fat omelette to serve up sliced for 4 or more).

1/4 onion, sliced lengthways quite finely
1 – 2 cloves garlic depending on taste, finely diced
1/2 cup bean vermicelli, soaked and chopped into roughly inch long pieces
1/2 cup pre-soaked, sliced wood ear mushrooms (aka: black fungi/cat’s ear mushrooms/oreilles de chats. You can buy these pre-sliced in longdan supermarkets, or use about 2 whole mushrooms)
1 tbsp thin soy sace
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Fry the onion and garlic on a low heat for 4 minutes in the oil, until they become translucent and begin to soften. Use a non-stick frying pan.

Add the soaked and shredded vermicelli and mushrooms and fry on a medium heat for another 3 minutes. Frying all these separately before adding the eggs ensures that they impart maximum flavour.

P1030313

Beat 4 eggs together in a bowl (use chopsticks to save on washing up), until yolks and whites are fully combined, and add soy sauce and pepper. Add egg mix to the frying pan and mix quickly for a few seconds to ensure even distribution of vegetables. Let it fry for 2-3 minutes on one side, until the bottom half is firmly cooked and curling off the edges of the pan.

Take frying pan off the heat and put it under the grill for another 2-3 minutes, until the omelette is golden and all the egg is thoroughly cooked.

IMG_1303