Vietnam at the time of 1969. she is settling in America. U.S. at age six and was raised at home in Southern California, Andrea Nguyen has spent the rest of her life studying Vietnamese food. Her most excellent teacher is the mother of her children, Clara Tuyet Thi Nguyen.
Andrea’s most recent publication, “Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants From Land and Sea” (Ten Speed Press) Andrea shares the lessons she’s learned since entering her 50s. Health issues forced her to reconsider how she cooks at home.
“I was so proud of myself,” she writes. “I visited my mom, and she sat me down to discuss my life-changing thoughts on Vietnamese vegetarian and low-meat cooking. She was pleased that I was feeling good, but she also added that meat was pricey in Vietnam. We cooked mostly with seafood and other vegetables. This is how it went.'”
Recently, Andrea sat down with Clara, currently 89, to discuss the changes in their food across continents and decades, the enticing connection between food and memories, and the countless ways that eating is a sign of survival.
Andrea Nguyen: When our family came to America in 1975, what did you think about the different ingredients?
Clara Nguyen Clara Nguyen: I didn’t have the time for thought. We were all too busy surviving. I had my own sewing business to run. We rearranged the recipe in the notebook I carried along and also worked out other issues as we worked.
From left to right: Clara Tuyet Thi Nguyen (at right) with her family members in San Clemente, Calif., in the 1980s. Andrea Nguyen (front, left), Clara Tuyet Thi Nguyen (rear and third from right), and their families in California, 1975.ANDREA NGUYEN
Many families of immigrants arrive in America and alter their diets. They usually eat more meat. We did the same. Eggs and chicken were cheaper here than in Vietnam—beef and pork. Seafood was more expensive in America. We learned to accept everything as an advantage of living in America. We were never hungry. I was overweight before we departed from Saigon. The crowd was amazed and touched you in the wet market, don’t you remember? It was strange. I was timid. What did you do to provide us with food in Saigon during an abundance of instability and inflation?
Your father earned an impressive income. I made use of 300 grams of meat to make skewers of pork. A stir-fry with vegetables could contain 100 grams of beef. Our family was eight people, including our cook. Is that all the meat we consume? Three hundred grams equals 10 ounces. This is the weight of a typical steak. One hundred grams is smaller than a hamburger.
The list was full of options to get your hands on. We were fortunate. As a child in northern Vietnam, I had a Hanoi family who ate mostly cooked cabbage and then seasoned the water used to cook it with ginger to mimic the taste of the chicken broth. They were poor, but they always dressed with grace when they were in public.
Ca Tim Nuong Mo Hanh (Grilled Eggplant With Garlicky Scallion Sizzle). It’s a resourceful, innovative cooking. Vegetables are essential in Vietnamese cuisine. Of course. It’s all about agriculture. We eat whatever we can cultivate. Most people love the different components of a plant. For instance, squash is valued more than the squash blossoms that are deliciously stir-fried. We prepare sweet potatoes as well as their soft leaves. People would eat rice with freshly baked peanuts and other vegetables without meat.
When did you start cooking? My family lived in Haiduong, a northern part of northern Vietnam. We were wealthy. In August 1945, we were part of our neighbors, the Viet Minh, many of who were communists fighting against the French. We were forced to flee and live in the open countryside. This was quite rough. Grandpa arranged for us to return home safely in the spring of 1946. The money we thought was safely concealed was stolen. Schools were shut. I was able to handle food for our entire family.
Seriously? You were 12 years old. Young. What is the reason your family would let a pre-teen cook the food? This was our situation. I have dealt with it.
I read cookbooks as a child, and one day, you began teaching me the art of making rice for us and our families. Was this decision based on your cooking experiences in the beginning?
I need assistance with my kitchen!
Banh Mi Hap Nhan Chay (Steamed Banh Mi Lettuce Wraps). The year was 1954. your family moved to Saigon. What was it like? We sampled a variety of southern Vietnamese food items. For instance, a lady who lived close to us sold pieces of baguette steamed coated with oil of green onion. Her banh mi was moist, sweet, and delicious. It was an excellent breakfast snack. You created this for us in America with the help of supermarket day-old French bread. Nowadays, people fill the steamed banh mi with additional ingredients such as stir-fried topping peanuts and shallots fried. The whole thing is wrapped in an herb and lettuce wrap then dipped in Nuoc cham dip sauce up to 1975; I have never seen the things you mentioned. The food I had was not expensive.
I cook traditional Vietnamese salads without meat to improve your health and less effort. For example, I served the seared tofu and kohlrabi salad the other evening. You had it but didn’t speak about it. What do you consider? The idea was clever. This vegetarian variation is an excellent version. Do you ever miss any of the food you ate in Vietnam?
I strive not to regret or overlook things. When I think of an item from Vietnam, I will try to cook it. I read magazines and the Internet. However, I know that the country I grew up in went away after we went away.
Ca Tim Nuong Mo Hanh (Grilled Eggplant With Garlicky Scallion Sizzle)
The typical Viet grilling of eggplant is done by cooking and throwing away the skin before putting the charred flesh in a blanket of mo hanh rich, created by frying scallions and sizzling them with hot oils. In reality, it’s quite a task for an appetizer. To make it an entree, grill large slices of the eggplant. Keep the skin intact to keep the nutrients. The”steaks of eggplant “steaks” keep for days and are ready to serve in the delicious garlic-scallion sauce.
Total Time45 minutes
- The eggplant is the subject of this:
- 1 or 2 Globe eggplants (1 1/2 pounds in total)
- Fine sea salt
- 3-4 tablespoons of peanut or canola oil, plus extra to brush
- For the green garlic oil:
- 1 Cup chopped up scallions, green and white parts
- Two cloves of garlic Finely chopped
- Two tablespoons of peanut oil
- One teaspoon of acceptable sea salt and one pinch of fine sea
- 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of fish sauce or vegan substitute
- One tablespoon of water
- 1- 2 smaller Thai serrano or Thai chiles cut into pieces
- Grill the steaks of eggplant Cut off the flaps of the ends of the stems, then trim the stems and cut off the butt ends. If you’re using medium-sized eggplants, cut them in crosswise circles, each around 5/8 inches thick. If the eggplant is more considerable, cut it in half lengthwise and crosswise into 5/8-inch half moons.
- Place the eggplant in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt to taste, and mix in 3-4 tablespoons of canola oil to lightly coat. Place a high-heat cast-iron grill and lightly scrub using canola oils. Make a charcoal grill that is medium-hot, or heat your gas grill to medium-high. In batches, cook eggplant until cooked to your liking, about 4-6 minutes on each side. (A knife tip that is inserted should not meet any resistance.) Place the eggplant on an oven-safe baking sheet or plate and cool until room temperature.
- Make the garlicky oil: In a small microwaveable bowl, mix scallions, garlic, two tablespoons of canola oil, and salt. Microwave at high power until the oil is bubbly and fragrant for 45-60 minutes. Stir and let cool until the temperature of lukewarm. Mix in 1 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce, water, and chilies. Check for salt, and if necessary, you want to add more fish sauce to give it the flavor. Instead of microwaving, add oil to a small saucepan, and place at medium-high heating. If a scallion slice slowly begins to sizzle, stir in the rest of the garlic, scallions, and salt. Cook until the solids become soft, 30 seconds. Let them cool, and finish according to the recipe.
- For serving, arrange the eggplant steaks on a platter. Pour the entire green oil over the top. Eggplants can be cooked and stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days. Bring it to room temperature, then microwave for 45-60 seconds before making the.
Banh Mi Hap Nhan Chay (Steamed Banh Mi Lettuce Wraps)
In Vietnam, baguettes are cooked and consumed for breakfast within 24 hours. The mother of Andrea Nguyen’s author, Clara Tuyet Thi Nguyen moved from Saigon 1954 to Hai Duong in northern Vietnam in 1954; her family stayed in a house tucked away in an alleyway that ran along an affluent street. Every night the neighbor would come to the house with a sack of large baguettes in a sloppy state due to the humidity of the summer. The next day Clara had transformed the loaf into a recommended breakfast treat to sell at the market in the open air. She cut the bread into thick slices, steamed them into soft and chewy, and then decorated them with oil from green onions for a simple banh mi hap. It simply refers to “steamed bread.” Clara made it for her family when they moved to America, and they loved the bread’s soft texture and sweet, spicy garnish. Today, banh mi hap is imaginative, served with a stir-fried blend and other treats and served alongside nuoc Cham dip sauce, lettuce, and herbs for wraps. There is no need for meat for banh mi to become a feast. It’s an excellent method to use bread that has been sitting for a while.
Total Time1 45 minutes and 1 hour
Serves:4 as a snack
- To make the nuoc cham sauce for dipping:
- 1/2 cup lukewarm or ice-cold water
- Two tablespoons agave syrup, mild honey, or Granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of unfiltered Apple cider or vinegar that is unseasoned
- Two teaspoons of fresh lime juice or lemon juice
- Three tablespoons of fish sauce or vegan substitute
- 2-3 teaspoons garlic-chile sauce or 2-3 Thai or serrano chilies, thinly cut (optional)
- One large clove of garlic, minced (optional)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped carrot (optional)
- For the sesame scallion oil
- 1 Cup chopped up scallions, green and white parts
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt fine salt 1/8 teaspoon fine sea
- One teaspoon of baking soda (optional to preserve the vibrant color)
- Three tablespoons of canola or peanut oil
- Two teaspoons of sesame oil toasted.
- One teaspoon of neutral oil (such as peanut or canola)
- Two tablespoons of diced shallots or yellow onion.
- One 1/2 cup chopped shiitake cremini or white mushrooms. stems included
- 3 cups diced Jicama sweet potato or carrot
- 1/8 teaspoon ground recent black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Maggi Seasoning Sauce Bragg Liquid Aminos Soy sauce, or fish sauce
- Fine sea salt
- For bread:
- Two small baguettes or bolillo rolls, 1/2-full size French-style baguette
- 1/3 cup of unsalted roasted cashews or peanuts, crushed or chopped
- Three tablespoons of fried shallots or onions
- Leaves from one head of butter, the red or green-leaf lettuce
- One small handful of mint shiso, basil, or any other fresh soft-leaf herbs
- One small handful of cilantro sprigs
- Prepare the nuoc-cham dip sauce. In a small bowl, mix agave syrup, water, lime juice, and vinegar. Make sure to taste the sauce to ensure that it has an excellent tart-sweet base. If needed, add sweetener, vinegar, and juice in 1/2 teaspoon increments. You may require more than you are billed for based on the sweetener, citrus, and taste. Mix with some water if you’ve gone overboard. Once you’re satisfied with the taste, include the sauce for fish. Are you happy with the saltiness? If not, add additional fish sauce, one teaspoon at each time. (This sauce base can be kept in a tightly sealed container for up to one month. Test it again, and if necessary, squeeze in the juice of citrus and add fish sauce to refresh.)
- If you want to add extras, the sauce with chile and garlic for spice, garlic to add an intense flavor, and carrot with a slight crunch and a little sweetness.
- Prepare the sesame oil in a small microwaveable bowl, and mix with scallions, salt, and baking soda if you are using canola oil and sesame oils. Microwave on high until the mixture starts to bubble and the onions begin to soften, 45 to 60 minutes (Alternatively, make a mixture of sesame oil, canola oil, and baking soda in a pot and cook on medium heat until a piece of scallion slowly sizzles when it comes into contact. Add the remaining scallions, baking soda, and salt if you have them, and cook until the ingredients become soft about thirty seconds.) Allow to cool until room temperature.
- Make the topping. Place an 8-inch nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of canola oil. As the oil begins to ripple, add shallots. Cook while stirring until they become soft and fragrant, about approximately 1-2 minutes. Add Shiitake mushrooms, diced jicama pepper, Maggi. Add two tablespoons of water, cover, and steam-saute until the vegetables are cooked for around 5 minutes. Remove the outside towards the end to cook and increase the flavor. Allow the topping to cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt. (You can prepare the sesame scallion oil and the shiitake topping three days before. Refrigerate separately, then bring to room temperature before serving.)
- Cook the bread in a large pot, like a 6-quart Dutch oven, filled with water about 1/2 inch deep. Then, place a collapsible steamer made of metal inside. (Or you can set up a Chinese steamer where the bottom pot is filled halfway in the water.) Bring the water to a boil on high heat, and then lower the heat to maintain the steam.
- Then, slice the bread crosswise into tiny 3/4-inch slices. In small batches, steam the bread, cut-sides down, until it becomes soft and warm, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bread that has been cooked to an oven-safe dish and cover it with dish towels to preserve warmth. (If there’s a collapsible vaporizer, place the bread on its upward slope to prevent it from contacting the water.)