Ever-Green Vietnamese, by Andrea Nguyen
Ever-Green Vietnamese is not a vegan cookbook, or even a vegetarian one. It’s part of a new wave of “plant forward” cookbooks that give meat a more supporting role as a sometimes ingredient and flavor enhancer along with the vegetables that play the starring role.
It’s a healthy approach to eating, and one that Ngyuen was surprised to find harkened back to how her family used to eat before immigrating to the U.S. where they found that meat was cheap and plentiful. It turns out that her modern touch of shifting the focus to more vegetables is more in line with the way her mom remembers cooking in Vietnam than the food she grew up on in the US.
As an omnivore who happens to love vegetables and is interested in eating healthier, I like that there is no use of processed meat alternative products. It’s really all about the veggies (and tofu) and making them taste great.
That said, she includes some clever umami-laden recipes for basic building blocks like Vegan Fish Sauce and Vegan Sate Sauce, and the majority of the recipes in the book either are, or can easily be made vegan.
I started with some pantry building recipes, including the Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce (the base can be stored in the fridge for up to a month), Caramel Sauce (can be stored indefinitely), and Nori Dust (good for six months in the pantry). In her recipe for the dipping sauce, she encourages you to start with her suggested quantities, and then taste and tinker with it until it’s just the way you like it. Then write it down, and save it as your formula for the next time. This is an attitude that is repeated throughout the book, including in the Spice-Citrus Marble Cake, where you are instructed to taste and adjust the spice mixture to make it your own. While I generally taste and adjust while cooking (though usually not in a cake!), I tend to dislike recipes that tell you to just to add something ‘to taste’ without describing what you are aiming for. Especially with a cuisine I’m not that experienced in cooking, I found her details helpful in nudging me along in the right direction. That supportive teacher-like voice followed me to my local Asian market where it gave me confidence to try herbs that I had always had trouble identifying, and assistance in deciding which brands of staples to purchase. It even extended to a link to a video online, where I could see just how my caramel sauce should bubble and sizzle, and how dark I should take it.
Armed with my Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce, the Roast Chicken with Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette required minimal additional prep, and became an easy and flavorful meal with some roasted broccoli and potatoes on a sheet pan.
The Caramel Chicken, Mushrooms, and Ginger took a bit more effort but made good use of the Caramel Sauce, with meaty mushrooms soaking up the tasty sauce along with the chicken.
Of all the things I’ve tried so far, though, the revelation for me was just how much flavor can be infused into the humble cauliflower with a few savory ingredients and time roasting in the oven. I couldn’t stop eating the Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower, and expect it will be in regular rotation, either on its own or maybe as a filling for banh mi or bao (both recipes in the book).
Now that I’ve stocked my pantry and fridge, I feel ready to add tasty quick meals to my weeknight repertoire.