Vegetarian Vietnam Review + Cucumber Pineapple Rolls
I love Vietnamese food, but I don’t cook it very often. Last year, I made Bun Cha for the first time during the Around the World in 12 Plates challenge, but for the most part I was used to making regular pilgrimages to Toronto’s Chinatown for giant bowls of soup at Phở Hưng Restaurant! Now I am back in Newfoundland with few restaurant options for Vietnamese, so Vegetarian Vietnam by Cameron Stauch couldn’t have showed up at a better time! This cookbook changed my frame of mind, teaching me how to make Vietnamese staples and simplifying prep for weekday dinners.
Chef Cameron Stauch is a world traveller. As the partner of a Canadian diplomat he has lived all over the world, documenting his travel and his cooking on his blog A Global Kitchen — he was also a member of the cooking staff for the Governor General! I love the beginning pages of this book as we learn about the French and Chinese influences on the cuisine of Vietnam and a short history of its long relationship with religion. Stunning images of culinary life in Vietnam are peppered throughout the booking, making the reader feel like they are following along with Cameron as he travels throughout the country — each recipe also contains a short story about his experience with the dish in Vietnam.
Roll me home baby
The first recipe I tried in Vegetarian Vietnam was the Cucumber Pineapple Rolls with Coconut Soy Sauce (p.99). These gorgeous-looking rolls look way more complicated than they actually are! There was a lot of prep to get the mise-en-place together (you have to chop a lot of things like cucumber, pineapple and tofu into matchsticks), but everything comes together beautifully and these tasted so delicious! The sweetness of the pineapple with fried tofu rolled up with a plethora of herbs made a refreshing bite anyone would love. The coconut soy dipping sauce was out of this world: Adam wanted to bathe in it and proclaims it should be on our kitchen table for every meal.
I appreciate the notes throughout the book about substitutions: living in a more rural place without access to the freshest ingredients like Vietnamese balm or Thai basil, Cameron made it easy to swap more attainable items like sorrel, chard or arugula. There is also a great explanation about pantry staples and how to make them yourself!
More than bahn mi, pho sure!
The cookbook is divided into nine different sections ranging from ‘Vibrant Salads’ to ‘Drinks and Sweets,’ and there is even a whole section devoted to tofu and seitan, which are featured in many of the recipes. While having so many sections may seem a bit confusing, Cameron has got you covered! The ‘Menu Guidance’ chapter at the beginning of Vegetarian Vietnam explains how to pair the dishes together for the perfect meal.
While I gravitate to the noodles soups, I wanted to try something new in order to fairly review this cookbook. I have experience cooking Vietnamese food, but it is limited and I wanted to test Cameron’s claim that anyone can cook the meals — he was right! The directions were very clear and I sincerely appreciated how Vegetarian Vietnam included both metric and imperial measurements. So what else did I make? I tested out Everyday Table Sauce (p. 49), Quick Pickled Carrots (p.48) and Vermicelli Noodles with Fresh Turmeric, Tofu, and Chinese Chives (p.191). Those noodles were divine.
Use your noodle
The turmeric noodles were beyond easy to prepare, but oh-s0-fragrant. The small amount of turmeric added a huge punch to the dish and made it flavoursome without being too heavy. While we were making it, the aroma filled the kitchen and I couldn’t wait to get them on the table.
One of the only things lacking in Vegetarian Vietnam was recipe images. There were many amazing photos but there wasn’t a photo for each dish, and I was left wondering what the dish should look like. I found myself Googling certain dishes to see the final product, which could make it a tricky for those not familiar with Vietnamese cuisine.
I didn’t miss meat at all while trying these recipes. As we learn from Cameron, many Vietnamese are vegetarian, especially if they are practicing Buddhists. I recommend this cookbook to anyone wanting to take a deep dive into the nooks and crannies of Vietnamese cuisine — whether you are vegetarian or not won’t be an issue when devouring these delicious recipes. Cameron has allowed me to let you try one of the recipes so you can get a taste, enjoy!
Excerpted from Vegetarian Viet Nam by Cameron Stauch. Copyright © 2018 by Cameron Stauch. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
- One 10-inch (25cm) Toasted Sesame Rice Cracker (page 55) broken into ½-inch pieces
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ pound (225g) firm tofu, cut into ½-inch (1cm) slabs and patted dry on paper towel or a clean dish towel
- 3 small cucumbers (Kirby or Persian) or ½ English cucumber, unpeeled (for the English cucumber, seed removed) and cut into 4-by-1/4-inch (10cm by 0.6cm) sticks
- 4-by-1/4-inch (10cm by 0.6cm) fresh peeled pineapple, sixteen sticks
- 1 head Boston lettuce, leaves torn into palm-sized pieces
- ¾-cup packed mint leaves, larger leaves torn in half
- ¾ cup packed Thai basil, or Italian basil, large leaves torn in half
- ¾ cup packed Vietnamese balm or lemon balm (see Note), large leaves torn in half
- 1 cup packed cilantro springs
- 1 cup bean sprouts (50g)
- ¾ thinly sliced banana blossoms or green or red cabbage
- 16 rice paper rounds, 81/2 inches (22cm) in diameter
- FOR COCONUT SOY DIPPING SAUCE:
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ fresh red Thai bird chile, cut in half length-wise and seeds removed
- 11/2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame seeds (page 33), ground or 1 tablespoon tahini
- ¼ cup (60ml) soy sauce
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90ml) coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- Prepare Toasted Sesame Rice Cracker
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook for 4 minutes, until golden brown. Carefully turn the tofu over using chopsticks, tongs, or a spatula and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a large plate lined with paper towel. When cool, thinly slice into ¼-inch (6mm) sicks and set aside on a large plate or tray.
- Organize the cucumbers, pineapple, and rice cracker pieces in separate bunches on the same plate as the tofu. On another large plate, arrange separate piles of lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts and banana blossom. Place the places next to a clean cutting board, preferably next to the stove.
- Place large shallow skillet or a 9- or 10- inch (23 to 25 cm) pie plate filled with warm to hot tap water on a unit burner closest to the cutting board. Dip one rice paper into the water for a few seconds to soften and late it flat on cutting board. Place a leaf of lettuce on the bottom third of the rice paper, leaving a border of ½ inches (4cm) on either side.
- Line two or three leaves each of mind, basil, Vietnamese balm, and a couple springs of cilantro on top. Spread a pinch of bean sprouts and banana blossom over the herbs. Put a piece of tofu, cucumber, pineapple, and a couple pieces of rice cracker on top. Carefully lift the bottom edge of the rice paper over the filling and roll over once in a tight cylinder. Fold in the sides and continue to roll into a cylinder 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5cm) in length. Place on a clean plate or serving plate loosely covered in with a damp clean kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining rice paper and filling. (When the water is no longer warm, gently reheat it or discard the cold water from the pie plate and refill with warm to hot water.)
- Serve immediately on a platter or individual plates and dip into the coconut soy dipping sauce before eating.
- COCONUT SOY DIPPING SAUCE: Roughly chop the garlic and chile and add to a blender along with the ground sesame seeds, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, and five-spice powder. Puree for a minute, or until the garlic and chile are finely chopped and well blended. Refrigerate for up to 3 or 4 days.
Prepare these rolls just before serving. If made too far in advance, the rice cracker pieces loose their crunchiness.
Replace some of the herbs with roughly chopped greens like Chinese celery, sorrel, chard or arugula.
Replace the banana blossom with matchsticks of green papaya, green mango, jicama, or even a tart apple.