“Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott. Robert Rose, 2015, $19.95

I had been making fresh spring rolls every day for a week when “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott came into my life.

I’m glad it did.

Packed with 135 recipes that heavily feature crisp vegetables and fresh herbs, this book was just what I needed to elevate my Vietnamese cooking game (which, if we’re being honest, included only the spring rolls).

McDermott takes a straightforward and inviting approach to introducing readers to Vietnamese cuisine: She describes the flavors and lifestyles that influence the cuisine and encourages cooks to embrace the simplicity of fresh ingredients and pantry staples that are easy to find even in non-Asian markets.

A glossary of Vietnamese ingredients and suggested menus are nice additions.

The book is heavy on recipes for soups and noodle bowls, but it also offers recipes for pickles and relishes, rice porridge and sauces. Most are made with just a handful of ingredients you likely already have in your pantry and fridge. The only downside to the book – and it’s a minor one – is the small number of photos. I tend to gravitate to cookbooks that are heavy on photos, especially when I’m cooking things I’ve never made before.

As I flipped through the book debating which recipe to try first, I noted with particular interest recipes for Egg Pancake with Crab and Cilantro, Pork in Caramel Sauce and Soothing Rice Porridge with Salmon and Fresh Dill. I’ll get to those in time, but when I found the recipe for Big Cool Noodle Bowl with Roast Chicken, Cucumbers and Mint, I knew I had a winner.

I made the noodle bowls on a weeknight after an extra long day in the newsroom, so I took McDermott’s suggested time savers and picked up a rotisserie chicken and bags of shredded carrots and lettuce at the grocery store. The pickled carrots and dipping sauce came together quickly and, before I knew it, I was assembling the perfect cool noodle bowl. This will no doubt be a new staple at my house.

 

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The big noodle bowl, with fresh sprigs of mint, is easier to make than you might think and pays for the work with big taste. COURTESY PHOTO

BIG COOL NOODLE BOWL WITH ROAST CHICKEN, CUCUMBERS AND MINT

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

Serves 4

1 pound thin rice noodles

2 cups shredded lettuce or spring salad mix

3 cups shredded roast chicken

2 cups peeled, sliced cucumber

1 cup small sprigs fresh mint and fresh cilantro combined

2 cups mung bean sprouts, optional

1 cup Everyday Pickled Carrots or shredded carrots, optional (recipe follows)

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

3/4 cup chopped dry-roasted salted peanuts

Double recipe Everyday Dipping Sauce, about 1 cup (recipe follows)

1. Bring a large saucepan or pasta pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in noodles, remove from heat and let stand, using tongs or a slotted spoon and fork to separate the noodles and let them soak evenly for 10 minutes. When noodles are tender, drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. You’ll have about 6 cups of cooked noodles. Let stand while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

2. Set up 4 big Asian-style noodle or soup bowls. Divide ingredients evenly among the bowls: lettuce first, topped with 11/2 cups noodles in each bowl.

3. Place roast chicken on one side and cucumber, fresh herbs and any optional ingredients you’re using on the other.

4. Sprinkle green onions and peanuts over chicken, pour 1/4 cup of Everyday Dipping Sauce over each portion of noodles and serve at once, inviting your guests to toss everything together as they begin to eat.

EVERYDAY PICKLED CARROTS

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

11/2 cups water

3/4 cup white vinegar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded carrots

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Cook, swirling once or twice, until sugar and salt dissolve and brine is clear and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

2. Add shredded carrots to cooled brine, toss well and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature or transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate until serving time. Scoop out carrots from brine as needed and store the remainder in the refrigerator for up to five days.

EVERYDAY DIPPING SAUCE

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce, finely chopped fresh hot red chilis or 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Combine garlic, sugar and chili-garlic sauce and mash into paste with pestle or the back of a spoon.

2. Scrape paste into a small bowl and stir in fish sauce, water and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Transfer to small bowls for dipping or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


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