Food & Drink

Cookbook Review | ‘Simply Vietnamese’ is ‘wonderful introduction’ for at-home cooks on the Grand Strand

Simply Vietnamese Cooking is a wonderful introduction to the light and lively food of Vietnam, a stronghold of its own Asian food tradition as well as a unique –French-Asian combo tradition dating from the days of French colonialism.

The first time I tried Vietnamese food I was 19 (1967), wandering about Paris in search of something interesting in a meal that was not too costly. I saw the sign for a Vietnamese restaurant and despite my poor French and non-existent Vietnamese, managed to enjoy a reasonably priced, extremely delicious meal. The waiter was very conscious of my student status and did not blink an eye when I stopped after the soup, which as I recall was something similar to the recipe my husband will be making from this book for my birthday—Clear soup with shrimp and tender Asian Greens. I do not think I had the famous Pho at that first encounter.

Much later, while living in Burke, Va., I tried Pho and a menu full of other delicacies from the wide variety of Vietnamese restaurants that populate the Washington, D.C., metro eating scene. My mistake in thinking the soup could be a meal in itself or a starter was graciously overlooked by the waiter. In Vietnamese cuisine, soups are like a drink, served with other foods and eaten alongside the other parts of the meal. French influenced specialties include things like coffee drinks and more. But the heart of Vietnamese cuisine is the fresh wonderful ingredients that are indigenous to the country.

Author Nancie McDermott has lived in Asia; mostly in Thailand, where she worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. Upon her return to the USA (she now lives in North Carolina), she expanded her love of food by writing about it and has made Asian food one of her specialties. She is the author of ten cookbooks, member of the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, founder of the Culinary Historians of Piedmont NC and is an active member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

McDermott approaches our introduction to Vietnam’s dishes in an orderly fashion. Recipes are grouped by type. Each recipe comes with suggestions for substitutions. Many recipes come with little “stories” about how the recipe fits in with Vietnamese culture and cuisine overall. The things she tells about Vietnamese cooking make it easy to understand why I am a fan of this cuisine. Like Italian cooking, Vietnamese relies on local ingredients, fresh, and does little to them. It takes advantage of the best and presents an infinite variety of possibilities for every plate and palate. Unfortunately, due to an allergy to cilantro, I am now restricted in my Asian restaurant perusals. So, I very much welcome this addition to my cookbook library. Now I can make this delicious food at home, substituting ingredients I CAN eat for those that are now verboten for my health.

Most of the ingredients necessary to the recipes in the book are available in local grocery stores, for the hard-to-find, McDermott lists sources that can be counted on in the mail.

If you have never tried Vietnamese cooking or just want to supplement your restaurant visits with some at home fare, this is the book for you.

RECIPE | Clear Soup with shrimp and tender Asian greens

Title | Simply Vietnamese Cooking

Author | Nancie McDermott

Publisher | Robert Rose Publishing

Cost | $19.95