We are excited to bring you Andrea Nguyen as this weeks Guest Editor! Cook book author extrodinare, food writer + cooking teacher, Andrea is an authority on Vietnamese cuisine. Her latest cookbook, The Banh Mi Handbook is packed with over 55 recipes to help you master this flavor-packed Vietnamese staple.
Congratulations on your newest cookbook, The Banh Mi Handbook! How did writing and compiling this book differ from your previous tomes? What are some of your favorite recipes?
I’ve written about a cuisine (Vietnamese), category of food (dumplings), one ingredient (tofu) and for this book – a single dish. Could I tell the story and inspire the future of Vietnamese in America via the banh mi sandwich? I hope so.
My earlier cookbooks were landmarks and a little serious, requiring a lot of research. The banh mi book was written with just as much care but is more fun (it’s a sandwich!), uses ingredients you can find at supermarkets and the recipes are delicious. There’s authenticity but also tons of riffs and permission to tinker.
Among my favorites recipes the one of the cover – the Hanoi grilled chicken. It’s based on a grilled chicken I had in Vietnam’s capital. I had it served on rice and once I replicated it in the US, I said it was destined for a sandwich too! The crispy roast pork is damn amazing too. The recipe instructions are long but if you read through it to understand the technique, it’s easy breezy. That fried Thai omelet is sinfully good. If an egg sandwich sounds boring, you’ll do a 180 once you’ve had banh mi with that fried egg. It’s simple, brilliant cooking.
Photo Credit: Paige Green
What’s the secret to a perfect banh mi?
Banh mi is not a super-meaty deli-style sandwich. A good one has a moderate amount of meat and lots of vegetables – pickles, cucumber, herbs, chile. It’s a balancing act to create that party in your mouth. My ideal is a 1:1 or 1:2 visual ratio of protein to vegetables. And, add Maggi Seasoning sauce for randomly delicious hits of umami makes a good banh mi a great one.
It’s officially summer! What are some of your favorite seasonal ingredients and preparations?
Right now during summer, I’m in love with the green tomato variation of lemongrass and snow pea pickle. When I was writing the book, I stole unripe tomatoes from the neighborhood; you don’t need that many. Now that the book is officially out, I’m compelled to be legit and special order them from local farmers. Green tomatoes are uncommon in California where I live.
Photo Credit: Andrea Nguyen
Photo Credit: Andrea Nguyen
You’ve been extremely successful introducing people to Vietnamese cooking. What are the five things every cook should have in their kitchen to create a great Vietnamese meal?
Good rice and fish sauce (nuoc mam). Seriously. The rest is easy to acquire. I like Jasmine rice and brands of fish sauce such as Red Boat, MegaChef and Three Crabs. They’re made with a more delicate, Vietnamese flavor-profile to go with Viet food.
Other than of a bann mi, what’s the one sandwich you can’t live without?
It’s Happy Hour. What’s your drink of choice?
If it’s super hot, I hanker for lager on ice – how I drink beer in Vietnam. It’s refreshing and soda-ish but with a slight buzz. Moderate temps make me think of slightly bittersweet amaro (Lazzaroni is a favorite) or red vermouth (Antica Carpano is worth the price) on ice. I tend to drink stuff on ice or with a water back. Otherwise, I take in the alcohol too quickly.
Do you have a favorite local artisanal treat?
Butter. I love good salted European-style butter. My father taught me to find the best butter I can afford. It’s a colonial French thing.
If you could choose one of July’s featured ingredients to cook with, what would you choose and what would you make?
Joe’s BBQ Sauce would be terrific on grilled chicken, pork and even tofu. Serve the result on rice or tucked into banh mi sandwiches.
If you could cook for one person, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you make?
Julia Child. She championed solid home cooking and had wit. I’d make beef pho and set up a Vietnamese banh xeo sizzling rice crepe station and let her go to town to make her own. I’d treat her like I would any family or friend. Yes, when you come to my house you work a little to craft your food.
What’s up next for you? Any exciting culinary travels?
I’d like to return to Vietnam again. I was just there in January but it was just for a little more than a week. The country changes constantly and so does the food.
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