This earthy, tangy main dish shares a sauce similar to my Pomegranate Sriracha Shrimp, but the tofu, soy sauce, and vegetables turn it into something distinctively delicious. Tofu is typically deep-fried for dishes like this one, but panfrying is a healthier way to inject richness and character. For texture, complexity, and color, I add mushroom and mild-tasting chiles. Anaheims are my go-to but during the warmer months when chiles are in season, I love to use varieties such as Hatch and Corno di Toro. In a major pinch, half a large bell pepper will do.
When my husband saw this on the counter, he mistook it for caramelized porky crumbles. Yes, they look alike, but these crumbles are vegan, with a citrusy and spicy edge. Tempeh isn’t a Viet ingredient, but I’ve used it in banh mi, pho, and here to mimic meat. When crumbled into small pieces in this recipe, tempeh absorbs the seasonings well and fries up nicely. Whether made from meat or tempeh, these sorts of crumbles are used the same way—to mix into and season rice, kind of like a condiment. Add a side of radish and carrot pickle for refreshing crunch and tang. The crumbles will keep, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days (though they never last long in my house) and are good scooped up with tortilla chips.
When I think of Vietnamese food, it’s fresh herbs that spring to mind. The coriander (cilantro) in this dish is essential, but ideally you should get all three herbs – they’re well worth it. Life is full of choices, and so is this recipe. For instance, you can add steamed broccoli or pak choi (bok choi), or have it with noodles instead of rice.
The classic fish for this intense and sweetly aromatic recipe is catfish. In Vietnam, thick bone-in catfish steaks are simmered in a dark and highly peppery caramel for upwards of an hour, until the fish practically falls apart in its bittersweet, pungent sauce. Here, I’ve replaced catfish with salmon, which has a rich succulence that can stand up to the ginger, chiles, and black pepper. And by using brown sugar instead of making my own caramel, I’ve also hastened the process so that the whole thing is ready in less than thirty minutes. The salmon still has time to absorb all the intense flavors of the caramel, but it doesn’t overcook, staying firm but tender. Serve this with some kind of rice as a gentle foil for all the rich spiciness on the plate.
This is a wonderful dish of vaguely Vietnamese origins, where it is more commonly served with dill than coriander (cilantro). Both work well in my opinion, or use a mixture of the two herbs.
Turmeric-stained chả cá Hà Nội is a superb and iconic dish from Vietnam’s capital. Finding supermarket ingredients to make this treat required creativity, because it typically features pieces of freshwater fish fillet marinated in a creamy, umami-laden mixture of turmeric, galangal (an edgy cousin of ginger and turmeric), fermented shrimp sauce (mắm tôm, a toothpaste-textured, mauve-colored umami bomb), and mẻ (a mash of fermented cooked rice).
These crepes are yellow and folded over like an omelet, but don’t contain eggs; they’re crisp like the bottom of a paella, but no rice grains are visible. Bánh xèo rice crepes are in a class of their own. The southern Viet charmers are named for the sizzling sound they make while cooking and typically contain pork, shrimp, mushroom, and bean sprouts. Snipped or broken into pieces and eaten as lettuce-and-herb wraps with nước chấm dipping sauce, the crepes hit all pleasure centers.
This “pizza” is extremely popular in Vietnam and is often ordered at street-food stands to be eaten straight off the grill. And we totally understand why. Either in spite of or because of its simplicity, it tastes fantastic.
Depending on your pho philosophy, you can go super-simple or ornate with the tabletop pho garnishes. I keep things easy with regular spearmint (húng) from my garden and chiles that I’ve purchased or grown at home. Conventional limes can be bracing and take over pho flavors, so I prefer the Garlic Vinegar on page 106 for a light tang; ripe (yellow) Bearss lime and Meyer lemon are good, too. During the warmer months, I’ll add Thai basil (hung quế) because it’s at its peak- ditto for a type of spicy mint (hung cay) sold at Viet markets. When I’m in the mood for bean sprouts, I’ll buy superfresh ones and blanch them to mellow their flavor and texture.
Andrea Nguyen came up with my this sauce, inspired by the great Vietnamese Cholimex chile sauce. The tomato lends texture, balances the chile heat, and adds a slight, bright fruitiness. Choose fleshy, firm medium-hot chiles for a condiment with character.