Andrea Nguyen has well-established cred when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine. The San Francisco cooking instructor and food consultant has written six books on the subject, one of which — “The Pho Cookbook” — won a James Beard Foundation Award last year.
Her latest, “Vietnamese Food Any Day,” builds on that reputation, and reinforces another — as master of the cooking hack.
Consider her recipe for Blistered Green Beans and Bacon. Regular supermarkets don’t carry the dry, sweet Chinese sausage she likes to flavor vegetables for stir-fries, she explains, “so I conjur up its flavor with smoky bacon, five-spice powder and maple syrup.” Or the one for Shrimp in Coconut Caramel Sauce, in which coconut water — now widely available everywhere — and a few other staples boil down in minutes into an intensely flavorful, syrupy glaze for quick-seared shrimp.
Having most of the ingredients on hand, I decided at about 5 p.m. one night to make both for dinner, with some rice. The results more than lived up to their expectations, with remarkably little hassle in either the prep or the clean-up.
Nguyen, a self-described “culinary geek,” has spent much of her career educating herself, and others, on the most authentic aspects of her native cuisine. But she’s also a pragmatist. She owes this trait in large part to her mother, who learned to make do with what was available in American supermarkets soon after her family fled to the U.S. to escape political unrest in 1975. That’s how Nguyen “learned to honor our culture yet stay open-minded, cook on a budget, and appreciate nature’s bounty.”
Relying on commonplace kitchen tools and the ever-widening offerings of the grocery aisles, Nguyen passes those values onto us.
“Viet food doesn’t have to be an exotic, special weekend project,” she writes. “It’s deliciously doable whenever you want.”
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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