Cookbook review: Plant-forward spins on pho and beyond

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, starring Plants from Land and Sea’ by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed, $35)

Andrea Nguyen, a prolific cookbook author regarded as one of the country’s foremost authorities on Asian food, has spent most of her life eating whatever she wanted, for research as much as pleasure.

Then a few years ago, she hit a wall. A travel-filled schedule involving “consuming too much and too many foods not meant to be eaten together” left her feeling “cruddy.” Out-of-control hormones due to perimenopause amplified the stress.

She vowed to slow down, rest up, and change her diet. But rather than follow a strict regimen, she decided to simply reimagine her favorite Vietnamese dishes with less meat and more vegetables. She set to work veganizing fish sauce, seasoning tofu crumbles to resemble ground meat, and crafting a meatless pho with umami-rich seaweed and mushrooms “that would stand shoulder to shoulder with its beefy kin.”

Those experiments planted the seeds for “Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea” (Ten Speed, $35).

In the introduction, Nguyen explains how, after fleeing with her family from Vietnam to California in 1975 at the age of six, she became accustomed to regular meat-centered meals. Back in their homeland, her mother had cooked mostly seafood and vegetables because meat was so expensive.

“Switching to a plant-forward diet in midlife,” she writes, “basically brought me back to my cultural food roots.”

For an easy vegan entree, I highly recommend her Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower, in which wedges of the crucifer are doused in a hoisin-based sauce, then blasted in a super-hot oven until deeply caramelized, evoking the Cantonese-style barbecue pork that provided the inspiration. If you’re up for a challenge, she’ll show you how to stuff those savory nuggets into fluffy bao (steamed buns) for sliders.

Animal protein turns up now and then, but in healthier doses — as in Shaking Salmon based on the iconic salad typically made with beef, and Vietnamese “Meatloaf,” which incorporates glass noodles and tofu along with a little ground meat.

With clear instruction and tantalizing description, Nguyen convinces us that each creation worthy of these pages passed her ultimate test: “They tasted delicious, and I felt good without feeling deprived.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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