Ingredients for Vietnamese Cooking
What do I need to cook Vietnamese?
Fancy some Vietnamese food and not sure what ingredients you need? Nothing special really, just fresh herbs and these few spices and you're ready to rock.
Like any travelling ethnic or regional recipes, the cuisine of Vietnam has been adapted to suit Australian conditions and ingredient availability.
Modern Australian cuisine is a fusion of multicultural culinary influences and our Asian neighbours have had a major impact on the formerly English cooking style once rampant in the Australian kitchen.
Nockie Le is a Vietnamese-Australian who creates wonderful meals with vegetables and herbs straight from her own garden.
Nockie's garden, with its intoxicating scents, is a haven of greenery and her bright and cheerful kitchen is the centre of her home.
Nockie coaches me in Vietnamese cooking while I show her my tried and true lamb recipes, a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Even better, Nockie is also my daughter-in-law.
Fish Sauce is the very essence of Vietnamese food. Fish sauce is to Vietnamese food what soy is to Chinese - the seasoning and the universal flavour of the nation's cuisine.
It is the essence of Vietnam
'Nuoc mam nhi' is the first press, the equivalent of extra virgin olive oil. It costs a little more than the others on the shelves, but it's what you use for dipping sauces and salads.
It's the second, and less expensive, pressing nuoc mam, that you use for cooking.
Rice is known as 'pearl of the gods'. Nockie recommends Jasmine Rice, it steams beautifully and it's so easy to pick up with a fork or chopsticks.
Rice Vermicelli comes in various widths. That's rice vermicelli in the image to your right.
Rice paper Sheets. You buy these in packets. They're made from a mixture of rice flour, water, and salt, then rolled out by machine to paper thinness before being dried on bamboo mats in the sun.
Rice papers are used for wrapping Vietnamese spring rolls of pork and seafood, which are then fried and wrapped with crispy fresh lettuce and herbs and finally dipped in a sweet, sour hot sauce.
You have to soften Rice paper before use. Before using quickly dip each sheet in a bowl of warm water. The rougher patterned side is the inside of the roll as it helps to hold the filling ingredients.. Handle them carefully as the sheets are brittle. Drain them on a linen towel before rolling
Corriandah (Ngo) is a must-have herb for Vietnamese cooking.
It is also known as Chinese parsley or, particularly in the Americas, cilantro. Whatever you call it, it really brings out the flavour of sour fish soup and crab soup. Absolutely fabulous for salads and garnishing
Bean sprouts (Gia) are the fresh sprouts of the mung bean.
Add them to soup, stirfries and spring rollls (at the end of the cooking) for crunchy goodness.
You use toasted and crushed sesame seeds to flavour dipping sauces and marinades or to coat sweets and other foods.
After toasting they lose flavour rapidly, so be sure to toast them as close to serving time as possible.
Vietnamese Mint (rau ram) is very different from the commonly used mint.
It's long and narrow with pointed leaves which are green and reddish brown in colour.
It's hot and spicy and goes well in salads and it's an added touch in shellfish dishes.
Sometimes Vietnamese Mint is called laksa leaf
Star Anise (hoi) is as beautiful as it is fragrant.
This six to eight pointed star spice has a flavour like cinnamon and cloves. You use it to flavour soups and stews, as well as marinades, and it's a vital ingredient in Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho.
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Cassia (Que thanh) comes in a powdered form or as bark.
A lovely aromatic spice, you can use cassia in marinades for roasted chicken, roasted duck or beef braises..
Although Cassia is a member of the same family as true cinnamon, it has a stronger flavour and used for savoury dishes, rather than sweets.
From Nockie's garden, the serrano pepper (Capsicum annuum). This is originally a Mexican plant and can be used in place of the milder capsicum (bell pepper).
Unripe serranos are green, but the colours at maturity are green, red, brown, orange, or yellow and make a wonderful bright addition to a dish. We eat these raw, sliced thinly. .
The flavour is crisp, bright, biting and, as Nockie says, hot hot hot!.
Coriander grows easily in a pot
© 2010 Susanna Duffy