28 February 2009

Vietnamese Night (First Attempt) and Two Cookbook Mini-Reviews

Up until the flu struck our household we were working our way through the vegetarian chapter of The Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking and also some recipes in Corinne Trang's Authentic Vietnamese Cooking (both of which, I recently noticed, are in the Portland Public Library). These are both great books that caused me to spend a lot time in Friendly Market buying oddities like bean curd sheets, garlic chives, saw leaf and tapioca shreds.

Curried Tofu
Adapted from Binh Duong, Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking (1991)

  • 1/2 Cu. veggie stock (I used some left over from a recipe in China Moon)
  • 1 lb. (more or less) firm tofu cut into 1/2-inch slices then cut into triangles
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, sliced into bit you would stir-fry
  • 1 medium onion sliced or cut into wedges, connected at the root end
  • 1 tsp. curry paste (the Indian variety, not the thai curry paste you buy in little cans)
  • 1 can of unsweetened coconut milk (mixted well before hand)
  • 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 or 2 handfuls penuts, chopped with a blade (not destroyed in your food processor)
You'll want to serve this with rice, so get that started first. White Jasmine rice would be apropriate, but we mostly east brown rice here. Fry the tofu in a pan with enough vegetable oil to nearly cover the slices. Fry only a few slices at a time, turning once, until they are golden brown and then remove them to a towel or some other suitable place for draining. In a wok or a suitably large frying pan, heat some oil and saute the onion and peppers for a minute or two, without burning them. Add the curry paste and cook for another minute or so. Add the stock and half of the cocunt milk and stir. Add tofu and cook for a few minutes to make the curry. At this point you need to decide whether it's saucy enough for you. You can swirl in some more coconut milk to make more sauce if you want. I think a lot depends on your tofu and the type of milk you have. Garnish with the cilantro and penuts and maybe some sriracha.

We also made this saute of green beans, tofu and bamboo shoots, which seems less authentic or perhaps just draws more heavily on the french influence with its sauce of dry white wine, soy sauce and tomatoes. It was excellent, or would have been had I properly reduced the sauce at the end.

Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking feels a bit old school for world cookbooks of its time, but it's one of those cookbooks you can sit down and just read. The vegetarian chapter was fairly good, but is a bit of a one trick tofu pony at times. The vegetarian springrolls we made, which were a bit of a hybrid of recipes from Simple Art and Trang's book, were the best I've ever had.

Trang's book is a bit heavier on the details of the author's life in ways that I didn't find that interesting, but the photography is mostly useful—what there is of it. What makes the book probably the better of the two for omnivores, however, is that she discusses a lot of big picture tips and tricks like how long curries should sit to let their flavors develop. [Also, Corinne Trang, in the picture on the book's jacket: yowsa!]

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