Born in Vietnam, Uyen Luu was just 5 years old when she arrived in England with her mother and brother as refugees. She started her career in fashion, but took a turn to food, almost accidentally. Missing her mother’s cooking when she left home, she started cooking Vietnamese dishes for her friends and blogging. Hobby turned career as she become a food writer, cookbook author, food stylist and photographer. Vietnamese is her second cookbook and it’s filled with simple Vietnamese food to cook at home.
Luu says she hopes this cookbook would help people cook Vietnamese with ease and pleasure. Having already made a handful of dishes (and tagged dozens more), I can attest to the ease and pleasure this cookbook makes cooking up Vietnamese dishes.
The cookbook opens with her take on The Vietnamese Pantry with lists of ingredients and kitchen tips. Those who know me, know that it’s those chapters I love most in cookbooks – the ones that teach you about new flavors and techniques, enabling you to learn and create.
Five flavours make up Vietnamese cooking: sweet, sour, hot, salty and umami – it’s the perfect combination of those flavours that makes the recipes in Vietnamese so good. They’re layered with flavour.
The recipes are split into 8 chapters: Things to eat with rice, sharing vegetables, Vietnamese style salads, feasting, noodle soups, quick midweek meals, sweet things and basics. Most recipes are easy to make, the most complicated are the soups which often start with a freshly made broth – which is well worth the time and effort for the flavour!
The recipe I’ve chosen to share as a taste of Vietnamese is her recipe for Banh Mi, a quintessential Vietnamese dish made with a short baguette and filled with a combination of ingredients to make the perfect sandwich, that like all the Vietnamese dishes I’ve tried is both satisfying and light.
How to Make an Authentic Banh Mi
1. The Baguette
It begins with a Vietnamese baguette, which is light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. While Luu says a French baguette will do, she provides a recipe for a Vietnamese baguette, which I’ve included here. As far as bread making goes, it does require quite a bit of time and is on the more difficult side. If you don’t enjoy baking bread, skip and buy; but if you do like making your own bread this is a delicious recipe (the best baguettes I have made).
2. The Filling
A typical filling contains a combination of ingredients; sweet, umami, sour and refreshing pickles with a cooling crunch, herbs and spicy heat. She gives a few options, of which the egg & asparagus filling appealed to me. It has the perfect balance of flavours and yields a banh mi sandwich you’ll be making on repeat. In addition to the filling you spread either labneh, butter or cream cheese and finish the sandwich with fresh herbs or pickles. The recipe for the filling serves 4, but the egg & asparagus filling is so good, double it up!
Egg & Asparagus Banh Mi
- 4 Vietnamese Baguettes recipe below
- labneh, cream cheese or butter
- microgreen herbs, pickles optional
Egg & Aparagus Filling
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 2 spring onions sliced
- pinch freshly ground black pepper
- pinch sea salt
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion finely chopped
- 4 asparagus stems sliced diagonally into 1cm pieces
Egg & Asparagus Filling
- Beat the egg with the spring onions, salt and pepper and soy sauce.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and brown the diced onion, then cook the asparagus for a minute and pour over the egg mixture to make the omelette, turning once when one side is brown. This should take no longer than a few minutes. Remove from heat and cut into long strips.
- Split the baguette lengthways and pull out some of the filling (you can use it to make breadcrumbs or as a pre-meal snack ;)). Spread with labneh, cream cheese or butter. Add in the sliced egg & asparagus filling (splitting it four ways). Add in micro green herbs or pickles or a squirt of hot suace. Close the sandwhich.
- You can enjoy it straight away or pack it for later by wrapping with baking parchment and tying with a string.
Starter (make the night before)
- 150 grams strong white bread flour (you want a 11-13 percent protein content)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 grams instant yeast
- 90 ml cold water.
- 300 grams strong white bread flour
- ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon seal salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 egg plus enough cold water to make up a scant 1 cup or 190g in total mixed.
Part One: Make The Starter
- The night before, make your starter. Mix together the ingredients, then knead for about 2-minutes. Seal in an airtight container or bag for 8-10 hours at room temprature or 24 hours in the fridge. If it has been in the fridge, leave at room temprature for at least an hour before you want to use it.
Part Two: Combine the Ingredients
- Place the starter and all the bread ingredients in the bowl of a mixer. Fit the dough hook and knead on the lowest setting for 15 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, knead by hand and combine until you get a very smooth and elastic dough. It should still be wet and sticky, so try to only use a little flour for dusting.
- Oil the bowl lightly, lay the dough inside, cover and place into a cold oven with 300 ml of boiling water (in a seperate bowl) for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Part Three: Shaping
- If you don't have a baguette tray, place a clean dish towel on a baking tray, and lightly dust it with flour. Make a space for each baguette by marking three rows of two 2.5cm wide spaces on the towel, with at least 5cm in between each baguette.
- After 75 minutes, the dough should have risen and at least doubled in size. Lightly dust a clean surface and push the dough out into a square shape with your hands. Fold in all the corners until you have a ball and keep shaping the dough into a round ball. Lay the folds at the bottom. Repeat twice.
- Divide the dough into two and then each piece into three, making six balls.
- Take each ball and stretch it out into a square, folding in the corners, then shape into a ball. Rest on the dish towel tray for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, repeat the above step and rest again for 5 minutes.
- Lightly dust a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a pear shape, small at the top and fat at the bottom. Then roll from the top down firmly with three fingers from each hand; and continue to roll the dough into a long baguette shape with pointy ends.
- Cover the shaped baguettes with a clean dish towel. Place in the swtiched OFF oven with two mugs filled witg boiling water. Let them proof for 60 minutes until doubled in size.
Part Four: Baking
- Take a baking rack that fits the oven, spray with baking spray or line with baking paper. Remove the baguettes from the oven and gently place them on rhe prepared baking tray. They will be soft and pillowy.
- Preheat the oven to 260°C.
- Spray them evenly with water. With a sharp knife or bread lame, slit the baguette lengthways at a 45 degree angle, 5mm deep all the way.
- Turn the oven temprature down to 230°C. Fill a seperate baking tray with 1 cup of boiling water and place at the bottom of the oven. Immediately put the baguettes in the oven and bake for 18 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating
Recipe is reprinted with permission from the publisher. Images are by Nutreats Food Photography Studio.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.