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Quick & Easy Vietnamese
By Nancie McDermott
Chronicle Books, 2006
ISBN 081184434X
Review By William I. Lengeman III

After turning out three books on Thai cuisine, Nancie McDermott focuses her attention on the culinary landscape of neighboring Vietnam. "Contrasts prevail in Vietnamese cuisine," McDermott points out and the cuisine of that country is made especially distinctive by such delights as lemongrass, ginger, pineapple, papaya, cilantro, mint, basil and chilies.

McDermott opens with an A, B and C list of ingredients one ought to have on hand in order to do Vietnamese right. The A list is composed of essentials like fresh herbs, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce and peanuts. The B and C lists feature less common items, with the latter devoted to such delights as dried squid and banana leaves.

The recipes section kicks off, not surprisingly, with a selection of six Appetizers & Snacks. Among them, Sugarcane Shrimp and a Submarine Sandwich, Saigon Style that's made on a baguette with various pates and cold cuts.

The author notes that, in Vietnam, "soup is a mainstay...more like a beverage within a typical Western meal." Among the soups included here are Meatball, Pork and Cabbage Rolls in Clear Soup and Crab & Asparagus Soup.

McDermott doesn't weigh in on the issue of which came first, the chicken or the egg, but in the Chicken & Egg section she includes recipes for Lemongrass Chicken and Chicken Curry With Sweet Potatoes and Lime-Pepper-Salt Dipping Sauce. Also in this section, an Omelet With Crabmeat and Green Onions and an Omelet With Bean Thread Noodles and Pork.

More pork selections turn up in the Beef & Pork section, including Delicious Lemongrass Burgers with Beef or Pork. Among the flavorings in this decidedly unusual treat - lemongrass, cilantro, fish sauce and soy sauce. Another unusual recipe in this section - Cha Dum, or Vietnamese Meat Loaf. For a decidedly offbeat pairing, keep the Pork in Caramel Sauce in mind.

Fish & Shellfish includes recipes like Grilled Tuna Steaks With Pineapple-Chili Sauce and a Shrimp & Rice Porridge With Cilantro and Tomatoes, not to mention two other dishes - shrimp and salmon steaks - that also employ caramel sauce.

There's also a section on Salads & Vegetables and - it almost goes without saying - one on Rice. The latter features instructions for preparing various types of rice and also presents recipes for the likes of Shrimp Fried Rice and a porridge made with salmon and dill.

The Noodles section is another foregone conclusion, with recipes such as the tried and true Pho Noodle With Beef, Hanoi Style and the Big, Cool Noodle Bowl With Roast Chicken, Cucumbers and Fresh Mint.

Then, finally, there's the Sweets & Drinks. This section features recipes for Coconut Pudding With Sticky Rice and Black-Eyed Peas (really) and drinks such as Vietnamese Coffee, Fresh Lemongrass Tea and Fresh Soy Milk. Be sure to allow time to prepare this last one, though. It's made from scratch, using fresh soybeans.

A mail order section for tough to find items and a selection of books to expand your knowledge of southeast Asian cuisines round out this intriguing look at what the author calls "an extraordinary cuisine".

William I. Lengeman III is a food writer, book reviewer and publisher of Tea Guy Speaks.

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