Uyen Luu’s easy Vietnamese recipes | Vietnamese food and drink

Amanda M. Rye

Banh canh thit heo – pork udon

This very simple noodle soup really hits the spot every time and is great for days when you want a soup but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. There is something so comforting about thick noodles; they are almost luxuriously pillowy. Here, I use Japanese udon noodles for ease. Apart from the beautiful flavour of the broth that the free-range pork belly gives, the crispy fried shallots add so much to it. Plus the pleasing zing of lime juice brings everything together. If this becomes your midweek household favourite, remember it’s an excellent base to add leftover vegetables or whatever you have to hand.

Serves 4
free-range pork belly 400g, skin and excess fat removed
boiling water 1.5 litres
white onion 1
daikon 10cm piece
sea salt 1 tsp
rock sugar 20g
chicken or pork powder 1 tsp (optional)
fish sauce 3 tbsp

For the noodle bowls
udon noodles 200g per person
coriander 30g, sliced into 1cm pieces
spring onion 1, sliced into 1cm pieces
crispy shallots (see below)
red chilli 1, sliced
green leaves a handful, such as kai lan, mustard leaves, chard or beetroot leaves, blanched in boiling water, then drained
fish cakes optional (see below)
freshly ground black pepper
lime juice of 1

For the crispy shallots (makes about 150g)
round shallots 6, thinly sliced
vegetable oil 2 tbsp

For the fish cakes
mixed fish 500g, such as salmon or haddock, cut into 2.5cm chunks
fish sauce 1½ tbsp
spring onion 1, roughly chopped
shallot 1, roughly chopped
garlic 3 cloves, roughly chopped
dill fronds or coriander leaves 20g, roughly chopped
Thai red chilli 1, sliced (optional)
lime zest of 1, finely chopped
sunflower oil 3 tbsp, for frying

To make the fish cakes, put all the ingredients except the oil into a food processor and briefly pulse to blend together so you still retain some texture. If you don’t have a small food processor, chop the fish and all the ingredients quite finely, put in a bowl and beat them together, mixing in one direction.

Lightly grease a plate or tray with 1 tablespoon of the oil and grease your hands. Take a lump of the fish cake mixture and form a patty with your hands, about 4cm in diameter and place on the greased plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 16 fish cakes.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the fish cakes for about 3-4 minutes until golden on both sides. I usually start by placing one fish cake in the pan at 12 o’clock, then add them to the pan clockwise so I know which ones to turn. Once cooked, remove and set aside.

To make the crispy shallots, fry the shallots in the oil over a low heat until golden, then remove from the heat and drain (saving the oil). Leave to dry on kitchen paper. The shallots will continue to brown and crisp. Save the flavourful oil and crispy shallots in two separate containers for future uses with noodle soups and to top up rice, noodles and salads.

To make the pork belly, put the pork in a large saucepan and add enough boiling water to submerge the meat. Leave to sit for 5 minutes, then drain and discard the water. Then cover the meat with the measured amount of fresh boiling water and add the onion, daikon, salt, sugar and chicken or pork seasoning, if using.

Bring to the boil, then cover and cook for 1 hour, skimming off any scum that surfaces.

Remove the pork from the broth and leave to cool at room temperature. Slice thinly. Remove the daikon and slice up to serve or discard. Add the fish sauce to the broth and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Place the noodles into bowls and top with the coriander, spring onion, crispy shallots and chilli. Add the fish cakes, if using, plus the slices of pork belly, and decorate with some leaves of choice and a good seasoning of black pepper. When ready to serve, bring the broth to the boil and ladle it over the contents. Squeeze over a generous amount of lime juice and serve with fish sauce at the table, if required.

Tau hu xao bong cai ca chua – tofu pillows, tomatoes and broccoli in fish sauce

Tau hu xao bong cai ca chua – tofu pillows, tomatoes and broccoli in fish sauce.
Photograph: James O Jenkins/Uyen Luu

When tofu is cooked properly, it is soft, pillowy and smooth – like bouncing on a cloud. It is absolutely delicious with just the sweetest summer tomatoes, but here I’ve added extra vegetables with different colours and textures making it a feast for the eyes and the belly. Use whatever you have to hand to make it special, even if it is just a Tuesday night.

Serves 2-3 as a side dish
For the tofu
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
sea salt a pinch
fresh tofu 400g, cut into 3 x 4cm pieces and patted dry

For the vegetables
round shallot 1, finely chopped
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
cherry tomatoes 165g, halved
mushrooms 75g
tenderstem broccoli 100g, cut into bite-sized florets
Shaoxing wine or mirin 2 tbsp
fish sauce 1 tbsp

For the garnish
spring onions 3, sliced diagonally
coriander leaves a small handful

For the tofu, heat a large frying pan or wok, add half the oil and a pinch of salt, then fry the tofu over a medium heat for about 8 minutes on each side until golden. Remove from the heat and lift the tofu out onto paper towels to soak off any excess oil.

For the vegetables, put the frying pan back over a medium-high heat, add the remaining oil and brown off the shallot, then add the garlic and fry until golden.

Add the tomatoes and keep them still for a couple of minutes to brown, then gently turn. After about 4 minutes, add the mushrooms and broccoli and quickly stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the fried tofu, Shaoxing wine or mirin and fish sauce, gently stirring for another 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with the spring onions and coriander and serve with steamed rice or vermicelli.

Notes: Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce if you want to make this dish vegan. If you want to make a bigger batch of tofu, you can store it in the fridge for a few days.

Ca ri ga bi – chicken curry with squash

Ca ri ga bi – chicken curry with squash.
Photograph: Uyen Luu

This is a mild, slurpy curry, meant to be dipped and mopped up with crispy Vietnamese baguettes or steamed rice. You can add different vegetables to the curry towards the end of cooking, depending on what’s in season. Even frozen peas, cooked for a couple of minutes at the end, are a delight. You can also use chicken breast. As with most Vietnamese food, make it as hot as you like and feel free to add fresh chilli or chilli flakes to the curry.

Serves 3-4
fresh ginger 40g, roughly chopped
lemongrass 2 stalks, finely chopped
garlic 4 cloves
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
round shallots 2, roughly diced
chicken thighs 500-600g, boned and excess fat removed, skin on, cut into large bite-sized pieces
Vietnamese or mild curry powder 3 tsp
coconut milk 400ml
water 100ml
chicken stock cube 1
potatoes 400g, cut into 2cm cubes
delicata squash 600g, cut into 4cm chunks
mangetout 50g, sliced, or green garden peas (optional)
fish sauce 1½ tbsp
caster sugar 1 tsp, or maple syrup
freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish
Thai basil or coriander leaves 15g
spring onions 2, thinly sliced
fresh red chillies 2 (optional)
lime ½

Using a hand blender or mortar and pestle, blend the ginger, lemongrass and garlic together with a tiny splash of water until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or shallow casserole dish over a medium-high heat and cook the shallots until golden, then add the chicken to brown off for a couple of minutes on each side. Add the garlic, ginger and lemongrass mixture, and stir to combine.

Evenly sprinkle over the curry powder, stirring well to coat the chicken. Then add the coconut milk, water and chicken stock cube, bring to a gentle boil, then add the potatoes and squash, and stir to combine.

Turn down the heat to low, cover and continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

Add the mangetout or peas. Season the curry with the fish sauce, sugar and a good pinch of black pepper, and cook for a further 8-10 minutes.

Garnish with the Thai basil or coriander, spring onions and the red chillies, if using. Squeeze over some fresh lime juice.

Serve with steamed rice or I like it best with a fresh baguette and butter.

Ca tim xao nuoc tuong – soy aubergines and Thai basil

Ca tim xao nuoc tuong – soy aubergines and Thai basil.
Photograph: Uyen Luu

This is a real crowdpleaser. It’s so good that you’ll want to have it all to yourself over (banh hoi) noodles or enjoyed singularly with rice.

You can make this as hot and spicy as you like. If you have guests, steam the aubergines and make the sauce in advance, then this only needs to be fried and garnished when you are ready to serve. I make this in a steamer but I have given instructions for those who don’t have one.

You might need to cook in batches, depending on the size of your pan, so before you start cooking, assess the best way forward and have a warm plate ready for the first cooked batch.

Serves 3-4
aubergines 2, cut into 2.5cm chunks
butter 30g
round shallots 2, finely chopped
large red chillies 2, sliced
garlic 2 cloves, thinly sliced
sesame oil 1 tsp
spring onions 2, thinly sliced
Thai basil 4 stems, leaves only
chilli oil optional

For the sweet soy sauce
soy sauce 2 tbsp
cider vinegar 1 tsp
chilli sauce 1 tbsp
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
maple syrup 3 tsp

Place the aubergines in a steamer over boiling water for 5 minutes until tender – in batches, if necessary – or steam in a metal colander.

Prepare the sauce by stirring all the ingredients in a bowl or shaking in a jar. Use a very large wok or frying pan, or cook in batches to avoid over-crowding. Heat the wok or pan over a very high heat, add the butter, shallots, chillies and garlic, and cook for about a minute. Add the sesame oil and the aubergine chunks and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, charring the edges. Then pour over the prepared sauce and mix in all the spring onions and three-quarters of the Thai basil, and continue to stir-fry for 1 minute.

Garnish with the remaining Thai basil and add some hot chilli oil, if you wish.

Serve immediately as part of a sharing meal with steamed rice or with a plate of thin rice vermicelli.

Notes: If you don’t have Thai basil, use coriander or sliced onions. Try this with all varieties of aubergines. I love the stripey “graffiti” ones.

Cai xao ot ca com – hot and fiery greens with anchovies

Cai xao ot ca com – hot and fiery greens with anchovies.
Cai xao ot ca com – hot and fiery greens with anchovies. Photograph: Uyen Luu

You need to get the pan really hot to create the loud and appetising sounds of steam, sizzle and colliding metal utensils clashing against a wok, followed by the lush aroma of buttery garlic and ginger. You can use a variety of vegetables for this or just one kind; the garlic, ginger and anchovies will lift the vegetables to another level and you’ll find that these vegetable sides become household favourites, making great additions to many meals. You can also use water or chicken stock instead of white wine. Change it up every time.

Serves 2-4
vegetable oil 1 tbsp
fresh ginger 30g, julienned
small round shallot 1, sliced
red chillies 2, finely chopped
butter 15g
fish sauce 1 tsp
garlic 4 cloves, finely chopped
anchovies 4-6, coarsely chopped
cavolo nero 50g, sliced 3cm thick
baby courgettes 100g, halved lengthways
tenderstem broccoli 100g, sliced diagonally 3cm thick
fine green beans 100g, topped and tailed
white wine 75ml

Have a wok or large frying pan on high heat and get it hot. Add the vegetable oil, ginger, shallot and chillies and cook for 2 minutes until lightly golden. Add the butter, fish sauce, garlic and anchovies – stir, fry, toss. Add the vegetables and let sit for 1 minute to char. Toss again, then leave to sit for another 1 minute. Finally, add the white wine – if your pan is hot, this should create some flames. Leave to sit for a couple of minutes then cover with a lid for 1 minute. The vegetables should be soft but still retain some bite. Serve immediately.

Che nep gung trai dao coconut rice pudding with ginger syrup and grilled peaches

Che nep gung trai dao – coconut rice pudding with ginger syrup and grilled peaches.
Photograph: Uyen Luu

Vietnamese rice pudding is usually cooked with black-eyed peas and it is so delicious. It can be served warm or cold with a pouring of coconut cream and topped with any of your favourite fruits and berries. Sweet summer peaches and nectarines pair really well with ginger.

Serves 4
For the rice pudding
peaches 4 ripe but slightly firm, stoned and halved
coconut oil 1 tsp
glutinous rice 100g
coconut water 500ml
rock sugar 30g
pandan leaves 2, tied into a small knot (optional)
black-eyed peas 1 x 400g tin, rinsed, drained

For the ginger syrup (or use the syrup from a jar of stem ginger)
palm sugar 100g
fresh ginger 50g, sliced
water about 3 tbsp

For the coconut cream
coconut cream 100ml
caster sugar 1 tsp (or to taste)
sea salt a small pinch (or to taste)
cornflour 1 tsp, mixed to a smooth paste with 1 tbsp water

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until hot. Brush the peaches with a little coconut oil, then place them cut-side down in the hot pan. Grill for 3 minutes or when charred marks appear, then turn them over (they shouldn’t be falling apart) and grill the skin side for a further 3 minutes. Set aside.

Gently cook the glutinous rice with coconut water and rock sugar until it is dissolved for about 15 minutes, covered, until it has expanded. Add the pandan leaves, if using, and black-eyed peas and continue to simmer without the lid for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small pan, make the ginger syrup by adding all the ingredients together and simmering for 10-15 minutes.

In another small pan, add all the ingredients for the coconut cream, mix well to thicken and bring to a gentle boil, then remove from the heat.

Serve the rice pudding with the grilled peaches, topped with the coconut cream and ginger syrup.

From Vietnamese by Uyen Luu (Hardie Grant Books, £22)

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