Vietnamese cooking is all about vibrancy, Perth chef and restaurateur Jenny Lam believes. "There's nothing quite like that combination of sweet, sour, spicy and fresh notes," she writes in her new cookbook, Eat Like a Viet: Recipes from the Street.
The former MasterChef contestant, who runs Bunn Mee in Leederville, first travelled to Vietnam when she was 24 years old – a trip that gave her a new appreciation of the food her family served at home.
Now her new collection passes on that passion and know-how, with 85 recipes, step-by-step photos and useful cooking tips.
"I hope that when people pick up the book they not only get great recipes but also an adventure," she says. "I want people to feel that they have been transported to Vietnam and that they can feel the culture ... and the great food."
Goi bo (beef salad)
- 500g beef skirt thinly sliced
- 2 large red onions, thinly sliced
- bunch of rice paddy herbs, chopped into 1cm lengths (from Asian grocers, or substitute with mint if you prefer)
- 3-5 coriander leaves, sliced as thinly as possible
- 4-6 bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced
- ½ cup roughly crushed peanuts
- ½ cup chilli paste in soya bean oil
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- Spread out the beef in the bottom of a colander. Place over the sink and pour boiling hot water over the meat evenly. Once cooled, slightly squeeze out excess blood and leave in the colander in the fridge to drain further while you prep the remaining ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all dressing ingredients. Add the beef, mixing until every piece is well coated. Add remaining ingredients, mix well and serve immediately.
- I love this dish extra hot, but feel free to opt for mild chilli (or omit).
Beef pho is known for its delicate yet complex flavours. Photo: Craig Kinder Food Photography
Pho bo and ga (Beef and chicken pho)
Easily Vietnam's most iconic dish, so delicate yet so complex in flavours. This is my mum's recipe and I'm happy and proud to be sharing it. For chicken pho, omit beef bones and beef, and use 3kg of chicken carcasses and two large chicken breasts instead, adding poached chicken when assembling.
- 1.5kg beef knuckle and marrow bones
- 1kg chicken carcasses
- 600-800g skirt or round eye beef, thinly sliced
- 2 whole large brown onions
- 10cm piece of ginger, thickly sliced
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2-3 pieces of cassia bark
- ⅓ cup star anise
- ½ cup coriander seeds
- ⅓ cup yellow rock sugar
- ¾ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup salt
- 1kg freshly cooked rice noodles
Pho garnish (mix all together)
- 5 spring onions, thinly sliced
- bunch of coriander, chopped into 1cm pieces
- 1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
Sides and condiments
- bean sprouts
- Thai basil or mint
- lemon wedges
- sliced bird's eye chilli
- hoisin sauce
- Sriracha chilli sauce
- Wash all bones under cold water, giving them a good scrub before placing them into a large stock pot that can hold up to 15 litres. Pour 10 litres of cold water into the pot.
- Cook on the highest heat until it comes to a rolling boil (this can take up to 30 minutes).
- Char the onions and ginger over the gas stove or place in the oven under a medium grill for 15 minutes until charred and fragrant, turning as necessary. Wash off the charred black bits, and set aside.
- When the bone broth is boiling, brown-greyish foam will form on the surface. Skim off until the broth is as clear as possible and there is no more scum. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Once clear, drop in the onions and ginger. Add half the salt and simmer for an hour.
- Toast all the spices in a frying pan until fragrant. Tie in a muslin cloth (or a clean Chux cloth works well) and add to the pot to infuse. Top up the stock pot with 1-2 litres of water depending on how much has evaporated and simmer soup for another four hours (two for chicken pho).
- Strain broth into a new pot before adding the sugars, fish sauce and salt. Bring to the boil before serving.
- To serve, place two large handfuls of cooked rice noodles at the bottom of the bowl, add the raw sliced beef or cooked poached chicken (see below) and spread out thinly on top. Add a ladle of boiling pho broth, enough to cook and submerge the raw beef. Top with a handful of pho garnish and serve alongside sides and condiments for guests to add as they wish.
To poach the chicken
- Place the two chicken breasts in a medium saucepan, add large pinch of salt and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil. Once rapidly boiling, turn off and leave to poach in the water for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove the chicken and leave to rest on a board or plate covered in cling film it doesn't dry out. Thinly slice when ready to serve.
- I like to buy the fresh pho noodles from the Asian grocery store, as they just require a quick blanch into hot boiling water before serving. Dried rice noodles that you cook are also absolutely fine.
- The simmer is what guarantees a clear broth with intense flavour so don't rush the heat.
- If the water level has dropped where the bones are exposed, pour just enough water in so they remain submerged.
- For extra melt-in-your-mouth texture, add one oxtail to the soup and cook from the start with the bone. Set aside when you strain the broth. Add a piece of oxtail to each bowl of pho for extra moreish beef touch.
Ga xa ot (Lemongrass chilli chicken)
- 500g chicken thighs, cut into 3cm pieces
- 1 lemongrass stick, minced
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 bird's eye chillies, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, toss your chicken with marinade and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Place oil and sugar in a medium saucepan and place the heat on high. Once the sugar is a golden toffee colour, take off the heat, add the chicken and stir-fry for a couple of minutes on high heat. Add a cup of water, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Reduce until sticky golden and glossy.
- To speed up the time, place lemongrass, garlic, chilli and shallots in a processor along with a touch of vegetable oil and blitz to mince, it will cut down your prep time from 15 minutes to 5 minutes.
Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes)
Banh xeo is eaten all over Vietnam. Each region has its own version, some the size of a taco, others as big as a dinner plate! The fillings depend on what's available locally. When I visited Nha Trang, a coastal town renowned for its seafood, the banh xeo was filled with a marinara mix. Even how we eat these delicious crapes differs from region to region. This is a southern version, as that's where my parents are from – with a bit of a modern Jenny Lam twist. Perfect for summer, it's refreshing and is a great casual way to entertain, transporting everyone to the streets of Vietnam. No cutlery required!
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup cold milk
- 500ml cold water
- ½ tbsp salt
- 1½ tbsp cornflour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 250g rice flour
- 2 tbsp turmeric
- 5 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 300g rindless pork belly or pork chop
- 300g prawns, roughly minced
- 500g bean sprouts, washed
Dipping sauce (nuoc mam chua)
- 5 bird's eye chillies
- 5 large garlic cloves
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1¼ cups white vinegar
- 1 cup fish sauce
- To make the batter, dissolve the sugar in the coconut milk. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl, whisk just enough to bring together the eggs, add cold milk, water, salt and coconut milk mixture. Whisk in your dry ingredients until well combined. Add the spring onions and let the batter rest on the bench for half an hour before frying.
- For the filling, thinly slice the pork belly or chop and set aside for frying. Have each filling ingredient in bowls near the stove ready to go.
- To fry your crepes, brush your pan with thin layer of oil, place it onto a medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of prawn mixture and 5-7 pieces of pork and fry until the prawns are no longer translucent. Put enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan (on a 30cm pan its generally ⅔ cup), swirl your pan to move the batter up and around the edges.
- Place a small handful of bean sprouts into the middle of the crepe and put the lid on. After one minute, take the lid off. When the edges of the crepe are golden brown, fold it in half and remove from the pan.
- To keep the crepes crisp and warm whilst you finish cooking the other crepes, set your oven to 50C fan-forced (70C conventional) and pop them in the oven. Repeat until all the batter is finished. You can also keep any remaining batter in the fridge and make more the next day.
To make the dipping sauce (nuoc mam chua)
- Place chilli and garlic into a processor and blitz until finely minced. Place the remaining ingredients, except fish sauce, in a pot and cook on the stove over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat but stir through the chilli-garlic mince and fish sauce while the mixture is still hot. Store for up to three months in the fridge.
- The deeper the frypan, the more room there is for the crepe batter to roll up the sides, creating a beautiful thin crispy lace edge.
- The batter should always have the consistency of coconut milk, if you're frying more crepes the next day, you will need to add water to restore this consistency as overnight the rice flour will expand making your batter a lot thicker.
How to eat it?
Serve with hydro lettuce leaves or mustard greens and fresh herbs. Banh xeo is traditionally eaten as finger food, you grab a large mustard or lettuce leaf as a base, pinch a handful of pancake, pop it into the centre of the leaf, add herbs, roll it up and dip it into the nuoc mam!
Serves 4-6 (makes 12)
Storage The crepe batter will last for 3 days in the fridge, the crepes once cooked are best eaten on the day.