Ever-Green Vietnamese: A Book Review with Recipes


Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea by Andrea Nguyen. (Ten Speed Press, 2023)

Book review by Kristina Sepetys

My introduction to Vietnamese cuisine came in the 1980s when I was living in Hong Kong. I discovered a tiny shop in a cramped, twisting alleyway near my high-rise apartment that sold nothing but bánh mì sandwiches. The only seating was at two red-vinyl-topped chrome stools in front of a battered yellow Formica counter. Behind that counter in a small prep area, a husband-wife team sliced crisp baguettes down the middle and filled them with seasoned meats, loads of cilantro, pickled vegetables, and a special dressing made with mayonnaise, chiles, and other piquant ingredients. I always took my sandwich to go. They’d wrap the bulging delight snug in foil and slice it into two pieces on the diagonal.

I became a regular customer, stopping by on my way home from work in the early evenings, just as the fluorescent lights were beginning to flicker on inside the stalls along the narrow alley. Seeing my enthusiasm for the sandwiches, the kindly proprietors encouraged me to try other Vietnamese dishes, suggesting places across Victoria Harbor in Kowloon, recommending special combinations they were sure I’d love. And they were right. I discovered enchanting dishes: oversized bowls of steaming pho soup with savory broth and thin rice noodles topped with mounds of aromatic green herbs; pale pink shrimp and shredded vegetables wrapped up in translucent pale white rolls; and loads of other dishes made with unfamiliar, delicious ingredients like lemongrass, mint, bird’s eye chiles, lime, licorice-y basil leaves, curry-inflected wild pepper leaves, mushrooms, and always the distinctive, pungent caramel-colored fish sauce made from fermented anchovies, pineapple juice and other herbs and spices.

Flash forward 20 years, I was living in Berkeley, reveling in the bounty of Bay Area produce, when I discovered Andrea Nguyen’s first cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which taught me to make variations of many favorite dishes. I followed Nguyen, a Bay Area resident widely acknowledged as an expert in Vietnamese cooking, reviewing and cooking from her successive books like Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors and The Bánh Mì Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches.

In her seventh and newest cookbook, Ever-Green Vietnamese, Nguyen has assembled more than 125 recipes for bánh mì, salads, soups, mains, sweets, and sips. Nguyen shares in the introduction that mid-life health issues have led her to modify her diet.  Vietnamese cuisine goes relatively light on salt, sugar, and gluten, but she wanted to emphasize plants more in her cooking.

Her latest book does just that, pushing vegetables further into the spotlight, using meats and other prepared ingredients sparingly or not at all. Recipes that do contain meat include suggestions for making them fully vegetarian or vegan, relying on mixtures like Nori Dust (Rong Biển Xay) and other additions and condiments to provide depth and umami. Nguyen includes a tasty recipe for Fish Sauce (Nước Mắm Chay), a signature element of Vietnamese cooking typically made from fermented anchovies, which she makes vegan using seaweed, pineapple juice, mushroom seasoning, and other flavorings. She also includes a great list of name-brand condiments, oils, and other products, including seeds for growing your own herbs.

To make dishes vegetarian or vegan, recipes don’t rely on store-bought meat substitutes, which Nguyen acknowledges can be overprocessed and overpriced. The author of Asian Tofu, she’s particularly knowledgeable about the soybean derivative, even including her own recipe for Peppery Vegan Bologna, which can be used in bánh mì. She explains how bánh mì are endlessly customizable and includes a blueprint and options for the various elements. She includes a similar blueprint program for making the classic Bun Noodle salad.

I’ve cooked through many of the recipes and favorites have included Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower (Bong Cai Trang Nu’ong Vi Xa Xiu), Beef and Tofu La Lot Rolls (Bò Nướng Lá Lốt), Green Mango, Beet, and Herb Salad (Gỏi Xoài Xanh), and the Grilled Eggplant with Garlicky Green Onion Sizzle (Ca Tim Nu’ong Mo Hanh). The oil infused with garlic, chopped scallions, fish sauce and red chiles is typical of special additions included throughout that can be used in other dishes to quickly and easily perk up any simple vegetable or tofu dish. A Magical Sesame Salt (Muô`i Mè) that she pairs with sauteed greens is similarly elevating.

Whether you’re looking for more vegetarian or vegan Vietnamese recipes, or want to prepare traditional recipes that produce-intensive and prepared easily on a weeknight, Ever-Green Vietnamese is an excellent reference book and inspired mix of versatile recipes that you’ll want to add to your collection.

Weeknight Vegetable Stir-Fry
Rau Xào Thập Cẩm

From Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea by Andrea Nguyen, photographs by Aubrie Pick, copyright 2023. Recipe and photo used with permission from Ten Speed Press.

Several times a week, I rely on this versatile vegetable stir-fry to put a fast, tasty side on the table. It features a green veggie that’s cut on a steep diagonal to ensure the pieces cook quickly and absorb flavors well. One or two other vegetables play supporting roles by adding contrasting color, flavor, and texture. Simply seasoning with ginger, garlic, and salt during the steam-cooking process allows the vegetable’s flavors to brightly shine. Choose what’s freshest and in season to produce a winning dish every time. A carbon-steel skillet or wok heats up well to cook this dish up in a flash; whatever you choose, have a lid handy.

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound asparagus or other green vegetable (such as celery or green beans)
  • 4 ounces carrot, watermelon radish (see*), or fresh mushrooms (such as cremini, shiitake, or maitake), or a combination
  • 1 ½ tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola or peanut)
  • 3 slices ginger, unpeeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 large garlic clove, gently smashed
  • ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

Prep the Veggies

Trim the ends of the asparagus, then slice the stalks on a steep diagonal into 2-inch-long pieces and put them into a bowl.

Cut the carrot into slices a scant ¼ inch thick and 2 inches long; this ensures they’ll cook at the same rate as the asparagus. If using mushrooms, cut the stems and caps into 1⁄3-inch-thick slices or tear into large bite-size pieces. Add to the bowl of asparagus.

Line up all the ingredients near the stove because the cooking happens fast.

Stir-Fry and Serve

Set a 14-inch wok or 12-inch nonstick or carbon-steel skillet over high heat on one of your largest burners and swirl in the neutral oil. When the oil ripples, toss in the ginger and garlic. Rapidly press down and stir them to release their aroma. Dump in the vegetables and sprinkle with the salt. Stir and toss for about 1 minute, until the vegetables look glossy with brighter color.

Spread out the vegetables to cover the pan bottom, add the water, cover, and then turn the heat to medium-high. Let the veggies steam-cook for 2 minutes, stirring midway and spreading them out again. When the boiling sounds start turning into a crackling noise (which signals water evaporation), uncover and quickly flip and stir the vegetables, about 1 minute, until no more liquid remains. If needed, turn the heat to high to hasten cooking and thus prevent overcooking. If the vegetables are too firm, add a splash of water and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. When the veggies are done, they should look lightly glazed. Transfer to a plate or shallow bowl, discard the ginger and garlic if you spot them, and serve immediately.

*Peel the watermelon radish if its skin is tough.
Kohlrabi may be used instead of carrot or radish; peel and quarter it before slicing.

Don’t want to do a mixed-vegetable stir-fry? Use this recipe to cook 1¼ pounds asparagus or green beans. The seasonings and cooking time remain the same.


Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower
Bông Cải Trắng Nướng Vị Xá Xíu


From Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea by Andrea Nguyen, photographs by Aubrie Pick, copyright 2023. Recipe and photo used with permission from Ten Speed Press.

In tropical Vietnam, cauliflower is a prized cool-weather crop that’s typically stir-fried, added to soup, or pickled. Home ovens are uncommon in Vietnam, so few people roast cauliflower. In my California kitchen, however, I coat cauliflower wedges in salty-sweet-spicy seasonings typically reserved for Cantonese-style char siu barbecue pork, and then high-heat roast them. The contours of the wedges caramelize here and there to develop a deep savoriness that evokes the prized edges and corners of char siu pork. Serve this cauliflower as a satisfying main dish or tuck it into bao and bánh mì.

Makes 1 generous pound or 4 servings

  • 1 (2-pound) head cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or mild honey
  • 1 tablespoon (scant) ketchup
  • 1½ teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced and mashed or put through a garlic press
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Cut the Cauliflower

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pull off or cut away large leaves from the cauliflower, saving them for soup or broth, if you like. Trim a slice from the core end, where it’s likely discolored. While holding the cauliflower at a comfortable angle, curved-side down, insert your knife tip into the core. As you push the knife in farther, gently rock the blade side to side and back and forth. In a few seconds, the cauliflower head should crack and naturally break into two halves (mine are always uneven).

Now, cut each half into four wedges, each no thicker than 3 inches on the uneven floret side. (Hold the cauliflower flat-side or curved-side down, whichever is more comfortable. Cut an additional wedge only if you must.) Using a dish towel, dry the wedges so they’ll absorb the seasonings well.

Note: Cutting cauliflower into wedges (instead of steaks) is initially tricky, but it minimizes waste.

Season and Roast

In a big bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, sesame oil, agave syrup, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, and five-spice powder. Add the cauliflower wedges and, using a big spoon or spatula, stir to coat well. Most of the seasonings should adhere. Spread the wedges out onto the prepared baking sheet, cut-side down. Drizzle or smear any remaining seasoning from the bowl onto the wedges.

Roast the cauliflower for 15 minutes, use tongs to turn over the wedges, and then roast for 10 minutes longer. Liquid will appear on the pan. Continue roasting for 10 to 15 minutes, during which the liquid will concentrate, bubble, and thicken. As that happens, use the tongs or a spatula to flip the cauliflower pieces about three times so they pick up the seasonings. When done, the cauliflower should look richly browned and be tender yet slightly chewy. A knife tip pierced into the thickest core areas usually meets a little resistance. The total roasting time is about 40 minutes.

To get a slightly deeper color and flavor, keep the baking sheet in its place and switch on the broiler for about 60 seconds, monitoring carefully to avoid burning. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and let it rest a few minutes to develop flavor before serving.