Savoy cabbage, roasted cauliflower and cashew chilli noodles

Simple Vietnamese recipes that are perfect for midweek meals

Posted by for Food and Drink

Food writer and supper club host Uyen Luu shares three easier-than-they-look recipes from her beautiful new cookbook, Vietnamese.

It’s a curious fact of life that while you have to be in the mood for some meals, other foods tempt our tastebuds the whole year round. Vietnamese cuisine is undoubtedly one of them – as anyone who’s deferred to pho on a bad day can attest. Fresh, fragrant and layered with vibrant flavours, traditional meals are built around canh (a light brothy soup), plus simple dishes of meat, rice and vegetables.

Vietnamese food is also wonderfully casual, because it revolves around only a handful of ingredients. “The heart of Vietnamese cooking is making do with what you have, and adapting to what is available and in season,” writes London-based author and supper club host Uyen Luu in her new cookbook Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food To Cook At Home

“The dishes not only show off the flavours of fresh herbs and vegetables but display a rainbow of colours, tastes and textures.” 

Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food to Cook at Home
Vietnamese: Uyen Luu's cookbook is out on 27 May with Hardie Grant

Perhaps most importantly, this style of cooking brings a feeling of deep contentment. “Vietnamese cuisine is happy and joyful – just like the Vietnamese themselves,” says Luu. 

It’s for those reasons that Vietnamese cuisine works so brilliantly for midweek meals. Below, Luu shares three recipes designed for everyday cooking, using ingredients that are simple to source and even easier to prepare. 

Needless to say, they’ll be a godsend when you’re tired and hungry; and while it’s tempting to order takeaway, the best way to experience authentic Vietnamese flavours is by making food by hand. 

Uyen Luu
Uyen Luu, the author of new cookbook Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food to Cook at Home

First up, try the famous canh, which takes form here as sea bass in tomato, celery and dill broth. It’s a beautiful balance of sweet, sour and hot flavours, thanks in large part to nuoc mam, the trusty fermented fish sauce which sits at the heart of Vietnamese cooking.

For a larger meal to share with friends and family, the baked ginger and lemon chicken makes a moreish sticky sauce in minutes (which we heartily suggest you apply liberally to any traybake thereafter).

Lastly, the savoy cabbage and roasted cauliflower recipe is a satisfying way to remix noodles, and has the added bonus of using seasonal veg in new ways, too. As Luu observes, “life is nothing without the enjoyment of good food”; these recipes will ensure you eat deliciously. 

  • Sea bass in tomato, celery and dill broth (canh chua là thì là)

    Sea bass in tomato, celery and dill broth
    Vietnamese recipes: sea bass in tomato, celery and dill broth

    Uyen says: “This is one of my most favourite traditional meals that I love sharing with my mum and my daughter Olive. This is a classic, easy, one-pot wonder – and my mum makes the best version. Known as ‘sour soup’, canh chua is loved by our family and all Vietnamese people because of its perfect balance of sweet, sour and hot tanginess. It cleverly makes two dishes in one – a fish broth, which is spooned onto plates and served with the fish that flavoured the soup.

    “Everybody at the table should share small morsels of fish at a time, dipping in the pool of spicy fish sauce and ladling the soup into their rice bowls whenever they wish. It is really important to prepare all the ingredients before you begin the cooking process, then you can cook everything quickly. Make sure the rice is cooked beforehand.”

    Serves 2

    Ingredients

    • 1 sea bass, cleaned (ask fishmonger to slice into steaks  [about 4] including head and tail with bones)
    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 2 round shallots, sliced
    • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
    • 1 litre homemade or good-quality chicken or pork stock (or boiling water)
    • 2 tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
    • 1 tbsp caster sugar
    • 4 tbsp fish sauce
    • 1 juice of lime
    • 30g dill fronds, sliced into 1cm lengths
    • 1 spring onion, sliced
    • freshly chopped chillies (optional)

    For the dipping sauce:

    • 1–2 bird’s eye chillies
    • 3 tbsp fish sauce

    Method

    Heat a small pan on a medium heat, fry the sliced shallots gently until golden in 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic. Watch until the garlic turns golden then set aside.

    Pour the chicken or pork stock (or boiling water) into a pot, add tomatoes, sugar and fish sauce, and cover with a lid. Let this come to the boil then immediately add the sea bass chunks, head and tail included. Cover.

    When this reaches a boil, bring the heat down to simmer for about 3–5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish. Then add the fried shallot and garlic, including their oil, and the lime juice. 

    Taste to adjust the sweet, sour and salty balance, adding more sugar if a little more sweetness is needed, more lime for sour and more fish sauce for umami.

    To check if the fish is cooked, pierce a knife through the deepest part – if it reaches the bone easily it is cooked.

    Make the sauce on a plate large enough to hold a couple of the fish steaks. Crush the bird’s eye chillies with the back of a spoon onto the plate, then add the fish sauce. 

    Take out a couple of fish steaks and place onto the plate with the sauce. Then put the rest of the soup into a large serving bowl for the middle of the table.

    Notes

    Substitute the sea bass for cod, haddock, monkfish, carp, prawns, scallop or razor clams.

    Instead of dill, you can use coriander or mint.

    If you don’t have chicken stock, use water and a stock cube.

  • Baked ginger and lemon chicken (gà nướng)

    Baked ginger and lemon chicken
    Vietnamese recipes: baked ginger and lemon chicken

    Uyen says: “One of my favourite midweek meals takes minutes to prepare; sometimes, things just have to be that simple. 

    “Sultry ginger, tangy lemon, hot chillies and sticky honey are a great combo and you should have a supply of them in the kitchen to turn simple chicken into something rather special for those lazy, cosy evenings. You can also use chicken wings or pork ribs, but the cooking times will vary.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp chilli flakes, hotness of your choice (optional)
    • 2.5cm ginger root, finely chopped
    • 6 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1kg skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks
    • 2 red onions, quartered
    • 1 lemon, zested then sliced into rings
    • 1 tbsp butter
    • 2 tbsp clear honey

    To serve:

    • steamed rice
    • selection of greens, like kale, broccoli and fine green beans
    • 1 tbsp butter
    • ½ tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 shallot, sliced
    • 3 garlic cloves, sliced

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C (gas 8).

    In a small bowl, mix together the dried chillies, if using, with the ginger and soy sauce, then coat the chicken pieces in the marinade in a roasting pan large enough not to crowd the chicken pieces; they should have a two-finger width space between them. 

    Add the onion quarters, then arrange the slices in between the pieces of chicken. Roast for 35 minutes, basting halfway through, until the chicken is tender.

    Meanwhile, cook the rice and prepare a selection of greens.

    After 35 minutes, take out the chicken, pour any juices into a small saucepan, then return the chicken to the oven.

    Add the butter to the saucepan with the honey and lemon zest. Reduce for a few minutes until it has reduced by a third.

    Take the chicken back out and pour the honey sauce evenly over the chicken, then cook for a further 5–10 minutes, or until the juices run clear when pierced at the thickest point. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

    Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and fry off the shallots until golden.

    Add the garlic, stirring to keep it from burning, then add the sliced vegetables to fry off with a splash of water to help it cook. Season with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

    Serve with an option of more dried chillies or chilli oil, steamed rice and vegetables.

  • Savoy cabbage, roasted cauliflower and cashew chilli noodles (mì xào chay)

    Savoy cabbage, roasted cauliflower and cashew chilli noodles
    Vietnamese recipes: savoy cabbage, roasted cauliflower and cashew chilli noodles

    Uyen says: “I really love British vegetables and if I have the luxury of time to make fresh, homemade noodles, I would make it just so I could have a portion of this dish – so delicious and as easy to make as a regular pasta. 

    “There is something so moreish and savoury about butter and fish sauce which turns this midweek dinner into a real treat. Get everything prepped beforehand and stir-fry at the last minute before serving.”

    Serves 2

    Ingredients

    • 250g cauliflower, sliced into 1cm thick florets
    • ½ tbsp vegetable oil
    • ¼ tsp sea salt
    • 2 tbsp fish sauce
    • 1 tbsp chilli flakes
    • 1 tbsp maple syrup
    • 300g fresh homemade egg noodles or dried or store bought
    • 1½ tsp sesame oil
    • 30g butter
    • 2 round shallots, halved and sliced into rings
    • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
    • 100g savoy cabbage, sliced into 1cm strips
    • 20g coriander, roughly chopped
    • handful of cashews, roughly chopped
    • lime wedges, to serve

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C (gas 8).

    Roast the cauliflower with a brush of vegetable oil and a sprinkling of salt for 20–25 minutes.

    Mix the fish sauce, chilli flakes and maple syrup in a jar or bowl.

    Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Fresh noodles will take 2 minutes, dried about 6 minutes.

    Drain and rinse with warm running water. Toss with the sesame oil.

    Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes, or until translucent. 

    Turn the heat up to high, then add the garlic, cabbage and 3–4 tablespoons of pasta water and stir-fry for 2 minutes before adding the roasted cauliflower. Fry for 2 minutes. 

    Add the cooked pasta to the frying pan with coriander. Pour the fish sauce, chilli and maple syrup around the pan, stir-fry and toss to cook for a further 3 minutes, then turn off the heat.

    Serve with a generous sprinkling of chopped cashews and finish with a squeeze of lime.

    Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food To Cook At Home by Uyen Luu (£22, Hardie Grant) is out 27 May

Photography: Uyen Luu

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.