Vietnamese Vegetarian: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from a Vietnamese Home Kitchen by Uyen Luu

Vietnamese Vegetarian by Uyen Luu follows on from her two previous books Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food to Cook at Home and My Vietnamese Kitchen.

I looked through both of these very beautiful books when they first came out but as a vegetarian, I found that even those recipes that looked as though they might be vegetarian often contained fish sauce and other non-vegetarian ingredients. Indeed the author has said herself that “fish sauce is the staple of Vietnamese cooking”, so I was very excited to see that Luu had written a vegetarian book because I wanted to see whether it was possible to create equally delicious Vietnamese recipes without using traditional ingredients like fish sauce and oyster sauce.

Cover of Vietnamese Vegetarian by Uyen Luu

Vietnamese Vegetarian: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from a Vietnamese Home Kitchen is every bit as beautiful as Luu’s previous books. Nearly every recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photo of the finished dish, with fantastic food photography by the author herself. The words and photos together provide plenty of temptation, even before trying out the recipes.

I was drawn in straight away by the warm and welcoming introduction, telling stories of the importance of food to the author from her youngest days growing up in London with her Vietnamese mum. “We are not vegetarian but I have been brought up to love my vegetables.” 

It has been lovely to read the stories of the food and the histories of particular recipes which are sprinkled throughout the book. There are chapters on snacks, dishes to eat with rice, salads, noodle dishes, soups, food to satisfy cravings, sweet treats and little things. In the latter chapter, Luu says, “In all my recipes, I wish to share the tastes of my childhood adapted into a modern vegetarian way to anyone who wishes to cook and eat Vietnamese food.”

The author talks about the need for “the perfect balance of contrasting sweet, sour, hot, umami and bitter flavours” and she has a helpful section on essential store cupboard ingredients. Some of these ingredients (such as maple syrup and cider vinegar) were straightforward to find in larger supermarkets. Other ingredients (including vegetarian ‘oyster sauce’ and Yondu vegetable umami sauce) took a bit more tracking down as they could only be purchased from specialist online shops. (There is a recipe for homemade vegan fish sauce but this involves growing a herb called ‘fish mint’ so I have not had a chance to test this out yet.)

The recipes are written in a straightforward, step-by-step way for the UK-based cook. The author recommends that it is best to check through the ingredients list, and read through the method, before making a dish. She also advises that it is helpful to organise ingredients in order of use on your kitchen worktop.

Tofu and Tomatoes with Spinach and Basil

The first dish I wanted to try was Tofu and Tomatoes with Spinach and Basil (đầu hũ xào cà chua). This is described as ‘a really popular dish at the Vietnamese table; it has a wonderful umami flavour and is quick and easy to prepare.’ The very clear step-by-step instructions were perfect for someone like me in a UK kitchen, with limited experience of cooking Vietnamese dishes. The finished dish tasted absolutely delicious and was my favourite new recipe tried this year, both to cook and to eat. I actually liked it more than the previous version of this dish that I had tried with fish sauce! The tofu, tomatoes and spinach were perfectly seasoned with cider vinegar, vegetarian oyster sauce, maple syrup and soy sauce and this created a lovely balance of umami and sweet flavours. Garnishing with Thai basil brings some subtle aniseed notes, but ordinary basil also works. The recipe said that this serves 4 as a sharing dish, but we have found it serves 2 hungry people when eaten with rice and a side dish.

Easy Greens Stir-fried with Garlic

Easy Greens Stir-Fried With Garlic (rau tập tàng xào tỏi) is the perfect side dish. You can choose any combination from a selection of green vegetables and stir fry with garlic and vegetarian oyster sauce. There are optional seasonings to use instead of the oyster sauce plus optional toppings. We are big fans of sprinkling chilli flakes on this dish as it adds a bit of heat and pretty flecks of red to contrast with the green vegetables. Whatever combination of vegetables, seasoning and toppings, this is a really good way make the most of green vegetables. So easy and so delicious. (And so much nicer than the overcooked and watery boiled green vegetables that I remember from growing up here in the UK!)

Lime Soda with Strawberries

Another favourite recipe from this book is Lime Soda with Strawberries (soda đầu). The author talks of remembering her first taste of a version of this on her birthday when she was a little girl back in Saigon, before coming to the UK. I love this refreshing combination of strawberries, freshly-squeezed limes and maple syrup with sparkling water and ice. It is incredibly quick and simple to make and the resulting drink is a real treat, sweet but not too sweet. It is always nice to have an alcohol-free drink that is a bit special. I look forward to serving it to guests in the garden next summer.

This book is as an excellent introduction to vegetarian Vietnamese food, whether you are already familiar with Vietnamese cuisine and want to prepare more vegetarian dishes alongside existing favourites, or whether you are a complete beginner. Many of the recipes are vegan-friendly too, with the obvious exception of a small number of recipes that contain eggs. It may also be of interest to people with allergies to fish or oyster sauce.

Vietnamese Vegetarian is now one of my all-time favourite cookbooks and deserves its space on my bookshelves. I will enjoy continuing to use and read it for years to come.

Recipes from Vietnamese Vegetarian

We have permission from Hardie Grant to share some recipes with you from the book:


You can find more Vietnamese recipes here.

You may also like to see all of our vegetarian recipes.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Vietnamese Vegetarian by Uyen Luu from publisher Hardie Grant. Book photography by Uyen Luu. Home-cooking photography by Ruthy Jenkins.

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