How to tweak an American Thanksgiving menu so that it includes Vietnamese touches? That's what two people asked last week. Toni wrote that her future daughter in law is Vietnamese and she wanted to combine the cultures at their upcoming holiday celebration:
I love your banh mi book and have made almost all the recipes in it. I also recently listened to your podcast on Milk Street Radio and cooking with intent. Mr. Kimball speaks so highly of you!
My 24-year-old son is dating a delightful Vietnamese American girl (it looks very serious) and our family loves her. I am having everyone over to our home for Thanksgiving and would like the menu to have a Vietnamese twist to make her feel welcome.
I have been a serious home cook for years and have recently expanded to Southeast Asian foods. Will you please give me some ideas and/or recipes I could prepare to celebrate my future daughter in law?
Karen emailed this:
My family and I are hosting a Vietnamese Exchange student this year and we would like to make some Thanksgiving foods that she would LOVE.
I have one of your cookbooks, Asian Dumplings, that she found and fell in love with.
We do not have excellent cooking skills when it comes to Asian foods, but we have made Indian food and experiment every year at Thanksgiving. We are a mixed family, both culturally and with half-siblings, so we created our own family traditions that have nothing to do with either of our traditional families. Everyone picks a food they would like to prepare and eat. We buy all the ingredients and cook foods from all over the world. Last year we had red bean buns, sushi, Smoked Turkey and greens, samosas (from your cookbook), chicken and waffles, and other delicacies + champagne.
What can I make that is foolproof for my exchange student?
Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s full of expectations -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, certain sides, and desserts. My family has never had the full-blown American Thanksgiving menu because after trying for years, my mom admitted that she didn’t enjoy roasting a giant turkey. The photo at the top is from the 1980s. It's likely one of the last turkeys Mom made.
She roasted game hens, goose, and roasting chickens. Her stuffing was made of sticky rice, pork, shiitake mushroom, chestnuts, and seasoned with cognac. The recipe is on page 248 of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. A vegetarian version of the stuffing with pine nuts is here.
She also peeled and simmered chestnuts with chicken stock, butter and cilantro. We doled them out like precious gems because she and my dad would save the most perfect ones to serve as a side dish (the broken ones went into the dressing mentioned above).
The more Vietnamese dishes came at the front end of the menu -- snacks and salads. Fried wontons like the gratitude wontons are a family favorite. So are shrimp toasts (there’s a baked shrimp toast recipe on page 27 of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen that’s fabulous; use thin sliced baguette as the platform since thin white sandwich bread is hard to find these days).
If I were to make a Vietnamese dumpling, I’d make banh quai vac chien (shrimp, pork, and jicama turnovers). Since Karen has made the samosas from Asian Dumplings, she can totally handle the Vietnamese deep-fried turnovers on page 118.
My family also prepares special event salads – called goi or nom in Vietnamese, featuring cucumber (goi dua chuot/leo), papaya (goi du du), banana blossom (nom hoa chuoi), or tiny white silverfish (goi ca); recipes for those are in IVK, from pages 46 to 54. On the site, you’ll find recipes for a pomelo salad and cashew and red cabbage salad. These festive salads are not heavy in oil so they nicely balance things for a Thanksgiving meal.
Most of the food for Thanksgiving need to be able to sit around for some time and the foods I mentioned are capable of that. To deal with leftovers on Friday or the weekend, I’d prepare post-Thanksgiving banh mi.
Looking back on the Thanksgiving meals that I had with my husband's family, they were all traditional Thanksgiving menus. The celebrations were fun and relatively exotic for me because my family didn't have the regular spread. But had there been one little Vietnamese dish included, I would have been extra thrilled. Thank you Toni and Karen for prompting this article!
If you have experience, ideas, or suggestions for Karen and Toni, do share them!