Celebrated cookbook author and teacher Andrea Nguyen is a regular face around the Milk Street community. Whether she’s sharing tips on mastering Vietnamese home cooking from her latest book “Vietnamese Food Any Day,” telling us how to make homemade tofu or giving us the best four letter words to use in the kitchen, Nguyen is a source we can trust to bring a no-nonsense approach to our kitchens.
In a recent conversation with Christopher Kimball on Milk Street Radio, we discover how Nguyen and her family were first introduced to classic Thanksgiving ingredients, how her mom learned to make mooncakes and her family’s secret to sticky rice stuffing. Get a small taste of the interview from the excerpts below—then listen to the full interview on our website or Apple Podcasts (where you’ll also hear about the not-so-classic dishes that are part of Nguyen’s holiday menu).
On her first Thanksgiving in America
You know, our first Thanksgiving in America was was extremely unusual, so exotic. We had arrived in southern California in May and even though it's springtime, it was freezing because we came from South Vietnam, where it's either hot or hotter. But nonetheless, we went to the supermarkets and we saw things like turkeys and sweet potatoes and marshmallows... We didn't know what marshmallows were. And turkeys were so strange. We had heard about them, you know, and the French had prepared them, but it's just such a huge bird and the size of a toddler. And all that bread stuffing too. We were really used to stuffing birds for roasting with sticky rice. So, it was all really new to us. But it was also an adventure.
On her family’s recipe for mooncakes (and her mother's creative scheme)
My mom has a crazy story of how she and her girlfriends got together to take a lesson from a woman in Vietnam who charged a ton of money for these classes. It was a three-day mooncake class. And she and her girlfriends were so appalled by the price that this woman charged, that they pooled their money together and sent one of their friends to take the class. And then the other friends who didn't take the class gathered around by the gate of the building where she was teaching the class. And on breaks, their friend would come out and they would take notes... They were so pissed off that after that class happened, they gathered 50 women in one of their homes and taught them all how to make mooncakes.
On the secret to sticky rice stuffing
There's dry shiitake and also sticky rice, which you soak first and then you steam off. And then we sauté a little onion and butter and add the shiitake. There's also the liver from the the bird which gets chopped up in there. There's a little pork, a little cilantro, liquor and cognac. Even though my mom says she doesn't know how to drink, she likes to have the liquor in there.
On Jell-O and sharing (or not sharing) leftovers
Seeing Thanksgiving through a different lens, I think that I don't necessarily filter it through a particularly cozy menu. You know, my mom doesn't like pies. And none of that Jell-O stuff has ever come into my family's life on Thanksgiving. My sister has brought over Thanksgiving leftovers sometimes the day after, which my mom, like, absolutely abhors. One year, she brought over half-eaten pies or something . . . my mom was so insulted. She said, “This is not what you gift people. You give people whole gifts, not partial gifts!” And I think that's where her hatred of pies kind of got seeded.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.