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Book Review: Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart

I received Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen as a Christmas present a few years ago from my mother-in-law; it has become one of my most treasured cookbooks. And it’s so much more than just a cookbook – Chef Nguyen has woven the stories of her family’s history into the pages of recipes and it makes for great reading curled up on a chair with a warm cup of tea. Here is a family that risked everything to escape Vietnam during the war and rebuilt their lives in Australia. Here is a family that set food as its centerpiece with each member of the family involved in restaurant operations. Here is a family, broken and bruised, held together at times only by their shared history and cuisine.

Aside from the compelling storytelling, Nguyen’s cookbook stands solidly on its authentic and well crafted recipes. All the traditional Vietnamese favorites are found within its pages and the flavors are bright and delicious. Some of my favorites include Nguyen’s family Pho recipe, Green Papaya Salad, and Grilled Pork Cutlets Marinated With Honey and Scallions.

Whether you are a seasoned home cook, well versed in Vietnamese cuisine or are just getting started, Secrets of the Red Lantern should be on your cookbook shelf. There are recipes here for every palate including vegetarian and gluten free. While some recipes have a lengthy ingredient list, all items can be found at your local Asian market and the preparations are easy to follow. Most of the recipes use low cost ingredients as well so the finished recipes are quite affordable.

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