Fresh Tastes

By Andrea Nguyen

Published on August 1, 2009

Vietnamese cooks use a wide variety of herbs—referred to collectively as rau thom (literally, fragrant vegetable)—sometimes adding them to dishes as they cook, sometimes serving them raw as a garnish; they also lend bright notes to your favorite mesclun mix.

1. Spearmint, which grows in abundance in Southeast Asia, sparks up salads, grilled foods, and noodle dishes with a sweet, aromatic flavor.

2. Thai basil lends its clovelike scent to the beef noodle soup called pho.

3. Spear-shaped Vietnamese coriander, which is often sold in Asian markets in the U.S. under its Vietnamese name, rau ram, contributes a peppery, cilantro-esque flavor to soups and salads.

4. Rice paddy herb, so called because it grows in flooded rice fields, imparts citrus and cumin notes to southern Vietnamese curries.

5. The spade-shaped leaves of fish mint, also called bishop's weed, give a tangy, pungent edge to boldly flavored foods like grilled beef.

6. A member of the shiso family, red perilla has purplish leaves that taste of cinnamon, mint, and lemon.

7. Cutting celery, often called Chinese celery, looks like Italian flat-leaf parsley and is prized for its concentrated celery flavor.

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