“She’s a Thai foodie from way back, but cook and author Meera Freeman is getting a taste for the simple, subtle flavours of Vietnam….. Freeman is not a professional chef with a brigade of 20 awaiting her instructions, nor a globe-trotting superstar author. Nor is she Vietnamese. She is simply a passionate, well-travelled, well-taught cook and teacher with the gift of wheedling family recipes out of slightly suspicious, non-English speaking aunties and grandmothers, and she passes on the results of her work without pretension or frills….”
The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday March 14, 1995
Streetwise about Vietnamese Food
Eat a bowl of congee and you can run three blocks. Great, but what’s congee?
How many times have you wandered down Barkly St, Victoria St or Springvale Rd and wondered what the signs hand-lettered in Vietnamese say about the unfamiliar vegetables, fruits and herbs? Or watched enviously as someone orders confidently in a Vietnamese restaurant and is rewarded with a delicious dish you would have liked but didn’t know about? I have, plenty of times. That’s why I have been waiting for The Vietnamese Cookbook, written by one of Melbourne’s most knowledgeable food consultants, Meera Freeman.
Well known for her popular walking tours along Victoria St, through which she has introduced countless people to the delights of Asian flavors, Meera worked on the book for over a year. What started as an obsession with pho (a noodle soup) ended in a labor of love.Meera spent many hours with Vietnamese people to ensure the authenticity of each recipe “although I really didn’t get the recipes, I got anecdotes,” she says. “Then I had to establish quantities for ingredients and adjust for tastes.” Everything from appetisers and accompaniments to soups, snacks, salads and sweets is presented in easy-to-follow formats. Wherever possible, the Vietnamese name of the ingredient or dish is provided, making the book a handy guide for shopping or dining out. But I was disappointed that, after all the work put into producing the Vietnamese spelling and punctuation, the index was strictly English.If for instance, you get used to using the word pho, you must remember that it is a noodle soup and look for it under soups.The Vietnamese Cookbook highlights the care with which Vietnamese food is prepared and the incredible value it represents in Melbourne restaurants, and gives the reader a rare insight into the complexity of the food and culture through a number of delightful proverbs.During the writing of the book, Meera spoke with Long Quan, editor in chief of Nhan Quyen (the Vietnamese Weekly), who dubbed her the “first lady of Victoria St” and provided her with many of the proverbs peppered throughout the book.It is difficult not be drawn into the gentle humor of pearls like A meal with no greens is like a fight with no arguments, or If you raise ill-mannered children you may as well rear pigs – at least they’ll give you meat. Congee, by the way, is just another name for rice porridge.
The Vietnamese Cookbook (Viking, Penguin Books, Australia Ltd. 1995)
Herald Sun, Tuesday, February 28, 1995
Under the Covers
Meera Freeman has fed, educated and entertained thousands of Melburnians at her Carlton cooking classes over the past 10 years. Former students will already be familiar with her impressive knowledge, flamboyant personality and designer kitchen. This book introduces the inimitable Freeman style to a wider audience.
Freeman is the thinking person’s cook. She speaks several languages and her approach to cooking relies more on intellect and passion than culinary fashion. Instead of lavish techniques and fancy presentation, you’ll find an emphasis on quality ingredients and their simple but authentic preparation.
There are 120 recipes in this book, ordered by cuisine and further divided into lessons. The Vietnamese section features classics such as chicken salad, sugarcane prawns and beef grilled in wild betel leaves. Thai curry pastes, pounded from scratch in the mortar and pestles, will put you off the commercial variety forever. In the Italian chapter, Freeman demonstrates wonderful ways with artichokes and includes a recipe for the tenderest potato gnocchi you’ll ever taste.
There’s also a fascinating chapter of family recipes drawn from Freeman’s European Jewish heritage.
The book places a welcome emphasis on mastering the basics. It tells you how to cook couscous without the lumps, how to make the classic chicken soup and how to knock up a nuoc mam dipping sauce you’d be proud to serve to your Vietnamese friends.
Cooking Class is made for the kitchen rather than the coffee table. It’s a spiral bound book with a hard cover, good quality stock and strong black and white photos of Freeman instructing her students.
Freeman’s distinctive voice comes through loud and clear. But perhaps the best thing about Cooking Class is that you know the recipes are going to work: a decade of teaching and thousands of satisfied Melbourne palates are the guarantee of that.
Cooking Class, by Meera Freeman, Allen & Unwin, $45.
– Carolyn Holbrook
The Age, Epicure, March 13, 2001
Cooking Class – Meera Freeman
Let me tell you how this book came to be, and came to be called cooking class. Meera Freeman is a cooking teacher – and a good one. She teaches Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern cuisine in Melbourne – and does it well. So well in fact that the waiting list for her 5 week courses is just silly. I’ve attended 4 (2 Italian, 2 Thai) and have enjoyed every one.
This book is actually a compilation of the class notes from those courses. We, her students said how about putting all the course notes in a book? She did. Meera’s recipes work – well. In fact her (and now my) pesto is the best I’ve ever had, the Thai curry pastes will eclipse anything you’ve had before. This is not an extravagant promise – you’ve probably never tasted hand pounded curry pastes – certainly not in a restaurant in any case.
Trust me – go and buy this book. It is getting a wee bit hard to get now, so don’t leave it too long. make sure you pay attention to the hints scribbled in the margins – they are truly the good oil (Tuscan or Ligurian you ask?).
Road to Marrakech
That curious anthropologist of the Melbourne culinary world, Meera Freeman, has broken cover with a new book detailing her love affair with Morocco and its food. Known variously for her expertise with Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, her cookery classes and language skills developed in parallel with a love of travel, Freeman seems to have combined them all in this latest project, A Season in Morocco: A Culinary Journey. Part travelogue, part cookbook, Freeman’s is probably the first such in-depth look at Moroccan food by an Australian author, the result of leading several food tours to the North African country. French, Hebrew and some Arabic are weapons in the Freeman armoury. For anyone enamoured of the Morocco-inspired dishes you might find at restaurants such as mecca or MoMo, the book might be worth a look for greater understanding of the country and its food.
John Lethlean, Espresso the Age Epicure, May 11 2004