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Fresh herbs at the center of the Vietnamese plate

July 15, 2009 | 12:31 pm

Herb At this time of year, like many cooks, I’m obsessed with fresh herbs. But you can keep your Genovese basil, French tarragon and Italian parsley. For me,  the magic is in the leafy aromatics of the Vietnamese table — red perilla, garlic chives and rice paddy herb, to name just a few. I grow the herbs in my garden as well as purchase them by the bunch at farmers markets and Asian markets to ensure that I savor as much as I can during their peak hot-weather season.

Fresh herbs are essential to Vietnamese cuisine. Their flavors and perfumes enliven countless foods. Pinched off their stems and/or chopped, raw leaves are tucked into rice paper rolls, dropped into hot soups, mixed into cool salads, stir-fried with noodles, and wrapped up with grilled morsels in lettuce. Vietnamese people enjoy large quantities of fresh herbs. In fact, herbs are collectively known as rau thom, which literally means "fragrant vegetable."

Read more here, plus, your photo gallery guide to herbs commonly used in Vietnamese cooking.

-- Andrea Nguyen

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times