Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banh Trang Tron - Rice Paper Salad


Banh trang tron 'rice paper mix' is a street food that has won the hearts of children and teenager all over Vietnam.  I was first introduced to this popular street snack several years ago while I was in Saigon.  My cousin picked up a bag on his way home from class.  He walked in with a clear plastic bag dangling from his fingers with two skewers (used as chopstick) poking out from the bag.  I opened up the bag to examine what was inside; strips up rice paper, julienned green mango, shredded beef jerky, quail egg, roasted peanuts, and chopped Vietnamese coriander (rau ram).  It was such an unusual concoction but had all of my favorite components.  I'm always excited to try new food so I had no problem digging in.  While I very much enjoy the explosion of flavors, my mom thought it was 'nonsense' food.

Upon my first tasting of banh trang tron, I thought it tasted similar to padd Thai.  After a few more bites the flavor became more coherent; it was tangy and spicy similar to other Vietnamese goi but more salty and dry.  I can see why adults would be against this type of snack, it's not very nutritious.  But it's FUN food, something I like to make every now and then.  I hope you enjoy my interpretation of this popular street food!

Ingredients:
8-10 sheets of rice paper cut into 3 inch strips
1 cup of julienned green mango (adding more green mango will add more moisture to this salad)
1 cup of chopped rau ram
1/4 cup of dried proteins (shredded beef jerky, shredded squid, dehydrated field shrimp, or none)
quail egg (or 1 hard boil egg cut into 8 pieces)
2 tablespoon of cooking oil
3 tablespoon of minced green onion
shrimp salt 'muoi tom' ( or sea salt)
sugar
1 lime
maggi seasoning
chili oil
fried shallot
crushed peanuts
large bowl
plastic gloves

1.  Sauteed the green onions in the oil until fragrance.  If you are using tep kho (dehydrated field shrimp) add it to the oil and sauteed until fragrance.
2.  Add the rice paper strips to a large bowl and the add the hot oil with green onions and tep kho.  Use your gloves to mix as much of rice paper and oil together to help soften the rice paper.
3.  Season the rice paper with 1 lime, some shrimp salt (sea salt is a lot saltier so use it sparingly), a sprinkle of sugar, juice of 1 lime, hot chili oil, and a couple dash of maggi seasoning.  Mix well or it will get clumpy.  Make sure every portion of the rice paper is season thoroughly.
4.  Once you are satisfied with the seasoning add the green mango, shredded protein, quail egg, chopped rau rau, crush peanuts, and fried shallot.  Toss and mix so that all the components are evenly distributed.
5.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pho/Mi Ga Kho -Dry Chicken Pho

In my family, chicken pho isn't as popular as beef pho.  I definitely would choose beef over chicken any day.  However, chicken pho is so much easier to make than beef pho and only take 1/3 of the time.  For those reasons, I still make chicken pho pretty often.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine mention having pho ga kho and how much she enjoyed it.  I thought it was a great idea because this way we can switch things up a bit with pho ga.  I love hu tieu kho more than the soup version, maybe I will like the dry version of pho ga more than the soup version as well.  Plus I love eating dry noodle because we can add a lot of veggies and herbs to your bowl.  

It's really simple, you pretty much just make a pot of pho ga like usually.  The only thing you will need to do extra is come up with a sauce.  This was the part where I had a little trouble with in beginning because at the time I've never had pho ga kho before.  I had to rely solely on my friend's description.  I played around with the sauce several time and a lot of time it came out pretty similar to the my hu tieu kho sauce.  During my recent trip to Vietnam, I had the opportunity to try this dry chicken noodle dish from Da Nang.  Instead of pho noodles, they used an egg noodle similar to lo mein.  It was so delicious that we kept going back to eat it several times a week!  I fell in love with the sauce, it was sweet and more soy base.  

Please refer back to my Pho Ga recipe.

Ingredient:

Shredded chicken from Pho Ga
Pho noodle/egg noodle
Bean sprout
Lettuce
Cilantro
Green onions
Lime
Fried shallots
Chili
Sauce
Pho ga broth (as a side)

1.  I like putting my veggies(bean sprout/lettuce) at the bottom of the bowl.
2.  Add noodle of choice on top of veggies.
3.  Add shredded chicken on top veggies.
4.  Spoon enough sauce(sauce recipe below) into your bowl.
5. Top everything with herbs of choice, fresh minced chili, and fried shallots.
6.  Squeeze some fresh lime juice and stir everything together.
7.  Enjoy with some broth on the side!

Sauce:

4 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of soy sauce
2 cup of pho ga broth
1/4-1/3 cup of brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your sauce)

1.  Combine all ingredients in a pot.  
2.  Heat up all the ingredient until they marry together and the sauce has reduce a bit.  

Garlic Noodles

It's all started when my oldest friend told me how much she loves eating garlic.  The first thing that came to mind was garlic noodles!  Luscious noodles covered in a savory butter sauce with lots of minced garlic.  I was told the noodles were so good the jumbo shrimps were not even necessary!

Ingredients:

1-16 0z bag of lo mien noodles
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoon of finely minced garlic
3 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoon of chopped green onions
Parmesan cheese

1.  Boil the lo mein noodles in water until it's about 80% done.  I like my noodles with a firm bite, so it's important to NOT overcook the noodles
2.  Drain and set aside.
3.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter on medium heat and add the minced garlic.  Let the garlic infused in the butter and become fragrance.
4.  Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the garlic butter.
5.  Toss in the lo mein noodles and coat the noodles with the sauce. Add the garlic powder to the noodles.
6.  Just when the noodles are about done add the chopped green onions.
7.  Serve with your choice of protein and top with rated Parmesan cheese.
8.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nuoc Cham - Vietnamese Fish Sauce/ Dipping Sauce

I secretly critique Vietnamese restaurant base on their nuoc cham.  Seriously 9/10 times it's right on the money!  If they have good nuoc cham, most likely their food will be decent as well.  The reasoning behind this theory stems from my mom.  She said "If you want to be good at Vietnamese cooking, practice making nuoc cham."  Making nuoc cham is combining and balancing different flavors; salty, sour, spicy, and sweet.  If you can learn to balance flavors then you can easily cook Vietnamese, it's really that simple.  If you know what the final product should taste like, think about what flavors are missing.  Get in the habit of tasting your food instead of relying on measurements.

I've been meaning to write an entry on nuoc cham for so long now, I can literally write a novel on it!  There are so many different ways to prepare nuoc cham. Nuoc cham for deep fried fish is not the same nuoc cham for spring rolls.  Nuoc cham for banh beo is not the same nuoc cham for banh bot loc.  Today I will share the recipe for a multi-purpose nuoc cham that you can use for many Vietnamese dishes.  Hopefully once you get the hang of making nuoc cham, you will no longer need to rely on measurements and just start making it by taste alone.  Here are a few helpful tips before you make your batch of nuoc cham.

1.  Fish Sauce:  
This is what makes the sauce so the brand does matter or I should say the concentration.  There are so many brands of fish sauce, I usually stick with the Vietnamese brand or the Squid brand (Thai) because it's what I know.   So you have the Squid Brand, Red Boat, 3 Crabs, and etc.  They all vary in prices due to how well it's filter and the purity of the product.  Squid is probably consider the worst quality and the cheapest, yet it's my only choice when I make nuoc cham.  Before you call me crazy, let me explain my reasoning (stems from mom)!  Squid brand is the most concentrated because it hasn't been filtered very much, therefore it is very salty and pungent.  It's the best to make nuoc cham because it has the most depth of flavor.  The more expensive brand are filtered and diluted for taste, therefore if you use it to make nuoc cham the flavors will get lost once you add water.  Basically you are diluting your fish sauce even more once you prepare your nuoc cham.  Don't get me wrong the expensive brand (filtered fish sauce) is good fish sauce but it's good on its own.  Once you start adding water, sugar, and lime it's going to dilute it and it will lose its flavor.  I prefer Squid brand because it's the most concentrated and salty.  I use the Squid brand when I cook as well because you don't need to use a lot of it compare to the expensive brand. 

2. Vinegar Vs Lime
Both are fine to use but I prefer lime because it just gives the nuoc cham some freshness.  

3.  Boiling the water
It's important to use boiling water so you can dissolve all the sugar so you can actually taste the sweetness.  Note that not all nuoc cham required water such as the ones for deep fried fish.  

4.  Garlic
Some nuoc cham are more syrupy (such as the one use for banh hoi and heo quay) which is made by smashing garlic together with the sugar.  If the food doesn't call for a syrupy nuoc cham you can just minced it up finely.

5.  Boiling Water > Sugar > Minced Garlic > Chilli > Lime > Fish Sauce
Remember this step if you want to start making nuoc from taste, trust me it's better than measuring!  Add boiling water to the sugar and stir so it dissolved.  Let the sugar water cool.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  Add about 1/2 a lime first.  Then slowly start adding the fish sauce.  As you are adding more fish sauce, taste to see what it is missing.  More lime? More fish sauce?  More chili? Add whatever you feel is needed!

6.  For some reason when you store your prepared fish sauce in the fridge it tend to get diluted, so I usually make it a little saltier when I make them to store.  I know pickled carrots (do chua) taste really good in nuoc cham but avoid storing them together otherwise your nuoc cham will get diluted.
7.  Below is the recipe for a basic nuoc cham for spring rolls, cha gio, banh xeo, bun thit nuong, and the likes.  Usually nuoc cham for banh beo, banh uot, and banh cuon calls for a sweeter fish sauce so just use a little more sugar then the recipe below.  Good luck!

Ingredients: This will make one big container.

3 cups of boiling water
3/4-1 cup of sugar (for a sweeter nuoc cham use 1 cup)
1 lime (1/4 cup)
~ 3/4-1 cup of fish sauce (I use Squid brand, if you are using a more filtered fish sauce you will need to use more)
fresh chili (your liking)

1.  Boil your water and then add it to the sugar.  Stir the sugar to dissolved and let the sugar water cool down.

2.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  If you add garlic to hot sugar water, it will turn green. 

3.  Add 1 lime. 

4.  Measure out one cup of fish sauce, you may or may not use the whole 1 cup.  Slowly add your fish sauce and taste as you add additional fish sauce.  Note:  If you are using a filtered fish sauce you may need to use more than 1 cup. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Che Chuoi - Banana Coconut Pudding

Not only am I not a huge fan of dessert, I don't even like eating bananas.  Oddly there is something so comforting and tasty about a bowl of che chuoi, and it's making me break all my rules.  My sister-in-law taught me how to make this che over the phone, so it's quite simple to make.

This che does require a specific type of banana, the short Asian bananas (looks like baby bananas).  I'm sure you can use regular bananas but it won't taste as good.  The short bananas has more starch, is more firm, and is less sweet than regular bananas.  It will hold up better during the cooking process and there will be more of a bite to it (regular bananas will get too mushy).  Make sure the bananas are ripe before making this che otherwise these short bananas will have a bitter taste. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 hand of RIPED banana (the short Asian kind if possible)
1 can of coconut
2 cups of cubed cassava roots (I use the frozen kind)
1/4 cup of tapioca pearls
sugar
salt
water

1.  Cut bananas down about 1 inch in length.  Marinate bananas with about 5 tablespoon of sugar, let it marinate overnight so you can make it the next day.
2.  Boil the cassava roots until it's about 60% done, you will finish cooking it in the coconut milk.  I like my cassava roots pretty firm otherwise it will fall apart.  Cube the cassava roots to about 1/2 inch.
3.  Wash your tapioca pearls.
4.  Pour the entire can of coconut milk in a large pot on medium heat.  Fill up that coconut milk can with water and stir it in with the coconut milk.
5.  Add the cubed cassava roots and the tapioca pearl.  Add about 4-5 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt.  More or less sugar depending on how sweet you like, don't forget the bananas were marinated with additional sugar.
6.  Let the cassava roots cook in the coconut milk until the tapioca pearl has expand.
7.  Add the marinated bananas.  Let the bananas cook until it's tender.  I like my bananas firm so it's about 10 minutes.
8.  Transfer to bowl and enjoy with roasted peanuts.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thit Heo Quay - Crispy Pork Belly

The nearest Chinatown is roughly 2 hours away from us, therefore food such as roasted pork or duck is just out of the question.  We have to travel all the way to Chicago just for some good BBQ meat.  It's such a shame because there are so many Vietnamese dishes that calls for roasted pork.

Last fall I got the chance to learn how to make roasted pork at home.  It was so incredibly easy and to be honest it was better than store bought; the skin was so incredibly crispy.  It's as easy as dumping salt on a slab of pork belly and popping it in the oven.  All you really need to do is make a rub out of salt, sugar, and whatever spices you prefer.  I usually go for a classic five spice rub to go with my Vietnamese dishes.  But be creative with your rub, crispy pork belly is such as universal dish.

Crispy roasted pork is good on it's own but here are some my favorite ways to eat thit heo quay.  I will eventually post recipe for each of the dish below, bare with me!

1.  Banh Hoi:  Thinly woven vermicelli noodles with sweet garlic fish sauce and plenty of fresh greens.
2.  Bun Mam Nem:  Vermicelli noodle with fermented fish paste, pickled carrots, and assorted fresh vegetables.
                
3.  Chao:  Shredded roasted pork congee with 1000 year old duck egg.
                

Ingredients:  

A slab of pork belly
vinegar

Five Spice Rub:
(This is the ratio of the rub, you want to use just enough to cover the size of your pork belly)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of salt (a little less than 1/2)
1/4 cup five spice powder
2 tablespoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of paprika

1.  Wash your pork belly well.  Use paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.
2.  You want to use something sharp or pointy to poke holes in the surface of the skin, this pretty much allows the fat underneath to rise up and crisp up the skin.  I like using a razor or the pointy tool below (I have no idea what it is, but I found it in my dad's garage).  Razors are harder to handle especially on tough pork skin, so you might want to go with some pointy to be safe.
3.  Marinate the meat side of the pork belly with the rub.  Don't forget the rub above is a ratio.  You just want to use enough of it to cover the meat.  You can poke holes or cut into the meat so the rub will season the inside of meat better.  I usually keep it whole unless it's a thicker slab of meat.  You don't really need to a marinate the pork belly for a really long (about and hour or less for me), because once you pop it in the oven the rub is not going anywhere it's just going to form a flavorful crust.
4.  I like placing a cooking rack on top of pan and then putting it in the oven.  When cooking the fat will drip down to the pan. Try to position the cooking rack as low as you can in the oven because you will be using the broiler.  It would be better if the pork belly is not to close to the heat source otherwise it will burn too fast.
5.  Set the oven at 350 degrees on broil.  Place the pork belly meat side up and let it roast until it browns (approx. 25-30 minutes).
6.  Take pork belly out and wipe the skin dry from all the moisture.  Brush some vinegar on the skin, this will keep the skin dry and allows the skin to crisp up.  Place the pork belly back in the oven skin side up until it browns and crisp up.  Keep eye on the skin because some parts may burn faster so you might need to re-position your pork belly in the oven.  Whenever there is too much moisture on the skin, you'll want to take it out and wipe of the moisture.  Brush more vinegar on the skin and pop it back in the oven.
7.  When the skin has brown and crisp up enough, remove and let it cool.
8.  Cut up your pork belly and enjoy it however you like.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nui Xao Bo - Stir Fry Beef Rice Macaroni

This fun and delicious stir fry wasn't around when I was little but nowadays it's all over Vietnam.  It is the Vietnamese take on Western pasta, which have gain a lot of popularity amongst children and teens.  I remember trying it for the first time several years ago in Saigon, it was an awesome mix of both worlds.  You get the rich tomato flavor but then you get hints of familiar Asian seasoning.  Unlike Western pasta where the sauce is pile on top, Vietnamese pasta is more dry.  The sauce is part of the the seasoning that coat the macaroni, the sauteed beef seasoned perfectly is piled on top, and then you get some fresh veggies on the side to help cut some of the oil.  I make this almost weekly because it doesn't take a lot of time and effort.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 bag 14 oz
1 lb sliced beef
1 yellow onion (sliced)
4 stalk of green onions (cut into 1 in)
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced shallot
cilantro (garnish)
tomato (garnish)
cucumber (garnish)
fish sauce
tomato paste
oyster sauce
sugar
soy sauce
black pepper

1.  Boil rice macaroni until about 75% done, otherwise it will break when you stir fry it.  Drain water and set aside for later.
2.  Marinade beef with 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar.
3.  Heat up oil in a wok, add the garlic and shallots until fragrance. Add the sliced onions and green onions, then add the beef.  Stir fry everything until beef is cooked.  Remove and set aside.
4.  Heat up 4 tablespoon of oil in a wok, add the rice macaroni, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Make sure you coat the macaroni with all the liquid ingredients and tomato paste evenly. Stir fry macaroni until it's al dente or tender to your liking.
5.  Add the sauteed beef from earlier back in the wok.  Your stir fry is ready for eating.
6.  Transfer to a plate and garnish with chopped cilantro, cucumber, tomato, and a dash of ground pepper on top.
7.  Enjoy!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bo Vien - Vietnamese Beef Balls

I'm a huge fan of bo vien, Vietnamese beef balls, made popular by pho.  Frozen bo vien nowadays is not the same quality as before.  I get that it's processed meat but lately i'm unsure if it's meat i'm eating or just a bunch of fillers.  A year ago I decided i'm never going to buy frozen bo vien again, i'm making my own from now on!

I was fortunate to learn the basics of making bo vien from my friend's mother several years ago.  She always had homemade bo vien in the freezer.  It was so good, we would eat it by itself with Sriracha.  Unlike the frozen bo vien, you can actually taste and feel the meat.  Don't mistake dense bo vien as quality bo vien, the denseness is actually just flours mixed in with the meat.  Homemade bo vien are chewy and spongy!  

I never got the chance to write down the exact measurements but I knew exactly what goes into making bo vien. Took several tries but I came up with something i'm satisfied with.  Beware homemade bo vien is A LOT of work because the process is very time consuming. The key to making good springy bo vien is the process of stretching and binding; which require using the food processor over and over again and time in the freezer.

What kind of meat should you buy?  You can buy the mot expensive cut like shank or you can buy something more wallet friendly like ground chuck or even ground beef.  I usually wait for a sale on ground beef so I can stock up.  Go for something with more fat (I use 80/20), lean meat tends to be dry.  I like trimming the fat on beef products and save it to make bo vien.

Why is it time consuming?  Once you mix all the ingredients together, the next step is to grind it into a paste in the food processor.  You want to grind it at least 3 times, the more times you grind your meat the springier the texture of the beef balls.  That doesn't sound too bad right?  There is more!  In between using the food processor, you have to let the meat rest in the freezer so that the meat will bind together.  Basically you grind your meat, you let it rest in the freezer, and then you repeat that at least 2 more times.  After every round of grinding, the meat will get heavier and heavier.  Therefore you have to grind less at a time or you might risk breaking your processor.  Now just imagine doing all that with 4 pounds of meat, it literally take up the whole of the day.

If you are still reading this, let's go make some bo vien!

Ingredients:

4 lbs of ground beef ( 80/20)
1 bulk of garlic (finely minced)
1 teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper
5 tablespoon of fish sauce ( I used the Squid brand which is saltier than most other brand)
3 tablespoon of sugar
1 bag of alsa baking powder
3 tablespoon of tapioca starch
crushed ice
vegetable oil

1.  Combine all the ingredients except for the crushed ice and tapioca starch.  Thoroughly mix everything together.
2.  I divided the mixture into 3 batch, maybe more or less depending on the size of your food processor.
3.  Start the first round of grinding, the easiest round. Put the first batch in the food processor and start grinding.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch for each batch as it is grinding.  Continue to let it grind until it become paste like, see picture below.
 
 4.  Once you grind all three batch into a paste, combine in a bowl and let it rest in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.  Make sure you wrap the bowl up well so it doesn't harden.
5.  Take the beef paste out of the freezer.  Start round 2 of grinding.  The meat should be heavier than before so you might want to grind it in smaller batches.  Adding a little bit of crushed ice will help the grinding.
6. Start the second round of resting in the freezer, don't forget to wrap it up well again.
7. Repeat the grinding and resting at least one more time.
8.  Remove from freezer.  Now you begin balling your beef paste.  It's up to you how large or small you want it to be.  I like making mind large to save time, and whenever I eat it I just cut it up.  Rub some vegetable oil on your finger and hand to help you ball more easily.
9.  Once you ball up all the beef paste, cook them in boiling water.
10.  Remove cooked beef balls and place in an ice bath.
11.  Remove from ice bath.   They are now ready to eat or for storage in the freezer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lau Thai - Thai Style Hotpot


It seems like for every occasion my family always rely on hotpot. Not only is it delicious and easy to eat, it is also fun and interactive for gathering.  We love eating all kinds of hotpot; there is lau mam (fermented fish hotpot), lau nam (mushrom hotpot), lau cua (crab hotpot), lau hai san (seafood hotpot), and lau Thai (Thai style hotpot).  Our favorite has to be Thai style hotpot because it's salty, sweet, spicy, and sour; a little bit of everything.  If you are a fan of Thai Tom Yum soup, you will love this hotpot!  It is eaten with rice vermicelli noodle and a varieties of meats, seafood, and vegetables.

Hotpot is pretty easy to make as well, it's just a lot preparation.  The thing I love about eating hotpot is you can eat it all day!  We usually eat hotpot for lunch, again for dinner, and then if we have some leftover we'll have it again the next day.  For that reason I usually make a huge pot of broth and after every eating session I replace the old broth with new broth.  If you are planning to have a hotpot marathon make sure you buy a lot vegetables and meat.

My Thai style hotpot is made very similar to Thai tom yum soup.  I actually use a store brought paste that is labeled as seasoning paste for Canh Chua (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup) but it taste more like Tom Yum to me.  There are a lot of these paste at all Asian grocery stores but Golden Boy brand (picture below) is my favorite.  I sauteed this paste with lots of minced shallots and lemongrass which helps fragrance the broth.   There is one other secret ingredients that nobody every gets after eating my broth but I will happily share it with all of you.  I also add mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) with the seasoning paste, which give the broth its saltiness.  I basically make my broth very similar to Bun Bo Hue but without the beef broth.  The broth is made with canned chicken broth, pineapple juice, lemongrass, tamarind pulp, kaffir lime leave, and my seasoning paste.  I also add one can of coco rico soda for sweetness and also as a tenderizer for meats.  Last but certainly not least, it has to be spicy.  I add a special hot chili oil to the broth for spiciness (picture below).
Now onto the meats and vegetables!  No hotpot can be without meats and vegetables; there should always be an abundant amount for both.  Thai hotpot is the most versatile because almost any meats and vegetables will be great with the broth.  Most common ingredients are mushrooms, water spinach, banana blossom, beef, shrimp, squit, clams, mussels, tomatoes, tofu, and the list goes on.  Since I have limited access to Asian vegetables I usually go with watercress, enoki mushrom, oyster mushroom, and nappa cabbage.  As for as meat you litterally can you any type of sliced beef and seafood.  Today I felt like only using seafood.  Happy eating!

Ingredients:  I won't be listing amounts for the vegetables, meats, and seafood because it really depends on how much you want to eat.  Make sure you get plenty because it would be a damper if you run out!  Prepare the ingredients below for eating.

Napa Cabbage
Watercress
Enoki Mushroom
Oyster Mushroom
Tilapia filet
Shrimp
Cuttlefish
Rice Vermicelli Noodle
Broth:  

6 cups of canned chicken broth
2 cups of pineapple juice
1 can of coco rico
6 cups of water
1 cup of Golden Boy brand paste (or similar seasoning)
1/4 cup of mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste)
1/4 cup of sugar
4 lemongrass stalk
2 kaffir lime leave
1/4 cup of minced lemon grass
3 tablespoon of minced shallot
4 tablespoon of cooking oil

1.  Combine chicken broth, pineapple juice, water, lemongrass stalk, and kaffir lime leaves in a pot.   Let everything cook for about 30 minutes on medium heat.
2.  Heat up oil in a sauce pan.  Add the minced lemongrass and shallots and let it cook in the oil until fragrance.  Then add the Golden Boy paste, mam ruoc, and sugar.  Sauteed everything on low heat.   I usually make extra of this paste so that I can add more to the broth, because as you eat and put in more ingredients the broth will get diluted.  Unless you want to keep replacing the broth.
3.  Transfer to the broth. Let the paste cook into the broth.  
4.  Broth is ready for eating, transfer broth to a hotpot.  Add the hot chili oil to your liking.
5.  Once the hotpot comes to a boil add the fresh ingredients to cook and enjoy everything with vermicelli noodle.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Banh Canh Do Bien - Seafood Tapioca Noodle Soup (Lent Friendly)


I already post a recipe for Banh Canh Cua (Crab Tapioca Noodle Soup), which is made with a pork base broth and requires fresh crabs.  This version has no meat product (beef, chicken, poultry) and does not require fresh crabs.  I usually tell my family it's my "lazy" version of banh canh, meaning I spend less time on the broth.  I usually make the noodles from scratch because it taste better and it's cheaper then store brought banh canh noodles.  Please refer to my Banh Canh Cua recipe for instructions to make homemade noodles.

For this recipe I use dried prawns and a lot of mushroom to make the broth.  It is said that mushrooms give a natural umami taste, savory taste, so I go crazy with the mushrooms.  Instead of fresh crabs I use jar crab meat in soya bean oil (the same jar I use to make bun rieu).  Shrimp, mushroom, and fish cake (cha ca) contribute to the "meat" of the soup, you can also use frozen shrimp and fish balls.

Ingredients:

Banh canh noodles
1/2 cup of dried prawns (rehydrated)
1 daikon (or 2-3 carrots)
1 onion
3 cups of mushroom
1 lb of shrimp(cooked in the microwave)
fish cake (cha ca usually already cooked)
1/4 cup of crab meat in soya bean oil
1 tablespoon of minced shallots
salt
fish sauce
sugar
lime
green onions(garnish)
cilantro(garnish)
cooking oil
tapioca flour

1.  Fill a 6 quart pot with water,the rehydrated dried prawns, onion,
and daikon. Let these ingredients cook on the stove to make the broth.
2. Once you have extract all the sweetness from the dried prawns and daikon, you can remove daikon and onions.
3.  Season the broth with salt and sugar.
4.  Heat up some cooking oil in a pan.  Add the minced shallots and the crab meat, sauteed the two together so the crab meat is more frangrance.  Add this to the broth.
5.  Add the mushrooms to the broth.  Let it cook in the broth.
6.  Season the broth with additional sugar and fish sauce if needed.
7.  It's best to make banh canh per bowl.  I usually have a little sauce pan to make each bowl of banh.
8.  Transfer enough broth for one bowlto the sauce pan.  Add the
noodle to the broth.  If you like the broth more thick(especially if you use store brought banh canh noodles),have some tapioca flour handy.  Add more tapioca flour to the broth base on your personal preference.
9.  Add the shrimp and fish cake to the broth.
10.  Once the noodle has soften, transfer to a bowl.
11.  Top off with green onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of of lime juice.
12.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bun Cha Ca - Fish Paste Soup (Lent Friendly)

Lent season just started and I want to make sure I post a couple Lent friendly recipes before it ends.  If you are Catholic, you cannot eat meat products (poultry, pork, beef) on Friday.  However, seafood is allowed which is fine by me since I love seafood.  There are plenty of Vietnamese recipes that uses seafood.  A lot of soups can be Lent friendly by using seafood and vegetables to make the broth.

During my last trip to Vietnam, I stayed mainly in Da Nang, which is located in central Vietnam near Hue and Hoi An.  It was my first time ever in central Vietnam and I was ecstatic because I love their cuisine so much.  Soups such as Bun Bo Hue and Mi Quang; rice cakes such as Banh Bot Loc and Banh Beo all originated from that region. Every day I got to eat all of my favorite food and got to try new dishes unique to that region, I was in heaven.  When I got back to the states, all I want do is cook those dishes over and over again while the flavors and memories are still fresh in my mind!

Bun Cha Ca is a noodle soup that really stood out, a specialty of Da Nang, and the first soup I ate when I first arrived. There was a vendor that sells this particular soup at every corner.  I've had Bun Cha Ca in Saigon before but different from the ones from Da Nang.  The ones from Da Nang are sweeter due to a very unique ingredient, bi do (pumpkin, globe squash).  The squash also added a beautiful yellow color to the broth.  This soup is usually eaten with vermicelli noodle but I used rice macaroni (nui) to change things up a bit.

I used dried prawns (tom kho), globe squash, mushroom, daikon, and onions to make the broth.  If it weren't for Lent I would also use pork bones. The globe squash makes the broth very sweet so not much of it is needed.  Globe squash is pretty heavy to me so I only add a few pieces here and there to my bowl or else I would get full just eating that alone.  I used store brought fish paste and then fried at home.  Hope you will enjoy my spin on Da Nang's Bun Cha Ca!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup of dried prawns (rehydrated)
1 daikon
2 cups of mushroom (sliced)
1/4 of globe squash (peeled and seeds remove)
1 onion
4 tomato (quartered)
fish paste (or already prepared Cha Ca)
vermicelli noodle
green onion
cilantro
cooking oil
fish sauce

1.  Add the rehydrated prawns into a 6 quart pot and fill with water.  Add the daikons and onions.  Let pot cook on medium until all the sweetnes and flavor has been extracted.
2.  If you are using already fried fish cake, just cut into thick slices for easy eating.  If not, fried your fish paste in oil.  Heat up plenty of oil in a wok or pan, add the fish cake to the pan and then flatten it with a spatula.  Cook both side until golden brown.  Remove and let it cool on paper towel.
3.  Season your broth with salt and mushroom seasoning(1 tablespoon); continue to let it cook until the the prawns has been completely extracted from flavor, and daikon and onions have become mushy.  The best way to tell is to have a bite of your prawns, if it's soft and flavorless you can discard.  Remove the daikon and onions as well.
4.  If you do not plan to eat the actual squash/pumpkin and only want to use it to make the broth, add the whole thing to the broth.
5.  If you do plan to eat the squash, chop it up for easy eating and add to the broth.  Let the squash cook until tender.
6.  Add the sliced mushroom to the broth.
7.  Heat up some oil in a pan with a little bit of chopped green onions, sauteed the tomatoes with some fish sauce.  Add the sauteed tomatoes into the broth.
8.  Taste the broth with additional fish sauce and sugar if needed.
9.  Prepare vermicelli noodles, green onions/cilantro for garnish.
10.  Prepare a bowl of noodle and then add broth and fish cakes.
11.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Homemade Banh Beo - Steamed Rice cakes with Shrimp Flakes


Out of all the steamed cakes Vietnam has to offer, Banh Beo is definitely in my top three.  Banh Beo originated from Hue city in central Vietnam, but loved throughout Vietnam.  The rice cakes are made from steaming a rice flour batter in little bowls.  Once the batter has cooked we then pile on fine shrimp flakes.  Other common toppings associated with Banh Beo are oil scallion, ground mung beans, and roasted bread.  You can eat it them in individual bowls or the rice cakes can be transfer to a plate.  Banh Beo can be unique to certain city, therefore preparation of toppings and sauce may differ.  Like most rice cakes Banh Beo is eaten with prepared fish sauce, I prefer eating them with a light and sweet fish sauce so I can slurp everything up.

About 5 years ago I learned that my soon to be sister-in-law is from Hue.  Knowing that she will be moving to the Midwest where Vietnamese food is non-existent, I decided to learn a few specialties of central Vietnam so she won't feel so homesick.  I was lucky to be able to learn how to make Banh Bot Loc from my friend's mother.  As for Banh Beo, my first attempt was following the directions on the back of a bag of pre-mixed flour.  It was pretty successful but I know the rice cakes could have been better.  My mother often mix extra ingredients whenever she use a pre-mixed flour bag to make Banh Cuon so I thought I test it out.  After many ups and downs in the kitchen, I have found a recipe which I am very satisfy with the texture of the rice cakes. Every bite is soft and chewy!

I do not make Banh Beo very often because it is very time consuming.  Nowadays I usually only make it when i'm home and with my sister-in-law, because we have develop a pretty efficient system over the years.  I posted a recipe for Banh Beo before using pre-mixed flour package a several years ago, I finally got around to writing an entry this new recipe.   I love and cherish this recipe very much so enjoy!

Batter For the Rice Cakes:

3 cups of rice flour
1 cup of tapioca flour
5 cups of water
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

Steamer
Little shallow bowls

1.  Mix all the ingredients together and let sit a couple hours to let the flour expand.  I like to mix the flour the night before and use it the next day.
2.  Before steaming make sure you stir the flour mixture again because it may have clumped up.
3.  Add water to your steamer and heat it up.
4.  Brush some cooking oil onto the little bowls and ladle in the rice flour mixture.  How much goes into the bowls depends on how thin you like your cakes to be.
5. Transfer to steamer and let cook for about 5 minutes or until cakes are firm.  Remove and let it cool a bit.

Toppings:
1 lb of shrimp ( I use Argentina shrimp that is naturally more orange, I usually do not add any coloring to my shrimp)
4-5 green onions (minced)
4-5 carrots julienned (optional I like eating pickled carrots with Banh Beo)
cooking oil
vinegar
sugar
fish sauce
water
fresh chili

1.  Wash and peel the shrimps.
2.  Heat up some cooking oil in a pan.  On low heat, cook the shrimp in the oil.  Once cooked remove to paper towel to soak up some of that oil.
3.  Smash the shrimp flat with a pestle on a cutting board.  And then use your hand to shred down the shrimp even more.
4. Transfer shrimp to a non stick pan (NO oil is needed) on low to medium heat.  Stir the shrimp meat until it dries up.  Transfer to a bowl.
5.  Marinade the julienned carrots with half a cup of sugar and 3 tablespoon of vingear.  Mix together, this is how I made super fast pickled carrots.
6.  Heat up some cooking oil in a pan, add the minced green onions.  Let onions cook in the oil.  Transfer to a bowl.
7.  Add 2.5 cups of boiling water to 1 cup of sugar.  Let cool.  Add fish sauce, lime, and fresh chili to the sugar water to make a sauce.

How to Prepare your Banh Beo:

Spread some scallion oil on top of the rice cakes, and then shrimp. Pour lots of fish sauce and pickled carrots on top and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mi Xao Bo - Stir Fried Egg Noodle with Beef


Having to work at a few Asian restaurants in my lifetime has taught me a few tricks on stir-frying.  I'm glad I was able to learn a few technique that I can use at home.  Mi xao is a pretty simple dish to make but if you want restaurant quality mi xao that's going to take a few extra steps.  Like many noodle dishes such as Pad Thai and Hu Tieu Xao, I like my mi xao a certain way.  The noodle and vegetables must be firm, can't tell you enough how much I dislike mushy noodle and vegetable in anything stir-fried.  The best way for all the components in your mi xao to cook perfectly is to cook them separately.  That's the reason why it requires a few extra step but I assure you it's worth the effort.

Ingredients:

1 bag of fresh chow mein
1 lb of eye round beef (sliced)
1 bag of Chinese broccoli (Cai Lan)
2-3 carrots
1 pack of mushroom
2 tablespoon of minced garlic
oyster sauce
fish sauce
soy sauce
ground pepper
salt
sugar
vegetable oil

1.  Marinade the sliced beef with 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of minced garlic.
2.  Wash and prepare your vegetables so that they will stir-fry more easily.
3.  Boil a pot of water (enough for all your vegetables) and add 1/2 tablespoon of salt.  Have a big bowl filled with some ice water ready.  Once the pot of water have come to a boil, add your vegetables to the pot.  Removed the vegetables after about 30 second and drain all the hot water.  Transfer the veggies into the bowl with ice.  This will stop the vegetables from cooking any further and ensure that your vegetables will stay crispy.  After a minute drain the vegetables from the iced water.
4.  Boil water in a pot.  We will use this pot to heat up the noodle and let it cook gradually through steaming.  If you cook the noodles all the way now, it will be mushy after stir-frying it later.  Once the pot of water have come to a boil, add the noodles to the pot for about 15 second and make sure all the noodles have submerge under the boiling water.  After 15 seconds drain the hot water and just let the noodles cook gradually in the steam.  Make sure you toss the noodles so that it doesn't stick together especially the bottom batch.
5.  Heat up some cooking oil in a wok.  Add the marinaded beef and stir-fry.  When you are stir frying make sure the heat is on the highest setting and you are constantly stirring everything so it doesn't burn. Once the meat has cooked about 70%, add the vegetables.   Season everything with 1 teaspoon of salt.  Stir-fry everything together until all the ingredients is well seasoned.  Remember the vegetables has been pre-cooked, the purpose of stir-frying now is to season you do not want to overcook the vegetables.  Transfer beef and vegetables to a separate bowl.
6.  Heat up about 1/4 cup of cooking oil in  wok.  Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic to the oil.  Add the noodle to the wok, make sure the heat is on the highest setting.  Stir and mix the noodles in the oil and garlic. Add about 1/4  tablespoon of fish sauce and 2 teaspoon of soy sauce to the noodles and  mix.  The beef and vegetables from before should have produce some liquid.  Spoon that liquid to the noodles to season it, don't do it all at once.  Just a couple spoonful to coat the noodles.  Make sure the heat is still on high and you are constantly moving the noodles around.  Once you have season the noodle well turn off the heat.
7.  Drain the access liquid from the beef and vegetables, and then add the beef and vegetable mixture to the noodles.  Mix so that everything is evenly distributed.
8.  Transfer to a plate topped off with some ground pepper and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hen Tron Banh Trang - Clam Sauteed w/ Sesame Rice Cracker


I had the opportunity to try this delicious dish in Hoi An.  The baby clams were fresh picked from the river earlier that morning. The meat was so sweet and firm, not something I can find at home.   The clams were lightly sauteed with no seasoning just some fresh onions. It was eaten with rice cracker and mam nem (fermented fish sauce). Even though I was already full from breakfast and lunch, I pretty much inhaled a plate within 3 minutes.  

Whenever I make this at home,  I usually have to settle with canned clams or frozen clams. While it no longer has its natural sweet flavor, I still prefer using frozen clams because it has better texture than canned clams.  I use fresh minced garlic and shallots to help fragrance the clams and just a tad of fish sauce to season.  I also like adding some julienned green mangoes for tartness and freshness. For the sauce you'll want to dilute the mam nem with fresh lime juice, sugar, crushed garlic, and fresh chili.  The sauce can be eaten on the side but a lot of times I just mix some in because everybody in my family loves mam nem.  If you prefer to omit the mam nem, I would use more fish sauce when seasoning the clams. Of course this dish cannot be complete without Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), crushed peanuts, and fresh chili.   Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 pack of frozen baby clams
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced shallots
1 stalk of green onion minced
1/2 green mango (julienned)
chopped Vietnamese coriander
fresh chili
crushed peanuts
sesame rice cracker
cooking oil
fish sauce
sugar

Sauce:
3 tablespoon of mam nem
2 teaspoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/4 of fresh lime (juice)
chili (your preference

1.  Thaw out the frozen clams.   The clam has absorb a lot of water you'll want to squeeze out as much as you can.
2.  Heat up cooking oil in a pan.  Add the minced garlic and shallots and cook until fragrance.  Add the clams and green onions.  Season lightly with fish sauce and sugar.  Transfer to a bowl.  
3.  Prepare mango, coriander, sauce, rice cracker, peanuts.
4.  Add green mango and fresh chilies to the clams and toss.  At this point you can add prepared mam nem or serve it on the side.   
5.  Transfer to a serving plate topped with crushed peanuts, chopped coriander, and additional fresh chilies.  Rice cracker
on the side.
6.  Scoop clams with rice cracker and enjoy!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rau Muong Tron Thit Bo - Beef Water Spinach Salad

Firstly I like to wish everybody a happy new year!  May 2014 bring you lots of luck, love, prosperity, laughter, and of course good food!  I'm sorry for my absence but it was much needed.  I got the opportunity to travel so I disconnected myself from all social media and just appreciate what was in front of me.  This upcoming year marks my 6th year blogging, thank you everybody for your support all these years.  I can't wait to share new recipes inspired from my travels.

I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese drinking food.  Whenever I'm on vacation, I always look for a good restaurant to "nhau".  Nhau refers to getting together to eat and drink.  Getting together to drink is a way of life for Vietnamese men, they often get together several times a week.  They meet each other at a small restaurant that specialize in a specific protein.  Men sit for hours slowly drinking and enjoying delicious food.  You rarely see women at those type of establish but why deprive yourself from good food?

Rainier BBQ in Seattle, Washington is one of my personal favorite.  They have a variety of drinking food and everything I've tried has been pretty good.  One of my favorite dish is a beef salad with rau muong (water spinach).  It reminds me of Bo Tai Chanh another one of my favorite.  It's so refreshing with the finely julienned water spinach stem and dressed in a tangy dressing.  It's so addicting to eat, one serving is never enough!  The best part is how easy you can recreate this dish at home.  If anyone is complaining about eating too much salads this is the one you need to try!  I hope you like my interpretation is flavorful dish, enjoy!

Ingredients:

water spinach stem (julienned)
1 lb beef (thinly sliced)
1/2 onion (finely sliced)
garlic (minced)
shallots (minced)
lime
fresh chili
fresh mint leaves (rough chopped)
vinegar
sugar
fish sauce
cooking oil

1.  Prepare the water spinach.  There is a tool you can use to julienned your water spinach easily.  Or you can use a razor but that require a little experience. http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2007/06/water-spinach-s.html  Let it soak in water so it will curls and then drain completely.
2.  You can use eye round beef if you prefer lean meat but I like some texture and fat so I used rib eye.  Marinade the beef with garlic, shallots, and fish sauce (~2 tablespoon).
3.  Marinade the slice onion with 1/2 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 tablespoon of vinegar.
4.  For the dressing combine 5 tablespoon of sugar, 4 tablespoon of lime juice, 1/2 tablespoon of sugar, and 5 tablespoon of fish sauce.  The sauce should be sweet, tangy, and salty.  You can add more sugar, vinegar, and fish sauce to your liking.  Make sure you mix the sauce well so the sugar dissolves.
5.  Heat up a frying pan with some oil and cook the beef.  I cook mine about medium rare, the dressing will cook it some more.
6.  Mix the water spinace, sliced onions, and mint leaves together.  Move it to a serving platter.  Pour the meat mixture on top, and then the dressing on top.  I use about half the dressing, and reserve the remainder for later if needed.
7.  Top with chopped chili and more mint leaves if prefer.
8.  Toss lightly before eating, enjoy!