Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bun thit nuong

Marinated meats are nothing to turn your nose up at. With any luck, they’re tender, juicy, aromatic…in other words, really damned delicious. Thịt nướng, or grilled pork, is just that. The perfect pieces are a bit charred on the edges and have some tasty bits of fat on them. If I’m at a Vietnamese restaurant and stray away from pho, then I’m probably going to order something with thit nuong, whether it’s over rice or rice noodles.

This dish, like many other Vietnamese dishes, took a bit of prep, but of course the ingredients are pretty basic. When put together, this dish is great for a summer day (but any day will do, really) because despite the grilled pork, it still feels light with cold rice noodles, crunchy veggies and fresh herbs. Paired with nước mắm (fish sauce) it’s a winning combination. This dish is especially fun because I get to grill, which doesn’t happen very often…especially since I live in the city in an apartment complex. It helps to have friends with backyards.

Like any dish, there are a wide variety of recipes out there for it. Since I’m trying to use the most authentic recipes I can find, there’s definitely an advantage of being familiar with the dishes I’m making. I usually have to adjust (after consulting with my family) to get it just right. The recipe I found here was pretty much right on and I didn’t have to change anything. The pretty pictures also helped.

This was my second full Vietnamese meal I made and I’m pretty excited to keep it up. It’s also a good motivator to have eager taste testers on hand to help me eat the food once it’s done.

Thit nuong: before and after

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Sriracha art

My friend Audrey got me this awesome print. It’s a tea towel, whatever that means. But it doesn’t matter because it’s perfect.

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Easy fixins: mo hanh (scallion oil)

Two ingredients…that’s all you’ll need for this fantastic garnish. It adds a great creamy onion flavor to dishes like bun thit nuong or appetizers like summer rolls as well as a touch of color. And all you need are oil and green onions.

I use one bunch of green onions and about a 1/4 cup of canola oil (maybe a bit more depending on the size of the bunch). Start heating up the oil over medium heat. Watch that it doesn’t get too hot and scorch. Cut up  the green onions into thin slices, using the whole stalk. You can tell if the oil’s hot enough when you drop a piece of onion in and it has a good sizzle. Once the oil is ready, add the onions and stir slowly for about a minute until the onions are soft. The smell is so good I usually want to spoon some into my mouth there and then, but the scalding oil helps me restrain myself. Remove from the heat and let cool. You can serve after it’s had time to cool or keep it in a jar for about a week in the fridge. The color is most vibrant right after it’s cooked and becomes a sort of army green as it sits in your fridge.

Try it on some white rice paired with do chua, on a hot dog or a slice of toast.

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Another “dessert”: avocado shake

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When I first heard the words “avocado shake” I thought it would be a little weird since I’ve only ever had avocados in savory dishes and sides. The Vietnamese word for avocado is , which also means butter. It’s not hard to imagine how the name giver of this fruit gave it such a name. The creaminess of an avocado completely lends itself to being a shake.

Avocado shakes, or sinh tố bơ, aren’t really a dessert, but for the sake of categorization let’s call it one. It’s sweet, cold and creamy—everything a good shake should be. And it’s easy.

Here’s the recipe I use to make one glass:

1/2 avocado (sometimes I use more to give it a stronger avocado flavor)
2 tbs of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of milk (almond, soy or rice milk will work as well)
1 handful of ice

I start by adding ice to the blender (since this will need to be crushed up the most), throw in the avocado, top with a couple spoonfuls of condensed milk and pour in your regular milk. Blend until smooth. Sometimes you’ll have to help the move the ice around with a spoon. I prefer mine thick so I put in less milk and a bit less ice. You can add to your taste. The same goes with the condensed milk. I have a massive sweet tooth that calls for more, but your taste might differ.

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Easy fixins: do chua

When I eat something and don’t know how it’s made, I get easily intimidated and rarely try to make it on my own. That’s until I look at the recipe and see how incredibly easy it is to make. That’s what happened with do chua (literally meaning sour stuff), pickled carrots and daikon, often used as sides for com thit nuong (grilled pork rice plates) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). I’ll admit that it does take the mystery out of the food, but I think it’s a good trade off for what you get in the end.

When I say it’s easy it’s not an exaggeration. All you need are the veggies, some sugar, some salt and some white vinegar. With all the Vietnamese food I’m cooking lately, it’s been a great excuse for me to buy new kitchen toys. This simple recipe was no exception. Growing up, do chua was always made with finely julienned veggies. I didn’t want to spend all my time cutting up carrots and daikon that would look uneven and ugly at the end, so I invested in a mandolin slicer. The one I got did the job…eventually. I had to cut the chunks of veggies pretty small to fit into the gripper that keeps me from slicing my hands. The daikon was julienned just fine because it was thicker, but the carrots I had were too thin and the slicer just wouldn’t grab onto it while it was in the gripper. I eventually ended up figuring out a way to do it without the gripper at the risk of losing my fingers, though.

The rest was pretty easy and I made a couple jars of the stuff. I gave one to my sister and in exchange she gave me some coconut juice and a Dr. Pepper. Fair trade, right? Anyway, it’s great to add to pretty much anything…a meat dish, a hot dog, an egg sandwich or some ramen. It’s sweet and salty and tangy…just the right combo of flavors for a little kick.

If you have a few minutes and some daikon laying around, you should try this recipe.

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Dessert!

Desserts are pretty amazing no matter how you look at them, but with my insatiable sweet tooth they’re the high point of any meal. Though Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t put as much emphasis on dessert as its American counterpart, there are still some notable ones.

One that I especially like because of its sweet and salty coconut sauce is che dau trang, a sticky rice pudding with black-eyed peas. It can be eaten hot, or in the summer, straight from the fridge. I really liked the batch that my aunt cooked up a couple weeks ago so I called her up and asked for the recipe. The following was what I got from her:

For the pudding:
1/2 cup of nep (glutinous rice)
3 rice bowls of water or so
2 cans of black-eyed peas
A dash of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
Sugar to taste

For the sauce:
Some coconut milk
A pinch of salt
Just a bit of tapioca

I appreciated her help with the recipe, but I was pretty much on my own since her directions weren’t very…directional and her measures were a bit subjective. I ended up having to buy dried beans because I couldn’t find the canned ones. My aunt likes the canned ones because it’s easier, which I’d have to agree with. No one likes to cook dried beans of any kind, am I right? Anyway, she tells me to cook the rice until the individual grains split, adding water if it starts getting dry. Add salt, sugar and vanilla as you go along. She doesn’t like to add the coconut milk to the pudding itself (as many recipes call for) because the coconut milk tends to go bad faster. This way if the sauce goes bad, the pudding is still good and you can just make more sauce. For the sauce, she says to bring it to a simmer in a sauce pan, adding some tapioca powder mixed with a little water to thicken (I substituted corn starch because I couldn’t find tapioca powder anywhere and it worked just fine). Add a pinch of salt for flavor.

Amazingly, I did a pretty decent job my first time. It could have been a notch sweeter, but it was otherwise pretty edible. The pudding takes a surprising amount of sugar, so next time I’m gonna drown it in the sweet stuff. If you want to try it, here’s a recipe that might be more helpful than my aunt’s.

A giant 5lb bag of nep/glutinous rice (which I learned is a completely different species from regular white rice, which makes a lot of sense) and a bag of black-eyed peas (also a completely different species from white rice)

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Stock piling

My aunt and uncle live a few minutes from my parents. Another pair of aunt and uncle live a few minutes the other way. And yet another aunt and uncle actually live in the same house as my parents. It’s a cozy house for sure. Because of their proximity, there are often large family gatherings on the weekends at one of their houses where lots of food is prepared. Lucky for me I’m only an hour’s drive away and I come ready with Tupperware.

Last weekend my aunt and cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) made bo kho, a beef stew, and had everyone come over to eat. As usual it was a pretty social event with all the cousins, parents/aunts/uncles and some family friends. My sister, her boyfriend and I spent our time in the backyard trying to pick high-hanging avocados from the neighbor’s tree (with their permission, of course).

After eating and while waiting for our cousin to wash our cars (we paid him a handsome amount), we wandered around the house. In the garage, I noticed there was a cabinet full of vermicelli and pho packets and cans of coconut milk. On an adjoining wall there were Sriracha and hoisin sauce in crates. It was amazing. These were all the things that I couldn’t find at the big Asian grocery store. I ended up asking if I could buy one of the bottles of hoisin sauce to save myself another trip and was told to just take it.

If I had more room in my studio apartment I’d probably have some kind of stock pile as well, but for now I’m happy with my loot and will eat my next bowl of homemade pho in honor of my generous aunt.

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