Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cha gio/imperial rolls

The quintessential finger food of the Vietnamese has to be the chả giò, or imperial roll. Well, at least to me they are. I can eat them plain as is, wrap them in lettuce and dip in nuoc mam, or as part of a full meal (like in the picture above).

Cha gio usually has a filling of pork, veggies like carrots and mushrooms, glass noodles, and other meats like shrimp and crab. Traditionally they’re rolled in rice paper and then fried to a golden brown. Wheat flour paper can also be used but makes them look more like an egg roll. This causes a lot of confusion, especially for me, since I’ve gone through life calling these egg rolls. I prefer the wheat flour paper to the rice paper since it fries up much nicer. My rice paper version came out bubbly and greyish, though it was my first time so I don’t feel so bad. I guess the trick is to fry them in oil that isn’t too hot so the paper doesn’t bubble up. Even though the rice paper version didn’t turn out cookbook photo perfect, they tasted just fine.

This is a good recipe using rice paper, though I prefer to add mushrooms to it. Here’s one with the mushrooms using wheat flour wrappers. And just for good measure, here’s one using both kinds of wrappers.

It felt good to perfect the wrapping of the rolls since they came out a bit wonky at first. My friend suggested using a cast iron pot (dutch oven) to fry the rolls in because they retain heat better and the oil wouldn’t fluctuate too much in temperature. They’re best a few minutes after coming out of the oil since they lose their crispiness a few hours after cooking. I still  have some in the freezer. You can crisp them up again in the oven if you’re into that kind of thing, but I’m not picky and will eat them anyway I can.

Top: ingredients...meat and veggie mixture, dried mushrooms, mung bean/glass nooodles. Bottom left: with wheat flour wrappers. Bottom right: with rice paper wrapper


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Bo luc lac

Some dishes are so easy and delicious you wonder why you don’t make it all the time. Bò lúc lắc, or shaking beef, is one of them. Whenever I eat this dish, I think of my dad making it for me and my sister when we were younger. It was usually made with sauteed onions and over easy eggs for a late breakfast or lunch.

The dish gets its name from the motion you make with the wok or skillet while the beef is cooking…shaking it. The names of Vietnamese dishes aren’t rocket science, but they’re pretty damned descriptive.

This recipe is pretty legit. I’ve been rating the success of my dishes by how close they are to my family’s cooking and this recipe is spot on. The only difference is that this recipe has the more traditional pickled onions, whereas my dad always made it with sauteed onions. For my dish, I went with the best of both worlds: pickled some red onions and caramelized yellow onions.

I made the bo luc lac for a group of four at my friend’s place before we watched an episode of Game of Thrones. We ate to Joffrey’s early death, but it didn’t happen this time, unfortunately. By the time we dug into it, the heat from the beef had perfectly wilted the bed of watercress. Add the lime sauce to it and you’re a happy clam. The tomatoes make this dish kinda healthy, or as healthy as pan-seared beef can be.

Tip for getting a perfect brown sear on the beef (which I kinda didn’t get on my dish): make sure the heat is high and the oil is just starting to smoke before you add the beef. And when you do, make sure that the beef is in one layer and doesn’t pile up so every piece is touching the pan.

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Banh mi

What do you do when you have leftover meat? You make a sandwich. And that’s what I did when I had some grilled pork left over after making bun thit nuong. A Vietnamese sandwich, or bánh mì, is made with a small baguette and uses condiments like pâté and mayo. Again, the whole French colonialism thing.

The main filling of the sandwich can be anything from different kinds of pork, chicken, head cheese, tofu and even eggs. The obvious exclusion here is beef, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a banh mi before. It makes a great lunch, but I love bringing these to the beach or on a hike…no extra utensils needed.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a banh mi thit nuong (grilled pork sandwich):
– 1 small baguette (you can usually find these really cheap at Asian or Mexican grocery stores. The Mexican produce store across the street from me sells 3 for $1)
– meat of your choice
– cucumbers, sliced length-wise
do chua
– a few sprigs of cilantro
– some sliced jalapeño peppers for heat

Slice the baguette almost in half length-wise, keeping on side still attached to hold in all the ingredients. You can throw it in the oven to toast, but I like mine untoasted. Spread mayo on the inside (both sides). Place cucumbers and the do chua on the bottom of the sandwich. Next, place the meat on top. Finally, top off with cilantro and jalapeños. Some people like to cut the sandwich in half, but generally I eat it from one end to the other.

This time the bread was a little tough in the final product, but I think that’s because the baguettes were sitting out in a big bin all day at the store. I really loved the cucumbers in the sandwich. It hast a great crunch and gives the sandwich its juiciness. Overall, this turned out pretty well for my first ever home made banh mi.

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Easy fixins: sot mayonnaise

I haven’t really researched the genesis of sốt mayonnaise in Vietnam, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say it prooobably came out of French colonialism that happened there. It makes even more sense when you know that it’s main use is for banh mi, a sandwich that uses a small baguette.

Never a shy one around fattening foods, I’ve always been a fan of mayo. I don’t eat it regularly, honestly, but when I do, I lay it on thick. Before making this batch, I never paid attention to how tangy mayo actually is, Vietnamese or not. The sharp tang hits your tongue, then the creaminess comforts it. It’s the perfect 1-2 punch.

To make the mayo, you’ll need two egg yolks, a tablespoon of lemon juice, about a half teaspoon of salt and a cup of canola oil. I also add a few cloves of garlic for extra flavor. You can hand whisk or use a small food processor. I’d recommend against a blender as it will over emulsify the oils and make the mayo too stiff. I used a 3-cup processor, which was perfect for the job. I threw a couple cloves of garlic into the processor and gave it 3 or 4 pulses. Then add the yolks and salt and pulse a few more times. When adding the oil, make sure that it’s added evenly and sloooooowly. This will help the oil to emulsify, giving it the creamy texture of mayo. The lid of my processor has a hole on top just for this purpose. Oil is poured into the reservoir and it drips down to the mixture in the bowl. The processor is running about 75% of the time it takes for all the oil to drip into the bowl. I try to keep an eye on the mayo and make sure it’s not getting too stiff. When this happens, you can add a lemon juice/water mixture to loosen it up, or add some white vinegar.

When it’s done, jar up what isn’t used right away and it should be good in the fridge for a couple months.

Prepping ingredients for mayo

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Nuoc mam

Nước mắm is THE quintessential condiment in Vietnamese cuisine. Before we go too far, let me explain the name. In my family, we’ve always called the dipping sauce made with limes, coconut milk, garlic and chilis nước mắm (literal translation: fish sauce). Many Vietnamese refer to this mixture in the same way. However, I recently found out that nước mắm really refers to the the liquid you buy in a bottle made from fermented fish. The proper name of the dipping sauce, once all the ingredients are added, is nước chấm (literal translation: dipping sauce). Confused yet? I was, too, until I did some research. Thanks, Wikipedia and the internet in general.

Some people, especially those that aren’t familiar with South Asian food, can be intimidate (read: scared off) by fish sauce. After all, it’s fermented fish juice. BUT once you’ve seen the magic that it can perform on bland food, you’ll forget its unsavory origins. It’s spicy and sweet and salty and surprisingly refreshing. It was great in our bun thit nuong, a cold dish. But it’s also great on hot dishes as well. And you haven’t had eggrolls if you haven’t dipped them in nuoc mam. There was always a jar or two of the stuff in my parents’ fridge. Ever since I decided that I would start learning how to make Vietnamese food, there’s been one in mine.

I searched the internet for a couple days to see if I can find one that I thought had authentic ingredients. But since I never really paid attention when my family was making it, this was kind of a lost cause. In the end I called one of my aunts and she broke it down for me. Here’s what you need:

1/3 cup lime juice
2/3 cup fish sauce
1 cup sugar
1 can of coconut juice
a few cloves of garlic, minced
a few Thai chilis for spice and color OR Sambal chili garlic sauce

Before you start making it, be aware that this does make quite a bit. It makes roughly two of the jars that’s pictured. Add lime, fish sauce, sugar and coconut juice into a medium sauce pan. Coco Rico coconut drink is preferred, but I couldn’t find any at the store across the street from me, so I just got some other kind with pulp and strained it. Bring to a boil and let simmer for a couple minutes. The idea is to really blend all the flavors together. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip this part…just make sure to stir enough so all the sugar is dissolved. If you boil the mixture, let it come to room temperature. Add the garlic and chopped chilis/Sambal. Make sure the garlic is finely minced, though. It might also help to crush them to really release the flavors. I showed my aunt the picture above and she said I didn’t chop them enough. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE! Once everything is added, let it sit for a few minutes for the garlic and chilis to infuse into the sauce. If you don’t use it all, seal it up and put it in the fridge.

Just a couple teaspoons of this stuff will make your bland meal fun. No, really.

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