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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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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