These were lunch I made a few days ago using a Vietnamese grilled pork recipe in my “Lemongrass, Ginger and Mint” cookbook.
I’m so excited my book has become an Amazon “Best Seller” in its first day! Thank you to everyone who bought a copy!
For Amazon America I know they are offering it at $1.99 on Kindle downloads as a promotional price for the next five days so if it interests you, it is a small investment! Thank you for all of your support my friends!!!!
I’d never really liked eggplant until I moved to Hoi An. I used to think of eggplant as bland and a little soggy but Hoi An local eggplant dishes convert me to a die-hard fan of this vegetable. One of the most popular ways of cooking eggplant here is to char-grill it until it has a smoky, sweet flavor, then you peel the skin and serve it with scallion sauce. Another way is to sauté it with five-spice powder and then serve it with crispy fried shallot. I really love those two dishes but I usually eat them out in restaurants because local chefs definitely do a better job than I do. When I cook eggplant at home, I like this simple recipe that an old lady at a local organic farm taught me when I went there to buy vegetables. The eggplant in this recipe has a meaty texture and a wonderful combination of sweet, savory and spicy flavors. Fresh herbs like cilantro or basil give it a fresh and fragrant finish. This dish is naturally vegan and I love that it’s very quick to make. By the way, make sure to choose the long, slim eggplant as in the picture below. It’s the best kind for this recipe. Enjoy!
Sautéed eggplant with garlic, chili and herbs
Serves 1 as a main dish
Eggplant: 1 pound (1/2 kg), stemmed, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices
A bunch of cilantro or basil, coarsely chopped
Soy sauce: 2 tablespoons
Sugar: 1 tablespoon
Pepper: 1 teaspoon or more to taste
Minced chili: 1 teaspoon
Cooking oil: 4 tablespoons
Minced garlic: 1 tablespoon
Salt: 1 tablespoon
In a pot, add salt and a generous amount of water (enough to cover eggplant when added). Bring to a boil. Add eggplant slices. Cook for 5 minutes without covering. Stir occasionally to submerge the eggplant in water.
Remove from heat. Strain the eggplant into a colander, discarding the water. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, sugar, pepper and chili. Set aside.
Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add oil. Add garlic and sauté to release fragrance, about 30 seconds. Reduce heat to low to avoid oil splashing when adding eggplant. Add eggplant. Turn up heat to high. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and sauté for 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Add herbs and more pepper (optional). Mix well and serve with steamed jasmine rice or on its own.
This is me on the street of Hoi An around this time last year. It was my very first week with my very first professional full-frame camera.
Today, I’m so happy to share with you guys that I’ve just signed a Vietnamese cookbook deal, which means I’ll be writing and photographing my book full time. I’ll have to take a break from this blog for a few months, which upsets me a bit but at the same time I’m so excited to turn my love for food and photography into something tangible. My book will be in English and published worldwide, which is an incredible honor and an unbelievable dream to me – a home cook and a self-taught photographer.
Thank you for your support on this blog from the beginning and I’ll see you in at the end of December.
*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post.
I was silent last week on the blog because we went to Bangkok for a mini vacation. We had a lot of fun there just strolling around the city, shopping for cute, inexpensive hand-made T shirts, and eating mango sticky rice, a popular Thai dessert, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and after dinner snack.
We came back just in time for rainy season here in Hoi An. Our roads are filled with big puddles which are as wide and deep as little ponds. I love working by my big window through which I can see water buffalos and green rice paddies white-washed by a curtain of rain. The days are calm and quiet with falling raindrops being the only noise. I spend most of my day in my small, bright office/kitchen filled with the scent of pomelo blossom oil essence, music from a tiny speaker, the sound of rain and big windows. That’s my world in rainy season – a small, simple, happy and peaceful one.
This rib noodle soup is one among several Northern Vietnamese dishes that are perfect for both the steaming summer heat and chilly and rainy weather. It’s quite labor-intensive, but it’s worth it. The broth is so rich from simmered bones and mashed tomatoes; the ribs are tender and well-marinated, and crunchy taro shoots and fragrant herbs are the “cherry on top”. Watch the video below to see how to make this dish for yourself! Chúc ngon miệng!
Northern Vietnamese Rib Noodle Soup - YouTube
RIB NOODLE SOUP WITH TARO SHOOTS
Serves 3-4 as a main course
Ribs: 1.5 kg (about 3 pounds), chopped into 3-4 cm (2 inches) long pieces
Tomatoes: 700 grams (1.5 pounds), cut into wedges
Taro shoots: 700 grams (1.5 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced diagonally.
You can watch this Sweet and Sour Seafood soup video to see how I peel and slice taro shoots.
Shallots: 5 small, minced
Scallion: 5 sprigs, cut into 2 cm or 1 inch long pieces, separate the white part and the green part.
Culantro / saw-leaf herbs: 5 sprigs (optional, can be replaced with basils), roughly chopped
Tumeric powder: 1 tablespoon
Fish sauce, salt, pepper: to taste
Rice vermicelli: 300 grams (if you use the dry kind , cook it in boiling water as instructed)
Cooking oil: 6 tablespoons
Prepare the taro shoots:
*You should wear plastic gloves when preparing taro shoots because they can make your hands really itchy.
In a colander, add 1 tablespoon salt to taro shoot slices. Mix well and let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse well and squeeze the water out of the taro shoots. This step makes them more crunchy.
Prepare the tomatoes:
Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons cooking oil. Add the white part of scallion and stir until fragrant. Add tomato wedges, 1 tablespoon salt and stir until mashed (about 5 minutes).
Prepare the ribs:
In a pot, add a tablespoon salt and a generous amount of water (enough to cover ribs). Bring to a boil. Add ribs. Bring to a boil again. Strain the ribs and pour the water out. Wash the ribs and the pot carefully.
In the same pot, add 1 litre of water. Add ribs. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for an hour.
Remove ribs from the pot and place them in a mixing bowl. Add fish sauce, pepper, tumeric powder, mix well and let sit for 15 minutes.
Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons cooking oil. Add minced shallot and stir until fragrant. Add ribs and stir for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Prepare the broth:
Bring the rib broth to a boil. Add mashed tomatoes and fish sauce or salt to taste. Add taro shoots. Bring to a boil again and remove from heat before serving.
To serve, in a big bowl, add vermicelli, ribs, broth and chopped scallions and herbs. Serve warm with fish sauce and chili on the side.
Living in Vietnam has shown me different impressive sides of my husband. Last month, he mixed an environment-friendly ant and roach killer from syrup and borax, and last week, he baked amazing banana bread. (I’m grateful he can do both because now that we have delicious sweet banana bread on our dining table all the time, the big ants really have to drink their special syrup.)
These are photos of his baking session this afternoon. I wouldn’t write much because I want to get busy eating. P.S. He followed a recipe by Shelly Albeluhn on All Recipes and it came out perfect: moist, tender and not overly sweet. Brown sugar gives it a caramel taste, which is great because I love everything caramel. And we found that chopping the bananas gives it a slightly less sweet taste than blending the bananas does. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos while I’m enjoying the bread!
Finally we decided to get an oven last week. Ovens aren’t typically something found in Vietnamese homes because electricity can be expensive for the average Vietnamese family and the addition of a heat source in the house during hot months is a pretty foreign idea! However things are changing and Vietnamese are falling in love with baking. After baking our first loaf of bread (and eating it all down it soon after that), we wondered why we hadn’t bought it earlier. I’ve tried so many delicious recipes with it and my husband has been baking bread (and cookies!) nonstop. I’m wondering if I should photograph and write a blog post of him baking banana bread. Well, why not. He’s a super cute baker and the bread is super delicious!
The one thing that I haven’t tried with an oven is baking cakes. It’s because, being a Vietnamese I didn’t grow up with cakes and so I haven’t fallen in love with them yet. Usually in Vietnam we just eat fruit for dessert or the traditional dessert chè.
Hoi An is famous in Vietnam for its corn chè (chè bắp in Vietnamese). Chè is a good example of how some Asian cultures like to use vegetables or beans in a sweet base as a dessert.
I used to bike to a chè lady’s place in the old town once a week to eat her chè bắp. However, recently street vendors in Hoi An Old Town have been moved to a different area. And they have to run every time some security people come to shoo them out of the way. It’s unfortunate because my favorite vendor is the third generation plying this craft and is having a hard time keeping her clientele.
So in honor of Hoi An’s chè tradition, today I made corn chè at home. This can be eaten warm in the winter or cold in the summer, tasty either way! Many people like to eat it with coconut milk sauce, but I prefer to eat mine plain. I’m not sure if this dish will appeal to Western tastes but I’m sharing it here as it’s a good example of one aspect of our food culture.
Watch the video below to see how to make it for yourself. Chúc ngon miệng!
A typical Vietnamese meal with a soup bowl, a plate of protein and a plate of vegetable. Here I have butternut squash soup with minced pork, sautéed beans and carrots, and crispy caramelized river shrimp.
For some reason I’ve always enjoyed doing repetitive, mundane tasks. They provide a sense of peacefulness and contentment in seeing the results of my efforts. My mind quiets down and I get to enjoy a sense of oneness with my task.
When I was in tenth grade, my summer job was to put bra sliders into bra straps. My mother worked for a garment factory, and every day she would bring home huge bags of bra straps and bra sliders. Like a machine, I spent every single day of that summer putting sliders into straps. I didn’t get bored at all. In fact, I even found great joy in doing that. I didn’t have to think much, and I was content with the accomplishment, which was piles and piles of nice and neat straps in front of my eyes.
Now I find similar joy in kitchen tasks. I like peeling garlic bunches. I peel them clove by clove with my nails, and it makes me happy to see a small bowl full of white, clean garlic cloves. This morning I bought a pound of river shrimp, the kind that is as small as my pinky nail. I picked and trimmed the head and tail of every single one of them. I didn’t get bored. I didn’t get impatient. It relaxed me, like meditation does.
Today I also finely chopped a big chunk of pork by myself instead of buying ready-minced pork. Maybe it’s just me, but the pork that I hand chop at home tastes different from one that comes out of a meat grinder. Or maybe I get tired and more hungry after chopping with a big cleaver and that’s why everything just tastes so good.
The butternut squash soup I made today is nothing fancy. It’s not something that you would usually see in restaurant menus or cooking shows. But I still want to write about simple, home-cooked dishes like this because they’re part of my daily Vietnamese life and an aspect of Vietnamese cuisine that many Vietnamese people experience at home and don’t tend to write about.
I didn’t make a video, because there’s not much complicated about this dish, just simple flavors and ingredients coming together beautifully. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post it below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and I hope you enjoyed a sneak peak into a representative example of my daily home cooking!
Butter or cooking oil: 2 tablespoons
Minced shallot: 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper: to taste
Minced pork: 1/2 pound
Water: 4 cups
Butternut squash: 1, around 1 pound (cut into cubes)
A few sprigs of herbs (cilantro, basil, or culantro/saw-leaf), finely chopped.
Over medium heat, heat butter, add minced shallot and stir until fragrant.
Add minced pork. Add salt and pepper. Stir for about 1 minute.
Add water and bring to a boil. Skim the broth until clear.
Add butternut squash and reduce heat to low. Cook until the squash becomes soft.
This morning I had a phone call with my old landladies in the Bronx, New York City. It was more than a year since we last talked. They’re among the kindest, sweetest people that I’ve been lucky enough to have met in my life. Actually, I’ve been very lucky when it comes to genuine friendship.
When I first got to New York City, after days of desperate apartment hunting, I called a scholarship fellow who I had never met before and she referred me to a house in the Bronx where she had stayed for one semester. So after just a phone call, I decided to move in without even seeing the house or meeting with the owners. I trusted them, and later I was thankful that they trusted me as well.
My landladies were kind people who were always joyful and calm, things which I admired about them. And they were serious about good food, too. I remember one winter morning, they made me a cup of coffee which I tried to finish in just a few sips because I was in a hurry. They said: “The coffee’s not gonna be delicious anymore if you don’t drink it slow.”
When I moved out into the university dorm, they drove me from the Bronx to Manhattan with a sack of rice and a lot of bottled water, saying: “Just in case it takes you longer to find out where to shop for food.”
I can go on about them forever. Having lovely, simple, and kind friends always makes me feel like I’m the richest person alive.
The dish I’m introducing today is a simple fusion dish. I use traditional Vietnamese caramelized glaze and black pepper to boost the natural mild taste of salmon. I love eating this dish with a bowl of jasmine rice and steamed summer squash. I like that the delicious glaze can be absorbed into the rice and vegetables as well. It’s a truly comforting meal for me!
Watch the video below to see how to make it for yourself. Chúc ngon miệng!
This past week the heat was so brutal that both of us got a cold from switching back and forth too often between a cool air-conditioned room to the burning heat. But we’re ok now, and I’m back to the sauna/kitchen creating and documenting recipes with great enthusiasm!I haven’t been able to make videos for two weeks now. There’s no air conditioner in my kitchen, which makes it difficult to videotape in this hot and humid weather. (I can’t turn on a fan when videotaping or it’ll blow away napkins, herbs… I learned it the hard way.) For those of you who love my videos, I’m making it up to you by sharing simple recipes that can be done in just a few steps. It’s summertime anyway. To me, fresh ingredients of this season need little elaboration. That’s why I love easy summer recipes that keep or enhance the natural flavors of fruits and vegetables.
This is the second panna cotta recipe in a week’s time, I know! But you wouldn’t mind having too many easy, quick, delicious dessert recipes that can be made in advance, right?
Passion fruit, called “vine lemons” in Vietnamese, is in season here. I really love it because of its distinct aroma and flavor. Normally I would just eat them fresh off the peel, but today I tried some as topping on panna cotta and it turned out really good. Check out the recipe below to see how to make this delicious dessert in just a few steps. Chúc ngon miệng!
PANNA COTTA WITH FRESH PASSION FRUIT
Gelatin powder: 1.5 tablespoons (10 grams)
Water: 2 tablespoons
Heavy cream: 600 ml
Milk: 50 ml
Sugar: 3.5 tablespoons
Fresh passion fruits: 5
In a bowl, add water and sprinkle gelatin powder over water. Let sit for 5 minutes.
In a sauce pan, add cream, milk, sugar, whisk until sugar dissolve and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat. Add gelatin and stir well until gelatin dissolves. Strain the mixture.
Pour into cups, bowls or molds. Keep in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.
Cut passion fruits in halves. Use a spoon to scrape the juice and seeds. Pour over the panna cotta and serve. You can add some sugar to the juice before serving if it’s too sour.
*If you want to pour the panna cotta on a plate upside down like in the pictures, make sure to grease the molds or cups with butter. Before serving, dip the molds/cups into warm water for about one minute and then run a knife around the edge before placing it on a plate.
It’s lychee season now, and next month it’ll be longans. LONGANS!
My hometown is a small Northern province that has a few specialties, a kind of soy sauce that some really love and my favorites, amazing longan and lychee fruits. There are several other Northern provinces that also grow lychees, and longan trees grow in many places from the North to the South, but the fruits from my hometown are claimed to be the best. They’re fragrant, sweet but not too watery; the meat is thick and the seeds tiny. When I was 10, my mother and I took a Southbound train to visit my grandparents, whom we hadn’t seen for years. Transportation was difficult then. It took us two days and one night, and we both shared one seat, me sitting in my mom’s lap. The space was tiny but my mom still managed to bring some bags of lychee fruits as presents. Fruits were precious to us, and it was no brainer that our hometown’s lychees had to be onboard traveling with us.
Now things have been a lot easier and I’m able to buy my hometown’s lychees fresh and delicious even from Hoi An markets. Normally I just eat them fresh and I had never eaten lychee in desserts until we tried the amazing lychee creme brulee in a hotel last week. After that meal I got so inspired and have been thinking about how to put lychees in desserts. Here’s my first try and it came out really good. I don’t make a video for this one because it’s really simple. Please let me know if you have any questions. Chúc ngon miệng!
LYCHEE PANNA COTTA
Gelatin powder: 1.5 tablespoons
Water: 2 tablespoons
Heavy cream: 2 cups
Sugar: 2 tablespoons
Lychee puree: 1.5 cup (strain to get just the juice)
1. Put water in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin powder into the bowl and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. In a small sauce pan, add heavy cream and sugar. Stir and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add gelatin and whisk until fully dissolved.
3. Add lychee juice to the cream mixture. Stir well.
4. Divide the mixture into cups, bowls or moulds.
Keep in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving.
Serve with fresh lychee (optional)
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