Moules à la Marinière – Mussels with White Wine and Meyer Lemon

 

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While it is bitterly cold outside and the sun hasn’t shone for days, I’m in a rather chipper mood. And the reason is because I came across some Meyer lemons at Hiller’s Market, a grocery store here in Ann Arbor. Some might have thought I was estatic. All’s I gotta say is, if you’ve never jumped up and down in the produce aisle, you really ought to. Hell of a good time.

As the cashier was ringing up my groceries, he picked up the Meyer lemons, looking a little confused.

Are these oranges or lemons?

I grab the lemons and hold them up to his nose

They’re lemons, dude. Smell them!

Uh…that’s okay.

No, SMELL them. They’re a-mazing!

He sorta smells them and then nonchalantly continues to ring them up. I’m thinking, What? No Oh, my God, you’re right, no You have saved my life. I get nothing from him. Fine, more for me, then.

I always make a lemon tart with these first Meyers of the season. I thought I’d go savory this time around and made a dish I first had in Brussels on a backpacking trip. I was backpacking alone then and this weirdo starting following me for at least half an hour as I was walking into town. I must have looked scared because this other Belgian guy came up to me and asked me if I was okay. I told him I was fine but I thought maybe this man was following me. He told me not to worry and walked with me to my destination to make sure I was safe. When we arrived, I thanked him and he went on his way. His name was Bruno. I think Bruno’s a good name for a boy, don’t you?

Right, the dish. I’ve made this dish often, yet I’m still amazed how easy it is. Cook some shallots in a little butter, add wine (and lemon juice, in this case). Toss the mussels into the pan and steam. In minutes, you have perfectly cooked mussels bathed in a fragrant broth that you can mop up with some crusty bread. Bruno would approve.

 

MOULES À LA MARINIÈRE – MUSSELS WITH WHITE WINE AND MEYER LEMON

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adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

INGREDIENTS: (6-8 servings )

  • 6 Tbl. butter
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1 cup light, dry white wine
  • 1 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 8 parsley sprigs
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 6 quarts cleaned, scrubbed mussels (& soaked in water for at least 30 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
  • zest of 1 Meyer lemon

STEPS:

  • Heat a large kettle/pot on med-high and add the butter and shallots. Cook for approx. 1 minute.
  • Add the wine, lemon juice, parsley sprigs and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil and let boil for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the mussels to the kettle. Cover tightly and boil quickly over high heat. Frequently grasp the kettle with both hands, your thumbs clamped to the cover, and toss the mussels in the kettle with an up and down slightly jerky motion so the mussels will change levels and cook evenly. In about 5 minutes the shells will open and the mussels are done.
  • With a big skimmer (or chopsticks), dip the mussels into wide soup plates or bowls. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a moment so any sand will sink to the bottom. Then ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest. Serve immediately.

 

Bon appétit!

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Bò Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew

 

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Bò Kho is a Vietnamese beef stew that my mother made for us all the time growing up. Not as thick as American beef stew, it’s more like a hearty soup with carrots and spices. Pierre says it tastes like Asian-y boeuf bourguignon. It’s quite possible to me that this dish has its origins in colonial France, particularly since it’s often served with a toasty baguette. Nevertheless, its character is Vietnamese through and through. Fragrant with fresh lemongrass, star anise and Vietnamese cassia, it’s the perfect breakfast (next to Phở, of course). These days, however, we usually eat it for lunch or dinner.

My mother usually prepared this using beef tendon and the taste was rib-sticking good. The beef tendon, having been cooked slowly and gently for several hours, was moist and tender and its muscle fiber seemed to melt into an unctuous sauce. Whenever I can get tendon from our butcher, Sparrow Meats, I use it for this dish (or also for Bún bò Huế). When they don’t have beef tendon, I’ll get their boneless beef chuck, which is a fantastic substitution. My mother sometimes used curry powder and other times, she used five-spice powder; both were equally good. I liked watching her fry the annatto seeds in oil because I thought it was so neat how these red seeds would yield a yellow-orange pigment (see photos below).

We always ate this with warm, Vietnamese baguettes that we purchased in Little Saigon. It’s a must-dunk-break-into kind of thing. I’ve also seen it served with rice noodles, though that’s likely something only those crazy Northerners would do. Just kidding, Anh. Either way, it’s delicious. In my recipe, I use whole, peeled shallots, which I think add a lovely fragrance and flavor. They look really cute when served as they keep their shape nicely throughout the cooking process. If cute isn’t for you, cut, regular onion also works well.

 

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BÒ KHO – VIETNAMESE BEEF STEW

INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 2.5 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
  • 2 tsp. annatto seeds
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable or peanut oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbl. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbl. Viet curry powder or 2 tsp. five spice powder
  • 2 hefty stalks of lemongrass (green upper part removed) – lightly bruised with the back of a knife or rolling pin
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 stick of Vietnamese cassia or regular cinnamon
  • water
  • 3 Tbl. fish sauce
  • 1-inch chunk of rock sugar or 2 tsp. raw sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-12 small-medium shallots, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5 inch segments
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • fresh cilantro (for garnish)

STEPS:

  • In a non-reactive pot or dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the annatto seeds and cook them for about 4-5 minutes. Once the seeds have bled most of their oil/color, remove the pan from heat and discard the seeds, reserving the oil.
  • Put the pot back on high heat and sear the meat on all sides. Do this in batches to avoid steaming the meat.
  • Once all the meat has been seared, add the garlic and tomato paste to the pot. Use a wooden spoon or chopsticks to stir and cook for about 1 minute.
  • Then, add the seared meat back into the pan along with the curry powder or five spice powder, lemongrass, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Give it a good stir and add enough water to barely cover the meat (approx. 3-4 cups of water)
  • Next, add the fish sauce, sugar and bay leaf.
  • Lower the heat to medium and bring the pot to a gentle boil. At this point, take the heat down to low, loosely cover with a lid and cook for about 1 hour.
  • Now, the meat should be somewhat tender but still have a “bite” to it. Add the carrots and shallots and cook (covered) for another hour or so on low (until the carrots and shallots are cooked through).
  • Before serving, taste and adjust with fish sauce or sugar, if needed.
  • Garnish with black pepper and cilantro.
  • Serve with plenty of warm bread.
Bon appétit!

 

 

Réveillon 2007

 

JOYEUX NOËL! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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As is traditional in both our upbringings, we begin our celebrations with Midnight Mass on the night of the 24th. Afterwards, we come home for a much anticipated réveillon, a meal we devour after a month of Advent preparations. While not typically as austere as the Lenten period before Easter, which calls for an elevated sense of introspection and penance, it is still a time in which we’re called to prepare our hearts and minds for Christ’s birth.

Certainly, this carries a different meaning for every person. Here, in our own home, we’ve decided to move our tradition of opening gifts on Christmas Day to the Epiphany (January 6), also known as Three Kings Day (in reference to the visit of the Magi). It’s our small way of wanting to move away from the materialism and consumerism that, in the past, has distracted us from more important things and simply taken a toll on both of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for gifts; gifts are great. And, I’m definitely a gift-y kind of gal. Yet, Pierre and I both felt a need to go in a different direction and make our own tradition of celebrating Christmas. This holiday is special to us in many ways and thankfully, we can just be together — talking, sharing,playing, eating, and drinking, without the stress and anxiety of buying the right gift by December 25.

As for me, I’m grateful for the life I have with a devoted and truly loving spouse and my family and friends who offer constant warmth and support. I’m happy that I began this blog, which has introduced me to a very passionate and eclectic group of people – people who inspire and motivate me in a such a unique way. So, thank you for sharing your kind words, knowledge and wisdom to me these past few months.

Oh, before I forget, our menu de réveillon de Noël: Terrine de Foie Gras served with Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Chapon (capon) à la Jen, Poireaux braisés (butter-braised leeks) and Marrons (roasted chestnuts).

With heartfelt wishes for a happy Christmas for all,

Christine (et Pierre)

 

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Cá Kho Tộ – Vietnamese Claypot Fish

 

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Bee, from Rasa Malaysia made a lovely dish recently that got me thinking about one of my favorites – Cá Kho Tộ, Vietnamese Claypot Fish. If you’ve ever been invited to dinner with a family from South Viet Nam, this is something you are likely to be served as it is utterly simple to make and you guessed it —- delicious.

My mother comes from the city of Đà Lạt, in southern Viet Nam. This is a dish that is made all over that region and it’s one that we grew up eating very often. Whenever we’d see that familiar beige pot atop our stove, we knew what was for dinner. Everyone in our home enjoys eating this dish. The tender fish is coated with an unctuous, brown caramel sauce that, combined with fish sauce, is an umami high. Holla!

It’s sometimes called Catfish Simmered in Caramel Sauce, which I feel can be misleading. It’s not like the sugary caramel you have with flan, for example. It’s used as a savory sauce that starts out with sugar that is transformed into a deep, dark, almost burnt caramel (thus, no longer sweet or cloying). Called Nước Màu in Vietnamese, it’s like our funky version of demi-glace* — in the way that it is often added to stews, braises and even stir-fries, to add color and dimension. It’s a simple and necessary item in my Vietnamese pantry.

 

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To balance the flavors in this dish, it’s served with crunchy, sweet-sour, pickled bean sprouts – Dưa Giá. Fresh, crisp cucumber slices are also nice. When you serve the fish, you can also nestle a few fresh, red-hot chilis between the fish steaks, if you’re in that sort of mood. No, a claypot is not necessary to cook the fish, but I honestly can’t imagine this dish any other way.

 *Note: classic demi-glace is a reduction of veal stock and sauce espagnole.

 

CÁ KHO TỘ

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INGREDIENTS: (4 servings, as part of a larger meal)

  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 small-med. shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. catfish, cut into 3/4 inch slices/steaks [with skin and bone attached] —boneless, skinless fillets will not work in this dish
  • 4 Tbl. fish sauce
  • 3 Tbl. raw sugar
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 scallions, cut into 2- inch segments [+ 1 Tbl. oil, for garnish]
  • small piece (approx. 5 oz) of pork fat (fatback), cut into thin slices or bâtons
  • 3 Tbl. Caramel Sauce (Nước Màu) – recipe below

STEPS:

  • In a bowl, gently toss the fish with black pepper, shallots, fish sauce and sugar. Allow to marinate for 15 min. – up to 30 minutes.
  • In a separate skillet set to med. heat, add the oil and cook the pork fat until it has rendered most of it’s fat.
  • Next, add the garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Be sure not to brown or burn the garlic. Set aside.
  • Set your claypot on the stove and gently begin heating it on med.-low.
  • Add the pork fat, garlic and any pan drippings into the claypot.
  • Add the marinated fish. Pour and gently mix the caramel sauce with the fish. Turn the heat to medium.
  • As soon as the pot begins to bubble, turn down the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for about 30 minute. (Check the pot at the halfway point – if it looks dry, add one or two Tbl. of water and cover again).
  • At this point, the fish should be tender but still hold its shape.
  • Taste the sauce and add fish sauce or sugar, if needed.
  • Before serving, quickly sauté the scallions with oil and add them to the claypot.

 

NƯỚC MÀU – VIETNAMESE CARAMEL SAUCE

makes approx. 1 cup

If you’re familiar with making caramel sauce for flan – this will be a cinch.

In a dry saucepan set on med. high heat, add 1 cup of plain, granulated sugar and 1/2 cup + 2 Tbl. of water. As the mixture begins to turn amber, stir with a wooden spoon until it turns to a dark mahogany. At this point, remove the pan from the heat and add another 1/2 cup of water to the pan. (The caramel will seize but will eventually liquefy). Heat the pan on high and cook for about 7-10 minutes until it is thick and smooth. Carefully add a couple teaspoons of lemon or lime juice and remove from heat. Give it a good stir and transfer it to a mason jar or other glass container. The sauce will resemble dark molasses and will keep indefinitely in your cupboard.

Bon appétit!

 

Rillettes de Tours

 

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Rillettes is due for a comeback. This I know. After so much time spent in the dugout while the soul-less, calorie and fat-conscious players took over, it’s back in the game. With a vengeance. Okay, maybe not with a vengeance. More like a whisper. The kind of whisper that tells you this is God’s food; food that really nourishes the heart and soul. It’s the real deal — know what I mean? It’s not the crap-ola that aims to cleanse or detox.

Lest you think I’m about to launch into a diatribe against the Hippie Fat Police, be not ye afraid.

A dish of rillettes, according to Anthony Bourdain, “gets right to the heart of what’s good: pork, pork fat, salt, and pepper….Rillettes is something you serve friends – and people you already know you like.” *

My sentiments exactly. If you’ve never tried it, rillettes is something like a rough, meatier country pâté. Its origins are shared by several regions of France, namely Le Mans, Tours (and Angers), and Orléans. In Le Mans, goose meat is often added to the pork while in Orléans, wild rabbit is often added to make their rillettes, which they serve with fresh walnuts in the fall. In the rillettes of Tours, an all-pork version is made.

Eating this brings me back to the college semester I studied in Angers, located less than an hour’s drive west of Tours. Our midday lunch at school was the one of the highlights that I looked forward to each day. Unlike the cafeterias or dining halls here in the States, where students line up to slop dubious food onto trays, there, we sat family-style in long tables and passed homey platters of rillettes, salades, and fromage around the table.

The last time we were in France, we made sure to bring back some fresh rillettes du Mans – from where Pierre’s grandmother was raised and where his great-aunt had lived most of her life. When that precious stuff was finished, we still had some tins of rillettes that we’d purchased at what I call the French Costco – Carrefour.

Now that all our porky provisions have been depleted, Pierre’s been wondering when he’ll get to eat rillettes again. Well, wonder no more, Mon petit chou! This recipe is from a book I received as a gift from my good friend Zarena. I love this book because its recipes are old-school and just really good and reliable. The photographs aren’t the modern, high contrast, blown-out shots that you often find nowadays. They depict rustic scenes, naturally lit and sometimes underexposed.

As for the recipe, it’s alarmingly simple: Brown meat. Slowly cook meat for a long time. Add seasoning. Shred meat. Enjoy.

And, never wanting to miss an opportunity to add some American lazy to a time-honored French classic, I decided to make this using a slow cooker. And instead of using the French quatre épices, I used my homemade five-spice powder. I’m happy to report that it turned out beautifully.

In case my flip recipe above does not suffice, below is a more detailed version:

 *Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook

 

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RILLETTES DE TOURS

INGREDIENTS: at least 6 servings

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 med-large shallots, quartered
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, crumbled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 lbs. pork belly, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 lb. pork fat (fatback)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1 tsp. five spice powder
  • additional bay leaves (for decoration) optional

STEPS:

  • Flatten the garlic cloves with the side of the hand. Wrap garlic, shallots, thyme, bay leaves and cloves in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen thread.
  • Remove rind (and bones) from the pork belly; cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.
  • Melt the pork fat in a heavy 4qt. saucepan over med-low heat. Add the pieces of pork belly and brown them, turning constantly. Remove the browned meat with a slotted spoon and strain the fat through a sieve into a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Place the browned meat into a slow cooker. Add the cheesecloth bag and the water, cover – leaving a little space for air to escape.
  • Cook on the lowest setting for 5 hours, stirring from time to time, adding a little more water (by the Tablespoon) if the mixture seems too dry. The meat needs to cook low and slow – never to be boiled.
  • At this point, the meat should be tender but not mushy. Remove the bag of seasoning. Stir in the salt and five-spice powder and cook for another 30 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm, then remove meat from the pan and shred using two forks. (The shredded meat will resemble American pulled-pork). Add the reserved fat and mix well.
  • Turn the spread into one large container, or divide it among several smaller ones, top with bay leaves and cover. Store in the refrigerator and serve after two days. The rillettes will keep for about two weeks.

Bon appétit!

 

You Say Salad, I Say Gỏi…

 

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For Thanksgiving this year, we joined our good friends at their home just a few miles from our house for dinner. My contribution was not a savory item but a dessert – an almond dacquoise layered with hazelnut chocolate ganache and whipped cream that was laced with Poire William and topped with carmelized pear slices. With these ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong. Sure, it was yummy, though it didn’t look quite as appealing or stunning as I’d hoped. A recipe for that is forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’ve shifted my focus to preparations during the month I’ve got left before Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In truth, this doesn’t involve buying and wrapping gifts and goodies. Rather, this ritual involves stair climbers, treadmills, some rusty dumbbells and slew of swear words thrown in for good measure. For what? To get my tush into that ridiculous and saucy dress I bought on sale that didn’t fit then and might not ever fit.

Silly, you think? Uh, no. It was On Sale.

My need to purchase clothes two sizes too small seems irrelevant here. What is more salient to this discussion is a description of foods I eat following an indulgent weekend of pure, buttery gluttony. These dishes make me happy for two reasons: 1) They are delicious and full of Southeast Asian spicy, crunchy goodness and; 2) They’re quite healthy and nutritious – so much that eating them provides me the prospect of being that svelte dancer, chassé-ing across the floor and exiting with a grand jeté — all while wearing THAT DRESS.

Bon, let’s get on with it.

In Vietnamese , salad or xà lách (pronounced sa-laht) means lettuce. It’s what is used to wrap bundles of meat, fresh herbs and vegetables in Gỏi Cuốn. It’s also the essential accompaniment to Bánh Xèo, Nem Nướng, Chả Giò, as well as numerous other savory Viet dishes.

At a meal in Viet Nam, you’d be hard-pressed to find just a bowl of xà lách that’s been tossed with oil and vinegar. An otherwise simple and elegant dish, it would lack the the variety and texture that Viets crave and demand of their dishes.

Gỏi is our answer to what the Western world calls Salad. Yet, calling it a Viet version of a salad would be underestimating its true powers and abilities, like calling Bono a singer, when you and I know he’s really a living, breathing, SUPERHERO.

Gỏi can be simple but never, ever boring. How can it be? A combination that features tangy, peppery herbs; crispy, crunchy fruits/vegetables; tender, luscious meat and seafood- all spiked with a spicy, sweet, sour sauce simply commands attention. And like any true superhero, gỏi is fearless. It cares not for distinctions between fruit and vegetable, cooked food or raw food, dried food or fresh food. It embraces them all and gives them their due justice.

As a special treat, we have not one, but three different versions I hope you’ll try soon.

 

POMELO SALAD – GỎI BƯỞI

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First up is Pomelo Salad – Gỏi Bưởi. When their season arrives in Viet Nam, vendors will tempt passerbys by stacking pyramids of yellow-green Bưởi, their slightly oblong tops resembling jade mountain caps. Cut through its fragrant peel and you’ll find beautiful light yellow-green or sometimes pink segments that are slightly dry to the touch but plump and juicy when eaten. It has a subtle, sweet flavor that is less acidic and less tart than regular pink or white grapefruits sold here in the U.S.

Making Gỏi with pomelos then, just makes sense. The floral and citrus flavors of the pomelo next the sharp, peppery herbs of Vietnamese coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò) is a combination that speaks of more balance than my yoga mat. Throw in some tasty slices of pork, plump shrimp, crunchy carrots and cucumbers to complete the dish.

 

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POMELO SALAD – GỎI BƯỞI

INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 1/2 lb. poached pork tenderloin [chicken breast can also be substituted]
  • 1/2 lb. fresh unpeeled, de-veined shrimp
  • 1 med. carrot, peeled and finely julienned or grated using a mandoline
  • 1 small/med. cucumber, seeds (if any) removed
  • 1 large pomelo, peel and pith removed and cut into segments
  • 2 Tbl. each, Viet. coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò)
  • 1 Tbl. lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbl. Crispy Fried Shallots (hành phi) –
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • freshly roasted peanuts, lightly crushed (optional)
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Poach the pork until cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 160F. Allow to cool before thinly slicing into 1/4 inch strips. Set aside.
  • In a skillet, dry-fry the shrimp for several minutes until opaque in color. Allow to cool before removing shells. Set aside.
  • Grate the carrot. Peel the cucumber if its skin is tough or bitter. Scoop out any seeds. Cut in half lengthwise and slice into very thin “half-moons.”
  • In a large bowl, combine the pork, shrimp, carrots, cucumbers, pomelo segments with the herbs (I leave the herbs whole, but you can roughly chop them if you prefer).
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter sesame seeds, fried shallots and crushed peanuts over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.

 

LOTUS STEM SALAD – GỎI NGÒ SEN

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Next is a dish that I ordered almost every time we ate out during our trip to Viet Nam. The crisp, crunchy texture of lotus stems (Ngò Sen) are somehow very fun and addictive to eat. In addition, their mellow, rather bland flavor absorbs the spicy, sweet sauce, allowing the shrimp and pork flavors to really come out. This recipe generally serves four but I have eaten the whole lot in one sitting many a time.

I am reminded of a Viet film called Three Seasons (Ba Mùa), directed by Tony Bui. There’s a picturesque scene in the film, where, in the early morning, young women paddle through a misty pond full of lotus blossoms, singing folk songs as they gently pluck the stems and buds for selling later at the market. It’s where I – and you could – imagine being when eating this, and well, wearing that saucy number I keep mentioning, of course.

 

LOTUS STEM SALAD – GỎI NGÒ SEN

INGREDIENTS: (3-4 servings)

  • 1 jar of lotus stems (often labeled lotus rootlets)
  • 1 Tbl. fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbl. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. poached pork tenderloin [chicken breast can also be substituted]
  • 1/2 lb. fresh unpeeled, de-veined shrimp
  • 1 med. carrot, peeled and finely julienned or grated using a mandoline
  • 2 Tbl. each, Viet. coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò)
  • 1 Tbl. lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbl. Crispy Fried Shallots (hành phi) –
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • lightly crushed, freshly roasted peanuts (optional)
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Poach the pork until cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 160F. Allow to cool before thinly slicing into 1/4 inch strips. Set aside.
  • In a skillet, dry-fry the shrimp for several minutes until opaque in color. Allow to cool before removing shells. Set aside.
  • Cut the lotus stems in half, crosswise and then cut in half lengthwise.
  • In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar, lime and salt. Once dissolved, add the cut lotus stems to the bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
  • Grate the carrot. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the pork, shrimp, carrots and lotus stems with the herbs (I leave the herbs whole, but you can roughly chop them if you prefer).
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter sesame seeds, fried shallots and crushed peanuts (optional) over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.
*Pickled, Sliced Pig Ears may also be added to this dish.

 

WATER SPINACH SALAD – GỎI RAU MUỐNG

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Last up to batter is Gỏi Rau Muống. Rau Muống also goes by common names such as Water Spinach, Ong Choy, and Water Morning Glory, just to name a few. It’s often stir-fried with garlic (Rau Muống Xào) or made into a sweet-sour soup (Canh Chua Rau Muống). Here, the crisp, hollow stems of the plant are cut into extremely thin slices which are then submerged in an ice-bath, causing them to curl into little ringlets that are slightly springy, with a delicate crunch to them . In the past, this tedious and rather tricky task was left to skillful housewives and servants. But now, there’s a handy tool that will quickly and safely split the stems into thin slices – great news for a klutz like me. You can find more info on that tool, called Dao Chẻ Rau Muống. Look for them at Asian grocery stores that stock Viet products.

Once the Rau Muống stems have been split and curled in acidulated cold water, they’re combined with juicy slices of freshly grilled flank steak, sautéed shallots, fresh tomatoes (when in season), crushed peanuts and the ever-ubiquitous Nước Chấm sauce.

 

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WATER SPINACH SALAD – GỎI RAU MUỐNG

INGREDIENTS: (4 servings)

  • 2.5 lbs. fresh water spinach (rau muống), rinsed and drained
  • 1 small lime or lemon
  • 1 lb. beef flank steak
  • 1 large or (2 medium) shallot
  • 2 Tbl. cilantro (rau ngò) optional
  • 2-3 Tbl. freshly roasted peanuts, crushed
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Separate the leaves of the water spinach from the stems. Reserve the leaves for stir-frying or making soup.
  • Cut the stems into approx. 3-inch segments. Next, soak them in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 min. This will allow the stems to stiffen, thus making it easier to slice.
  • Meanwhile, grill or pan-fry the flank steak to medium rare (or medium). Allow to cool before cutting into thin strips (cut on the bias). Set aside.
  • Next, slice the shallots and quickly sauté them in a pan with oil. Set aside.
  • Once the water spinach stems have stiffened, carefully use the specific tool (Dao Chẻ Rau Muống) to make the super-thin slices.
  • Soak the sliced stems in a bowl of cold water that has been acidulated with fresh lime or lemon juice for about 10-15 min. They should curl into ringlets.
  • Drain the ringlets and dry with a clean towel or in a salad spinner.
  • To assemble the salad: In a large bowl, toss the water spinach ringlets, beef slices, shallots and cilantro.
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter crushed peanuts over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.

 

CRISPY FRIED SHALLOTS (HÀNH PHI)

fried_shallots.jpg

 

INGREDIENTS: (makes approx. 1 1/2 cups)

  • approx. 10 small/medium shallots
  • 2 cups canola or vegetable oil

STEPS:

  • Thinly slice the shallots and blot them with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
  • In a small saucepan on med-high heat, warm the oil. Add a small slice of shallot into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough. (Make sure to not over-heat the oil to the point where it smokes).
  • Carefully add the shallots to the pan (little by little, rather than all at once).
  • Fry the shallots for about 1-2 minutes. As soon as they get light golden, transfer the fried shallots using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Allow to cool before serving. Seal any leftovers in an airtight container. The fried shallots will stay crisp for about a week.

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS:

NƯỚC CHẤM + SHRIMP CHIPS + SESAME RICE CRACKERS

nuoc_cham_shrimp_chips.jpg

 

SWEET-SOUR DRESSING – NƯỚC CHẤM

INGREDIENTS: (makes approx. 1.5-2 cups)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice or 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1-2 thai bird chilis, thinly sliced or 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce

STEPS:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to completely dissolve the sugar.
  • Taste and adjust according to your taste, adding more fish sauce/sugar/lime if necessary.
  • Store in a glass jar or plastic container and refrigerate. The dressing will last at least two weeks.

SESAME RICE CRACKERS – BÁNH TRÁNG MÈ

At Asian grocery stores here in the U.S., Viet Sesame Rice Crackers (Bánh Tráng Mè) are often found alongside similarly-packaged Viet Rice Paper Rolls (Bánh Tráng). In Viet Nam, these round disks are traditionally toasted over a charcoal brazier. Here, you can try toasting them over a gas burner but I’ve found that the microwave also produces good results. To do so, place one disk on the rotating plate of your microwave and cook on high for about 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on it, making sure it doesn’t burn. Initially translucent, it should turn opaque and puff up considerably. Break into large pieces and serve alongside your Gỏi.

SHRIMP CRACKERS – BÁNH PHỒNG TÔM

These small, flat round disks are traditionally deep-fried. Again, following a tip from my mother, I microwave these. Place several disks on the rotating plate of your microwave and cook on high for about 20 seconds (this may vary a bit). Like the Sesame Rice Crackers, they will puff and curl up considerably. Again, keep an eye on them, as they can burn easily. Serve alongside your Gỏi.

Some final notes:

  • The herbs are more than mere garnishes – they’re an integral part of these dishes. Use them with reckless abandon!
  • Freshly toasted peanuts and sesame seeds make a big difference.
  • Store-bought fried shallots aren’t worth your dollar. They really aren’t.
  • A box-grater, while perfectly acceptable, will produce shreds that lack the sharp, crisp edge that a mandoline will produce.

Bon appétit!

Miến Xào Cua – Vietnamese Glass Noodle Stir-fry with Crab

 

My folks visited us for the first time since Pierre and I married and we moved into our new place. It was also their first visit to Ann Arbor and they were treated to some unusually warm weather and lovely fall colors.

 

ann_arbor_fall.jpg

 

At home, my mom’s kitchen is her domain (she’s a fabulous cook with Martin Yan-like dexterity and knife skills). Thus, the prospect of me (the slowest, Asian food chopper ever) preparing and cooking food for us all was daunting, if not slightly amusing.

 

mien_xao_cua.jpg

 

I managed to get by fairly well, if I don’t say so myself. So I don’t have fastah-fingahs. But I can make a mean stir-fry when I want. (Pun is absolutely intended). Miến Xào Cua is a light, delicious dish that I enjoy having for lunch or as part of a dinner meal. You can purchase good-quality lump crab meat or steam a fresh crab as we did, and pick apart the meat.

I used baby leeks instead of shallots or green onions this time as I love the color and subtle onion flavor they lend to the dish.

MIẾN XÀO CUA

INGREDIENTS: (2-4 servings)

  • 2 bundles of miến (glass noodles), soaked in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes
  • 1 cup of black “wood-ear” mushrooms, soaked in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of baby leeks, thoroughly cleaned and thinly sliced on the bias (discard the tough green tops, or save it for use in making stock)
  • 1 cup of chopped red bell pepper
  • meat from 1 whole, steamed crab (approx. 1 cup)
  • crab tomalley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbl. fish sauce + more to taste
  • fresh ground pepper
  • oil, for cooking

STEPS:

  • In a colander or sieve, drain the glass noodles, set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine the egg, tomalley and fish sauce, set aside.
  • In a wok or deep skillet heated to med-high, add about 1-2 Tbl. of oil.
  • Stir in the leeks and cook until slightly translucent, approx.2-3 minutes
  • Next, add the red bell pepper and mushrooms and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes
  • Now, add the glass noodles and stir-fry 1-2 minutes. The noodles should be translucent.
  • Pour the egg + tomalley mixture over the noodles and quickly stir fry until the eggs are cooked, between 2-4 minutes.
  • Gently fold the crab meat into the noodles and combine.
  • Serve warm.

Bon appétit!