Tag Archives: Vietnamese

My mom’s Banh Xeo (Vietnamese turmeric crepes)

7 Sep

Over the past twenty years or so, bánh xèo has been a mainstay of family and friend gatherings if my mom is around.  Yen’s visiting home from college?  Better make bánh xèo!  You want to have some friends over for dinner?  Time for bánh xèo!  It’s a Saturday in October and the cousins are coming around?  Let’s do some bánh xèo, baby!

These are a super fun party food (where the party is the food): everyone gets a plate and a little saucer for dipping sauce, and the giant fresh pancakes go on platters in the middle.  You take a small amount with your chopsticks, trying to get the perfect mix of batter, onions, bean sprouts, and meat/seafood, and wrap it in a little taco of lettuce, mint, apple/cucumber, and whatever other herbs you have on hand.  Dip the whole taco in your sauce and eat it in two or three bites.  Then do it again.  And everyone does it at once!

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I don’t know about your storage capacity, but for me this is a mega-bite.

Note: these can definitely be made vegetarian or vegan.  The batter is vegan, and for filling we’ve had great luck with mushrooms, sprouts, and mung beans.  For the dipping sauce, substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce and add a little bit more lime and a little less sugar to balance out the saltiness.

I’m not usually a huge mise en place fan; I like chopping while things are cooking, but bánh xèo happen so fast that it’s worth it to put in extra prep.  For eating, you need to wash all your vegetables and put them out on a platter.  You’ll probably have time to make the dipping sauce while a pancake is cooking, but it takes a lot of time to pluck Vietnamese perilla (shiso would work in a pinch) and mint leaves off their stems, leaf lettuce, thinly slice cucumbers and apples, etc.  So lay those out.  Now the batter has to rest for ten minutes or so after mixing it, so do that before you start chopping your raw ingredients.

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I want to put a pun here but I can’t because the perspectives on this photo are too confusing.  The ingredients are on a counter; my feet are several feet below; the bowl on the right is inside a sink that the cutting board is hovering over.  

Growing up we always had squid in our bánh xèo, but we stopped doing that when we moved away from easily accessible Asian markets.  So now it’s mostly pork (a lean, unfatty cut like tenderloin is good here) and shrimp, mainstays of Vietnamese cooking.  My mom prefers buying the unpeeled shrimp because she says they’re sweeter and more flavorful (I agree), and we slice them in half down the spine so they cook super fast.  You want very thinly sliced pork; it helps if it’s chilled.  Also thinly sliced onions are key, as well as a ton of green onion (the more the better).  My mom puts in two bunches of sliced up green onion per packet of batter, which makes around 6-8 very large servings (depending on the size of your pan, that’s 10-20 pancakes).  Hence the party food-nature of this dish.

The batter is important- if you’re super hardcore I guess you could make your own, but we always buy from a bag.  Our favorite is the one with elephants on it, below–certain other brands are a little too gluey or not crispy enough, or include coconut flour and pretend that coconut flour+water=coconut milk.  If you can’t find Bon Con Voi Banh Xeo batter, just try to buy one that requires adding coconut milk.  Then follow the instructions on the bag: mix in the turmeric, a can of coconut milk, and a can or two of water (read the label).  Let sit while you chop the other stuff.

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Photo from this mysteriously empty website, Nguyen Eternal.  You don’t need to get on a boat to buy this bot, which is made here in the USA!  (Bot means flour in Vietnamese).

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In the shadow universe, the copy of me is so jealous of this batter.  She’s a green un-Yen. (Yes I have made this pun before no it does not get old.)

Now it’s time to cook!  Mix those prechopped green onions into the batter.  Heat up your nonstick skillet (or two if you’re ambitious).  Add in a bit of oil and a handful of thinly sliced onions, then after 30 seconds or so put in your thinly sliced pork and shrimp and cook them for a minute or two, until they’re done.

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Stop hogging all the space!  There’s MUCH ROOM in the pan; even the shrimps deserve some breathing room.

Now ladle on just enough of the batter to cover the pan if you swirl it.  Think the thinness of crepes.  I’d lean toward ladling on not enough, swirl, and then add in a bit more to fill the pan rather than having a thick gluey pancake.

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If the band Rudimental were making banh xeo, I bet they’d invite Ed Sheeran over for this step, so they could lay-it-all (LADLE) on him.

Now you’ll have a pale daffodil soft thing with some cooked meat inside it, and a clearly slightly liquid middle.  Fill it with a generous handful of bean sprouts (mung beans if you’re into that sort of thing too), and cover it with a lid to lightly steam the sprouts while cooking the pancake.  Give it about a minute (so this whole process is taking you about 5 minutes per pancake), until the pancake is no longer pale but a golden turmeric color, and its visibly cooked.

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I should invite my cousin Scott over and ask him to help me cook this, and then try to gently prod him into calling the middle uncooked portion liquid gold.  Take that, furniture polish!  

Gently fold it in half like an omelet, and slide it out of the pan onto a waiting plate.  Serve immediately with dipping sauce and that premade plate of veggies!

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My mom’s banh xeo.  Makes so much (serves 8 hungry people)

1 package of banh xeo flour

1 can coconut milk

2-3 bunches of green onion

2 lb pork tenderloin or butt or any non-fatty cut

2 lb shrimp

1 big onion (yellow or white is fine)

2 packages of bean sprouts

2 heads of lettuce (I prefer red leaf, my mom likes Romaine but she is wrong here)

2 cucumbers, 2 Fuji apples

2 bunches of Vietnamese perilla or shiso, 1-2 bunches of cilantro, 1-2 bunches of mint (the regular grocery store mint is fine)

2 limes

2 TB Fish sauce

2 TB Sugar

1 carrot and a carrot-sized piece of daikon if you’re feeling ambitious (we did not)

  1. Batter: Finely chop up all your green onion, then follow package instructions.
  2. Veggies: Wash everything.  Leaf the lettuce and herbs, cut the apples and cucumbers into thin slices (cut the cucumber in thirds lengthwise, then cut into slices).
  3. Dipping sauce: Mix two tablespoons of sugar with the juice of the limes and 2 TB of water until dissolved.  Add in two tablespoons of fish sauce.  Taste.  Adjust levels of everything until it’s not too sweet, not too salty, and not too sour.  If it’s overpowering, add more water.  If you’re ambitious, finely grate the carrot and daikon into the sauce; they’ll slightly pickle while it’s sitting and offer some textural contrast when you eat.
  4. Pancakes: Thinly slice pork (about 1/8 of an inch thick if you can, 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles), peel shrimp and slice in half, thinly slice onion. Heat large skillet over medium high.  Add about 1 TB of neutral oil and half a handful of onion, stir.  Then add 4-8 pieces each of pork and shrimp and gently saute until just cooked.  Ladle only a little bit of batter over the cooked ingredients, and swirl to cover pan.  Edges should cook very quickly.
  5. Cover pancake with a handful of bean sprouts, then cover with a lid.  Leave for 1-2 minutes, until bean sprouts are slightly steamed and center of pancake is cooked and edges are lightly browned.  Fold in half with a spatula, slide onto a plate, and serve immediately with veggies and dipping sauce.

Note: you’ll be in the kitchen for a while with this; we usually have two or three pans going at once to feed a big crowd.

My mom’s goi cuon (Vietnamese spring rolls)

26 Oct

Apologies for the long delay in blog posts.  I have no excuses, really.  I’ll make up for it by trying to post a lot this week.  This afternoon I’m planning on chatting with a postdoc friend about some math for a blog post!  In the meantime, here’s a cooking post.

I get a lot of compliments on the sauce that accompanies these light, fresh spring rolls.  Peanut, hoisin, onion, garlic are the main players.  Usually I make a bunch of goi cuon as an appetizer for a party, though the other night we ate a bunch of these for dinner and they make a great light dinner.

The end (of the onion) is nigh-fed (pronounced 'knifed' in case you thought that said nigh fed)

The end (of the onion) is nigh-fed (pronounced ‘knifed’ in case you thought that said nigh fed)

It’s also nice because you can throw out all the ingredients on the table and people make their own rolls with whatever they want.

First, you’ll want to boil a piece of pork.  I had a hunk of pork leg leftover in my freezer that I used for this.  Something without too much fat, but with a little bit of fat (so like a tenderloin but with more fat).  If you want to boil the first (so boil just the outside of the pork, then toss out the water and boil it to cooked with new water), you can do that to minimize the smell, or just throw half an onion in the water.

You heat the water. Por que? To cook the pork!

You heat the water. Por que? To cook the pork!

It takes surprisingly long to cook a hunk of pork.  This took about 25 minutes at a low steady boil (not a simmer).  But that’s fine, because I did everything else during that time- prep veggies, make sauce, make noodles and shrimp.

Do you think a group of Irish people in Argentina would be called Garlic?

Do you think a group of Irish people in Argentina would be called Garlic?

Consider putting a pot of water on to boil after putting the pork in, so you’re ready for the noodles/shrimp.  Anyways, minced onion goes in a pan with a bit of oil as long as you can stand in (the more caramelized, the better!), then add minced garlic until fragrant.  Toss in a can of diced tomatoes (I used fresh because I had them), peanut butter, hoisin sauce, and enough water so it can actually simmer down and the tomatoes cook away.

These tomatoes were being really fresh with me so I told them to simmer down

These tomatoes were being really fresh with me so I told them to simmer down

You’re left with a delicious, sweet and salty and umami-sauce for dipping.  I’ve used an immersion blender on this sauce to great effect in the past, but since it was just for us two I let us eat it chunkily.  My mom also likes squeezing a lime into it, for some acid to cut the richness of the peanut butter.

While that’s simmering away, hopefully your secondary pot of water has got to boiling, and you can toss in some noodles (bun tao or whatever kind of rice noodles you want) and cook per package directions.  Shrimp boils for just 2 minutes or so, depending on the size (until it’s opaque).  Rice noodles are very thin and slippery, so I’d recommend getting a metal strainer instead of just a plastic colander.

Making Vietnamese food was a huge strain before I got this piece of kitchen equipment

Making Vietnamese food was a huge strain before I got this piece of kitchen equipment

A colander just coldn't cut it

A colander just coldn’t cut it

You’re almost there!  Time to thinly slice the pork…

Whaddup, homeslice? Not much, I'm about to get eaten. Oh... that doesn't sound great.

Whaddup, homeslice? Not much, I’m about to get eaten.
Oh… that doesn’t sound great.

And peel the shrimp.  My mom likes cutting them in half, which is a lot of work but also looks nice.

To serve, place your proteins, noodles, and veggies on a table along with rice paper and a bowl of WARM water (or one of these cool things).  Also small dishes for the dipping sauce and a plate for rolling for each person.  For veggies: lettuce is a must, also something crunchy like pickled shredded carrots (shred carrots, add some rice vinegar and sugar and salt and water and leave in a bowl for at least an hour), or sliced apples, or sliced cucumber or bean sprouts.  Spearmint, shiso leaf, and cilantro are all good.  If you’re at a Vietnamese grocery store, just get everything that’s labelled “rau sống” and try everything to see what you like.

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Apples are snappy and the spoon is saucy, but the noodles are just limp. They are poor conversation partners.

To eat: wet the rice paper.  Some recipes say to leave it in the water for 5-10 seconds, which is way too long in my opinion unless the water isn’t warm.  Just dip it so that every part of the rice paper is wet; it will soften on your place as you assemble the roll.

About 1 inch from a side, make a line of herbs and lettuce.  Put on about a tablespoon of noodles, a few pieces of pork, and whatever else you want.  About one inch above the rectangle, place the peeled shrimp in a line.

Fold the bottom side (the close one) over your rectangle, then fold in the sides and roll it up like a burrito.

They see me rollin'... they hatin'... because they're jealous

They see me rollin’… they hatin’… because they’re jealous

My husband likes putting the sauce directly inside the roll, which makes sense if you’re going to eat it immediately and aren’t making these ahead of time.  I like dipping them.  Either way is fine.

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Enjoy!

My mom’s goi cuon: this recipe makes about 10 rolls, so dinner for 3 or appetizers for 10.

1 lb Pork leg/shoulder/some cut with a little fat on it

1 onion

1 apple and/or carrot and/or cucumber and/or bean sprout, sliced/shredded

1 can tomatoes

3 TB peanut butter

3 TB hoisin sauce

garlic

1/2 lb shrimp

herbs: half a head of lettuce, cilantro, shiso leaf, coriander leaf, spearmint, peppermint…

rice paper

rice noodles

  1. Boil the pork with half the onion and a spoonful of salt and a spoonful of sugar for about half an hour or until cooked.
  2. Make the sauce: dice the onion and saute in some oil until translucent, then add minced garlic until fragrant.  Add tomatoes, hoisin, peanut butter, and enough water to thin, let simmer until tomatoes are cooked down.
  3. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions (boil for 4 minutes, rinse with cool water).  Boil shrimp for 1-2 minutes until just opaque.
  4. Serve noodles, pork, and shrimp with vegetables and rice paper and a bowl of warm water.

Tofu twofer: marinated and baked, and my mom’s garlic-lemongrass fried (dau hu chien)

8 Oct

We’ve been on a bit of a tofu kick lately, and have been buying the big family packs from Costco even though there’s only two of us.  But whenever I make one of these two preparations we gobble it all up!  I actually don’t like tofu as a meat substitute (had a goat cheese salad last night with grilled tofu on it; ick), which is why I like these two recipes so much: the tofu doesn’t pretend to be meat, it’s just delicious squishy flavorful tofu!

Note: both of these recipes require thinking ahead.  Not a lot of effort, but they just aren’t as good if it’s half an hour til you eat and you throw them together.  For the fried tofu, it’s fine to prepare in the morning (5 minutes, if that), and cook for dinner.  For the baked tofu, I think it’s better to prepare the night before and let marinate for a whole day.

First, my mom’s fried tofu with garlic and lemongrass.  This stuff is addictive and very, very easy.  Lots of recipes say to press your tofu to make it firm/get the water out, but that takes effort.  You can also leave tofu uncovered on a plate, and the fridge will dry it out.  Yay!

The other day I saw Cheetos described as "cheese toes", which is so gross.  But also makes you think about other potential Toe Fuuds

The other day I saw Cheetos described as “cheese toes”, which is so gross. But also makes you think about other potential Toe Fuuds

If you eat lemongrass ever, I suggest planting it!  We have so much lemongrass and it’s so fresh and delicious and I do nothing to take care of it!  Start by finely chopping about 3 TB of lemongrass (more is better).

Then mince a bunch of garlic.  Lots of recipes say to use 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (I mean any recipe anywhere for anything), and I always use 6 or 7.  I love garlic!

I saw the Foo Fighters last weekend at ACL.  If their van broke down and they called AAA to come help them, would the truck guy say "I tow foo"?

I saw the Foo Fighters last weekend at ACL. If their van broke down and they called AAA to come help them, would the truck guy say “I tow foo”?

Chop up your tofu into slabs: my mom cuts one of these blocks into 6 slabs; I like to cut those in half.  Arrange on a plate to maximize exposed surface area (I mean, lay them flat).  Cover liberally with garlic and lemongrass, and a bunch of salt (a TB or so).  Put it in the fridge, exposed, for a day (or two).

I think the Japanese eat soybeans a lot, right?  This is a KyoTO Fuud?

I think the Japanese eat soybeans a lot, right? This is a KyoTO Fuud?

I was in a foosball tourney my freshman year of college.  At the end, someone said "I propose a TOast!  FOOsball!"

I was in a foosball tourney my freshman year of college. At the end, someone said “I propose a TOast! FOOsball!”

When you’re ready to cook, heat some oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and carefully put in your tofu.  Don’t overcrowd them (this’ll probably take two batches or two pans).  Leave for about 4 minutes, until golden, and then flip over and leave for another 2-3 minutes.

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I'm not a huge fan of discrete subgroups of PSL(2,R).  I'll hover near them, but I'll only toe Fuchsian groups instead of diving in.

I’m not a huge fan of discrete subgroups of PSL(2,R). I’ll hover near them, but I’ll only toe Fuchsian groups instead of diving in.

You can cook them longer, so they’re crispy, but I like them less crispy.  After you’re done frying all the tofu, toss in that garlic and lemongrass and let it cook til golden brown and a little crispy.  Delicious crunchy topping!  Also, cut up some green onion and heat it in oil, then pour over the whole thing.

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Second, my marinated and baked tofu.  Similar idea: dump stuff on tofu, let it sit, and cook it. This time, cut up the tofu into smaller pieces: I do rectangles, just half the size of the previous recipe.  You don’t have to be religious about draining it this time either, I like to leave a little liquid in.

I wonder what they thought in Mortar of Frodo: probably that this Pest'll go away soon

I wonder what they thought in Mortar of Frodo: probably that this Pest’ll go away soon

Also, try to use a tofu-sized container for this, preferably with a lid.  I’ve done this in a bowl and the tofu doesn’t get as much flavor.  Less space for moving = more tofu submerged in deliciousness= more flavorful tofu.

What if I use body parts instead of swear words in this blog? I tried using a smaller tupperware earlier, and felt like a to fool.

What if I use body parts instead of swear words in this blog? I tried using a smaller tupperware earlier, and felt like a to fool.

If you have a mortar and pestle, this recipe is great!  Just smash up some garlic and ginger, no need to worry about making them small or uniform: we’re just trying to infuse the flavors in.  If you don’t, just slice them up and toss them on top of the tofu.

I love using the pestle to smash garlic and get the paper off: it's so appeeling

I love using the pestle to smash garlic and get the paper off: it’s so appeeling

If I lost this mortar and pestle, I'd be totally crushed.

If I lost this mortar and pestle, I’d be totally crushed.

Now the fun part!  Pour on 1-2 TB of soy sauce, 1 TB of sesame oil, 1 TB rice vinegar.  If you have it, add 1 TB rice wine for cooking, and 1 tsp of fish sauce (I love fish sauce; I am Vietnamese).

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This recipe doesn’t fit in with NATO. FOOlish Europeans and North Americans; they’re missing out on so much flavor!

Close your container and give it a shake, then leave it in the fridge for awhile (I’ve left it for two days and it’s awesome).  Turn it upside down every now and then if you want.

Here in Austin we're proud of the local vodka company.  TiTO's FUrnishes all of Texas and then some with quality alcohol

Here in Austin we’re proud of the local vodka company. TiTO’s FUrnishes all of Texas and then some with quality alcohol

Once you’re an hour out from eating, turn the oven to 350, shake the tofu out onto an oiled baking sheet, and toss em in.  You can turn them if you aren’t lazy like me, or just bake them for 50-60 minutes until they look and smell delicious.  Don’t forget to put the garlic and ginger in there too.  This stuff is addictive.

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My mom’s garlic-lemongrass fried tofu:

3 TB minced lemongrass

3 TB minced garlic

2 TB finely chopped green onion

1 lb tofu (1 16-oz package)

Chop tofu into thick slabs.  Cover liberally with lemongrass and garlic, and sprinkle heavily with salt (1-2 TB).  Arrange on a plate and let marinate for a day or two.

Heat up a thick frying pan with a drizzle of vegetable oil (1-2 TB), add tofu, being careful not to overcrowd.  Do not touch!  Fry for four minutes on one side, then turn and fry 2-3 on the other side.  After finishing the tofu, fry the remaining lemongrass/garlic for a few minutes until crispy.  Add 2 TB more oil to the pan, and add the green onion for just 1 minute, until wilted.  Top tofu with crispy lemongrass/garlic and green onion oil.

Marinated baked tofu, adapted from food.com

1 lb tofu

1 TB each: soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce, rice wine (optional)

1 inch piece of ginger

6 garlic cloves

Cut tofu into cubes, draining off most of water.  Put into a small container.  Smash garlic and ginger, removing peels, and put on top of tofu.  Add all remaining ingredients.  Close container, if possible, and leave in fridge for 8-60 hours.

Heat oven to 350.  Oil a baking sheet, and pour tofu and garlic/ginger out onto it.  Bake for one hour.

Easy ga kho gung (Vietnamese braised chicken with ginger) [based on my mom’s recipe]

23 Jul

Slow-cooked chicken with ginger, garlic, and onions.  I love this recipe.  It’s one of those classic home-cooking recipes that you aren’t likely to see at a restaurant, but every family makes it.  In fact, when I was in Vietnam several years ago I made some friends and visited their village for one night.  They showed me how to grow rice in their paddy, and we walked around the village, and practiced driving a motor scooter while trying to avoid the water buffalo that hung out on the roads.  At night their mom made us a big feast for dinner, consisting of rice from said paddy, rau muong xao toi, and this braised chicken (freshly killed from their neighbor).  Very traditional, very delicious.

I also ask my mom for it every time I make it, so I thought I’d blog it so I could stop bugging her.  I’ll tell you how I do it and also make notes for where my mom takes more time and makes it more delicious than I do.  Also, it’s made with items that you probably have in your pantry (we buy garlic from Costco and always have onions and ginger and frozen chicken parts).

This is a RAW file.  I'm just kidding it's a jpeg.

This is a RAW file. I’m just kidding it’s a jpeg.

If you don’t have fish sauce in your pantry and you’re interested in making Vietnamese food ever, then you should buy a bottle.  If you aren’t, then I’m not sure why you’re reading this post.  I like using coconut water/juice (I always keep it around because it’s all I drink when I’m sick), but water or chicken broth work great too.

My mom always soaks chicken in salted water for half an hour before cooking it, “to get rid of the smell.”  Brining does keep the chicken super moist, but I’m always too lazy to do it.  It’s good if you feel like it though!

Also, traditionally the chicken parts are chopped up into bite-size pieces for this dish.  Part of that is frugality and part of it is flavor- more surface area to soak in more of the sauce.  Plus it’s fun to bust out your cleaver!  I generally make the pieces baby-fist sized (so three or four bites) because I am lazy.  You could also not chop them.

I guess they had to give that suburban sitcom star a nickname instead of just calling him by his last name.  Then it'd sound like a serial killer sitcom instead of a family one: Leave it to Cleaver!

I guess they had to give that suburban sitcom star a nickname instead of just calling him by his last name. Then it’d sound like a serial killer sitcom instead of a family one: Leave it to Cleaver!

Next, chop up some garlic, onion, and ginger.  A few thoughts on this: for our wedding someone gave us a mortar and pestle, and it is AWESOME for garlic.  I don’t even peel or smash the cloves, I just throw them in and smash them a couple times.  The paper falls off and you can pick it out.  This isn’t great if you care about uniform sizes, but if you want a ton of garlic quickly smashed into smallish pieces, this is definitely the way to go.

If the actress from Young Frankenstein comes up to you and wants to fight, try to walk away.  You'll get Teri Garr-licked in no time.

If the actress from Young Frankenstein comes up to you and wants to fight, try to walk away. You’ll get Teri Garr-licked in no time.

I am a total sucker for those stupid “17 life hacks that will change the way you sit on a couch!!!” articles.  I’ve seen “one weird trick” a few times for peeling ginger: use a spoon.  Unfortunately, this one actually works!  Especially if you have a fairly smooth/not-too-knobby piece of ginger.  Just push the spoon tip in at one end of peel, eating side facing the ginger, and pull down while pushing into the ginger.  I can’t believe this worked and now I’ll go nail polish my keys so I don’t mix them up and save my bread bag close-things to label cords.

I actually have naked ginger in my house a lot (my baby is a redhead!)

I actually have naked ginger in my house a lot (my baby is a redhead!)

You’ll want diced onion, smashed pieces of garlic, and matchsticks of ginger.  Throw that in with your chicken (if you brined it, toss the brine), along with sugar and salt, and let it marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Just like in the human world, in horse races there are far more males than females.  I've been to exactly one horse race in my life, and it was almost all stallions, but there was one lane with a female.  There was a mare in eight.

Just like in the human world, in horse races there are far more males than females. I’ve been to exactly one horse race in my life, and it was almost all stallions, but there was one lane with a female. There was a mare in eight.  [I just told my husband this caption, and his response: “our kid is going to love you.”  Not even a chuckle from him!]

My mom first browns the chicken in a little bit of oil, then adds in the garlic, ginger, onion.  I actually marinated it in the pot, and just put the pot on the stove and turned it on.  Like I said, super easy.  Put it on high, add some fish sauce for flavor, and then your liquid (I used coconut water).  Bring it to a boil, then turn it down and simmer for as long as you have.  The longer you simmer, the richer the flavor.  The chicken will be cooked after about 15 minutes so if you’re in a rush just eat it then.

How cute would it be if we called every adult animal like we call chickens?  Kittenens?  Puppyens?  PUPPY YENS?!?!

How cute would it be if we called every adult animal like we call chickens? Kittenens? Puppyens? PUPPY YENS?!?!

A few minutes before you want to finish it, I like to add some cornstarch to thicken it.  To avoid lumps, put the cornstarch in a small bowl/ramekin and spoon some of the hot liquid into it, then whisk that til smooth.  Add the mix to your pot, and stir.  Then bring it back to a boil.

'don, sob', some', shiratak': these are all rame'kin.

‘don, sob’, some’, shiratak’: these are all rame’kin.

Serve this with rice and plain boiled vegetables to soak up as much of the sauce as you can.

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Easy ga kho gung:

Bone-in chicken pieces (I like thighs, but drumsticks or a whole chicken are also great) [Enough for the number of people you are serving]

1/2 head of garlic (just a lot of garlic.  Like 7 cloves at least)

1 thumb-sized piece of garlic per 4 servings

1/2-1 onion

2 TB sugar

2 TB fish sauce (nuoc mam; we always get Three Crabs brand)

salt, pepper

2 C water or chicken broth or coconut juice

2 TB corn starch

Chop chicken into pieces.  If desired, brine in salt water for half an hour.

Dice onion, smash garlic, and peel and matchstick ginger.  Add to chicken (drain brine, if using) with sugar, and salt and pepper to taste (about 1 TB of salt should be fine, you can always add more fish sauce later).  Stir, and marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight.

If desired, heat 2 TB of oil over medium-high, and brown chicken pieces, 5 minutes.  Then add marinade, and proceed.

If you didn’t brown, just cook the whole thing over medium high.  Add fish sauce and liquid of choice, bring to a boil, stirring a few times (at least two or three times).  Lower heat and simmer at least 15 minutes, or for an hour.

Five minutes before you want to eat, place corn starch into a small bowl.  Spoon in some of the hot liquid, and whisk until smooth.  Add corn starch mix to pot, and incorporate and bring back to a boil.  Boil for one minute while stirring, then turn off stove.

Serve with rice and boiled vegetables.

My mom’s rau muong xao toi (Vietnamese-style morning glory with garlic)

2 Sep

Since my mom’s thit kho recipe is one of my most popular posts, I thought I’d share another traditional Vietnamese recipe.  While I was in Boston, I got to visit the new small Korean grocery store, H Mart, in Cambridge.  So I looked up if they existed in Chicago, and lo and behold there’s one in the suburbs!  We took a trip out there last weekend- I love this grocery store!  There’s a food court in it with delicious Korean food!  And they sell marinated meat, and lots of other goodies that are hard to find elsewhere (the best instant Ramen, enoki mushrooms, Korean melons, lychees, kimchi… I’m just listing stuff we bought.)  In particular, they sell a vegetable under the name ong choy, which is also known as water spinach, morning glory, and in Vietnamese, rau muống.  If you ever go to Vietnam, Rau muống xào tỏi is pretty much the cooked vegetable side dish you’ll get.  Maybe some veggies in a soup, but overall there it’s a lot of fresh veggies with whatever you’re eating, or this garlicky tasty side dish.

I'm not really spoon-feeding you this recipe (muống means "spoon" in Vietnamese)

I’m not really spoon-feeding you this recipe (muống means “spoon” in Vietnamese BOOM BILINGUAL WORD PLAY)

You can also get this dish in Chinese restaurants, where they often put oyster sauce on it.  But we’re cooking Vietnamese today, so fish sauce all the way!  Also, I haven’t seen this dish a ton in Vietnamese restaurants, but it’s in most homes- we compared it to how most American restaurants don’t have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ubiquitous.

My great-aunt has a nifty tool for splitting the woody stems so you can eat them.  But I’m lazy/don’t like stems so I just cut them off and discarded them.  Make sure you wash the veggies really well- just like spinach it’s easy to get dirt in the leaves.  Then chop them into two-inch segments.

Y'all have too many expectations of me and my puns- why can't you leaf me alone?

Y’all have too many expectations of me and my puns- why can’t you leaf me alone?

Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a big skillet over medium-high heat.  Then roughly chop up some garlic cloves and put into the oil.

Garlic can be so sixy (I split one of the cloves in half when peeling it)

Garlic can be so sixy (I split one of the cloves in half when peeling it)

I mean, it's in the name: garlic cLOVE.

I mean, it’s in the name: garlic cLOVE.

Let that cook for a few minutes until very lightly brown, then dump in all of the veggies.

After the chief of police in Houston went on a radical diet, people started calling him light Lee Brown

After the chief of police in Houston went on a radical diet, people started calling him light Lee Brown

If you’ve washed them thoroughly and not dried them, the water sticking to them should be enough.  But if it’s not (like if you start seeing dry looking leaves around), add a handful of water (a couple tablespoons).

This cooks pretty fast- 5-6 minutes fast.  Just like spinach!  Give it a good stir every minute or two; I’m not a constant-stirring kind of person (so I’ve never made risotto).

Cheerleaders eat a lot of salad, right?  They're always cheering RAW-RAW!

Cheerleaders eat a lot of salad, right? They’re always cheering RAW-RAW!

I wonder if some of them like to mix it up and chant PARTIALLY COOKED PARTIALLY COOKED!

I wonder if some of them like to mix it up and chant PARTIALLY COOKED PARTIALLY COOKED!

Just kidding, I know no cheer routine would be so ridiculous.  That just isn't DONE.

Just kidding, I know no cheer routine would be so ridiculous. That just isn’t DONE.

While that’s cooking, make your nuoc cham-dipping sauce.  This is a lot of sugar, some lime juice, some fish sauce, minced garlic, and water.  My mom always says to do it to taste, but it’s roughly equal amounts of sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce as a base, then add an equal amount of water (so double the volume by using water).  Then add a tiny pinch more sugar, and whisk it all together.  Taste it and see if it’s too limey or too fishy, and add water/sugar/lime until it tastes good.  You can mince a few garlic cloves and/or a few hot peppers and add them too- I went with garlic this time.

You could call my mom Ursa Major- she's a big dipper

You could call my mom Ursa Major- she’s a big dipper

My mom likes to dip the cooked veggies in the sauce, but I was feeling lazy so I just poured a bunch of it over the vegetables.  We don’t like adding fish sauce to dishes that are cooking because then the whole house smells like fish sauce- just add it afterwards.  Then I took the leftover garlicky sauce and poured it over some steamed salmon, and we had a meal with white rice.

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Rau muong xao toi (from my mom)

A bunch of ong choy/water spinach/morning glory

Six-eight cloves of garlic

1-2 TB Fish sauce

Half a lime

1-2 TB Sugar

1. Wash the greens WELL.

2. Heat up some oil in a big pan.  Cook rice/protein now if you want.

3. Roughly chop five or six cloves of garlic and add to the oil.

4. Chop up the greens into two inch pieces.  Discard woody stems.

5. When garlic is lightly brown, add the greens to the pan.  Stir.  Cook for five-six minutes, until everything is wilted and cooked-looking.

6. Mix juice of half a lime with 1 TB of sugar.  Add 1 TB of fish sauce and 3 TB of water, stir until sugar is totally dissolved.  Add a pinch more sugar.  Taste.  Add more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar to taste.  Optional: mince two more cloves of garlic and add to dipping sauce.

7. Either serve warm greens with dipping sauce, or pour sauce over greens.  Eat!

My mom’s thit kho (Vietnamese braised pork with eggs)

22 Dec

So I said in my one-year anniversary post that the next post would be this recipe.  I apologize for lying.  I’ll try hard not to!

This is one of my favorite comfort foods.  It reminds me of my dad.  He didn’t make a wide variety of foods, but the ones he did he did right- bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew) with fresh bread from the store, bun mang vit (duck noodle soup with bamboo), pho ga (chicken pho, using two chickens), prime rib with twice-baked potatoes, and thit kho.  I also remember a lot of broccoli covered in cheese whiz, green beans dipped in hard boiled eggs crushed into soy sauce, and crackers covered in pieces of banana and cheese (I just tried to google this and got a woman who ate bananas + cheez whiz.  I am not willing to recreate this to show you a picture, you’ll just have to imagine the glory).

I don't want to support Cheese Whiz, so here is a pretty picture from this blog with a recipe for real cheese sauce.  Click on picture to go to Iowa Girl Eats.

I don’t want to support Cheese Whiz, so here is a pretty picture from this blog with a recipe for real cheese sauce. Click on picture to go to Iowa Girl Eats.

Luckily my mom also knows how to make thit kho, and I have an old email from my dad with the recipe for bo kho.  I doubt I’ll ever have pho ga or bun mang vit as delicious as he made it, but I will eventually try those too.  When I have a little more confidence with my Vietnamese cooking.

Thit kho is a wonderful food- sweet, fatty, salty.  The caramelized sugars play so well with the coconut juice, and the hard boiled eggs soaked in sauce are awesome when mashed into rice, with more sauce spooned on top.

You might want to hit the gym- looking a little porky there

You might want to hit the gym- looking a little porky there

Lots of recipes for this use just pork belly, but that’s a little TOO fatty for me.  I think it’s good to do 1/2 pork shoulder and 1/2 pork belly, or even 1/3 belly and 1/3 shoulder.  Marinate the pork with salt, pepper, and some minced garlic for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, boil a bunch of eggs.  I like to put my eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, let boil for about a minute, and then turn off heat and cover.  Forget about them (or check on them after 10 minutes or so).  Then drain off the hot water and pour cool water into the pot so you don’t burn yourself trying to peel them.  To peel the warm eggs, crack them on the rim of the pot, then peel the shell off into the water, giving them a quick rinse to get rid of any extra eggshells.  Then you can dump the water through a colander to throw out the egg shells (or use them in your compost!)

Caution: it's about to get eggstremely hot in here

Caution: it’s about to get eggstremely hot in here

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Turns out eggs can’t handle the eggstreme condition (of being cracked and peeled), but who would?

My mom likes to brown the pork in a bit of oil first, but this is an optional step.

Come on over and meat the family!  We're all very close- you could say we're cut from the same cloth.  If by cloth you mean animal.

Come on over and meat the family! We’re all very close- you could say we’re cut from the same cloth. If by cloth you mean animal.

Not an optional step: cook rice!  My roommate has an awesome rice cooker that I love to use, but I guess now is a good time to start rice in a pot if you want to do that.

Ohhh yeah baby you know how to turn me on.  It's really not that hard.

Ohhh yeah baby you know how to turn me on. It’s really not that hard.

Now for the fun part!  Put some sugar in a pot (yes I’m going to be that vague.  Verbatim from my mother: “not too much.  Oh that’s sort of a lot.”)  Turn the heat to medium and WATCH IT CAREFULLY.

P1010479 P1010480 P1010481 P1010482 P1010483 P1010484

It’ll go from sugar, to a syrup, to light brown, and finally to a deep brown.  MAKE SURE YOU PAY ATTENTION HERE because you don’t want it to burn.  When it’s that pretty color, toss in the pork and stir it around.

That's weird, it's like everyone has changed since you met us.

That’s weird, it’s like everyone has changed since you met us.

The Canadian saw this cooking and said "Pork, eh?".  The chef was Mexican and answered "because it's food?"
The Canadian saw this cooking and said “Pork, eh?”. The chef was Mexican and answered “because it’s food?”

Then dump in a bunch of coconut water.

I'm coco for coconut water!  I go nuts for coconut water!  There's no con in coconut water!  I should go into advertising.

I’m coco for coconut water! I go nuts for coconut water! There’s no con in coconut water! I should go into advertising.

Add in the eggs, and let simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until pork is cooked.  Turn off the heat, and dump in a bunch of fish sauce and some black pepper.  Serve over white rice with steamed veggies or the bean sprout salad below.

Bean sprout salad: microwave a few handfuls of beansprout in a plastic bag for 1 min and 30 seconds.  Check how crispy they are.  If you like them softer, keep microwaving in 30 second intervals.

Make a dressing: mix a lot of rice vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, and a few drops of sesame oil.

We have all our labels on already, so we're willing to help out with someone dressing.  Don't know why someone would need help with that.

We have all our labels on already, so we’re willing to help out with someone dressing. Don’t know why someone would need help with that.

Cut up whatever herbs you have (we had cilantro and green onion, but basil, mint, parsley would all be fine too) very finely, and toss with the beansprouts and dressing.

These bean sprouts don't seem to be dressed... where's the paper?

These bean sprouts don’t seem to be dressed… where’s the paper?

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Thit kho (from my mom!)

2 lbs of pork- your choice of how much to do belly and how much shoulder/butt.

Garlic

Fish sauce

Sugar

Pepper

Eggs (1-2 per person)

Coconut water

Salad: bean sprouts, fresh herbs, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil

1. Cut the pork up into 2-inch chunks.  Season with salt, pepper, and minced garlic.  Refrigerate while you hardboil the eggs and start cooking the rice.  Since it takes awhile to hardboil eggs, if a half hour hasn’t passed yet this is a good time to make that salad- microwave the bean sprouts for 1-2 minutes.  Mix 2 TB rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, and a few drops of sesame oil.  Mince herbs.  Toss with bean sprouts and dressing and set aside.

2. (optional) Quickly sear pork cubes on all sides to get them a little brown.  Alternately, parboil the pork for a minute or two to get rid of the gunk and have a slightly clearer sauce.  Alternately, do neither of these things (which I do most often).

3. CAREFULLY caramelize 3 TB or so of sugar (see pictures above). Immediately stir in the pork and pour in about a cup of coconut juice/soda (I love cocorico).  If you have a sweet tooth, use all coconut juice (I do!), but otherwise, add in enough water to cover the pork.  Bring to a simmer.

4. Peel your eggs.  Toss em in.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until pork is done.  Eat over white rice with the bean sprouts.

Turducken day 1: getting a turkey at the last minute, chef’s treats, and brine

1 Jun

I owe lots of math posts.  I know.  But it’s my birthday (well, it was on Wednesday) so give me some leeway.  My boyfriend got me flowers for it!

Finally a different kind of flour on this blog!

Finally a different kind of flour on this blog!

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday, and so I have it for my birthday every year (as in I did it last year and am doing it this year).  Last year I’d never had turducken before but after that experience I decided I’ll do it every year (until I’m sick of it).

If you’re planning on making a turducken for June 1st or Thanksgiving, make sure you plan ahead.  Or do what I did.  Or buy a premade turducken but where’s the fun in that?  The next paragraph is complaining you can skip it I’ll probably edit/shorten it later when I’m not as mad.

I called the store last Sunday around 10 a.m. to order a turkey and duck.  They asked me to call back the next day so the manager could talk to me.  So I called on Monday around 4:20 p.m., and he asked me to call back on Wednesday between 7 and 4 to talk to the manager, and that he’d leave a note for the manager anyway.  At this point I’m in high worry mode and should’ve switched stores, but this is my local grocery store that I shop at every week and I have some cognitive dissonance-type loyalty to it.  I call back on Wednesday and talk to the manager, who tells me he wasn’t in yesterday (Tuesday) before continuing our conversation.  He says he’ll have the birds ready for Friday, and I say I’ll pick up in the evening around 5.

At 5 p.m. on Friday THE DAY BEFORE THE TURDUCKEN he calls me to tell me he didn’t get EITHER the duck or the turkey.  I am FLIPPING OUT but also have to focus on problem solving and I don’t yell at him.  He suggests I call one other Jewel.  I call that one.  This guy is much more apologetic on behalf of Jewel and suggests another Jewel as well as two other stores.  I call the other Jewel, and that guy brainstorms with two other people in the store before concluding they can’t help me.  Chicago’s sky has been looking ominous the whole day so I start biking like crazy to get home before the thunderstorm, and then I stop at this magical store I’ve never been to on the way.

 

Mariano%27sMarket-West%20Loop.jpg

I just want to give Mariano’s a big hug.  They had fresh chicken and frozen turkey, goose, duck, and cornish hens.  I spent a good amount of time munching on their FREE SAMPLES (my favorite thing in grocery stores) and wondering if I should switch my Turducken to a Gooduckhen instead.  We don’t own cars so I was waiting for my boyfriend to come with his bike while I was sipping some acai berry liquor

Anyways, he took the 20 pounds of turkey in his backpack and I took the 5 pound chicken and 6 pound duck in mine and we headed home.  Immediately popped the frozen turkey and duck into a cooler filled with cool water.  Lots of sites will tell you that you can speed thaw with a sink or bucket but you have to change the cool water every half hour.  If you don’t peek at your cooler you should be OK for a few hours (we changed every two or three).  Bacteria is no joke.

I wonder if they do this in Bath, England

I wonder if they do this in Bath, England

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The birds.

I’ll do another post about butchering.  This is about all the yummy tidbits on the way!

Basically it’s not worth all the hassle of deboning chicken wings, and unless you really care about those scraps of meat, the same goes for duck wings.  That means you get chef’s treats!  I was in the middle of doing a lot of other stuff so I just slathered the wings in barbecue sauce and threw them into a 375 oven for awhile.  Maybe 45 minutes?  Until they were done and yummy.

Wings are trying to fly away in the background

Wings are trying to fly away in the background

Meanwhile I threw the carcasses into a big stock pot with some bay leaves, a carrot remnant from the stuffing, and half an onion.  That just simmered for several hours while I was doing other things.  In particular, there was too much stuffing for the bowl I stored it in overnight, so we got a mini-casserole of sausage-apple stuffing as our second course:

There's not much, but this really is stuffing

There’s not much, but this really is stuffing

We munched on some avocados for a third course, sprinkled with lime and salt, which was a nice transition into our next course: Vietnamese chicken salad.

This photo makes me want to cuke

This photo makes me want to cuke

I used tongs to pull off all the meat from the bones that were simmering (neck, wing tips, ribcage, etc.), which basically melted off.  Then mixed in some cucumbers, thought about shredding in fresh mint and then realized I had none but if you do this add fresh mint and cabbage, and dressed it with lime juice-fish sauce-sugar-water dressing.  Topped off with fresh pepper.  This is delicious, reminds me of my mom, and is super easy and light.

He’d actually taken me to Elizabeth for birthday dinner, so this was like home-Elizabeth with only five courses instead of nine.  Dessert was duck skin crackling with maple syrup.

When butchering a duck you get LOTS of excess skin/fat.  So I decided to render the fat for later use, and this had the happy effect of making crackling!  Cut your duck skin into about one inch pieces (it shrinks when frying) and fry it until light golden brown.  BE CAREFUL THIS SPATTERS A TON

Shielding myself from the spatter

Shielding myself from the spatter

But it is delicious!  I dusted some of them with flour to get a little more crackle, and topped them with maple syrup for dessert.  So tasty!

So that was my chef’s treats from day 1 of making the turducken.  I highly recommend taking two days: butcher all the birds and brine them the night before, and then stuff and roast on day 2.  Today is day 2 and there’ll be more posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a picture of the birds floating in brine that my boyfriend made; I have no idea what’s in it:

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