Vietnamese

Eating Saigon 2.0: So much crab, I got hives + one of my favorite street foods in Vietnam

Following my early July 2014 trip to Vietnam where I attended the KOTO fundraising gala, I returned to Saigon just a few weeks later to do another guest appearance on MasterChef Vietnam season 2 and work with the show’s sponsor, Knorr Vietnam. You know I can’t go to Vietnam without eating Saigon, so here’s what I had this time around.
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Eating Saigon 1.0: 3 different regions, 1 city in Vietnam

Happy new year (again)! In continuing the closer look we’re taking at Vietnamese traditions, like those of lunar new year, today I’m actually taking you back to Vietnam.

I was born in California and didn’t visit the country of my heritage until I was 18. It would be another 16 years after that first pilgrimage before I’d returned to Vietnam again. Consequently, this second trip was after MasterChef, and I was going to Vietnam to appear in the inaugural season of “MasterChef” Vietnam as a celebrity guest judge. Since then, I’ve been back to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City an additional three times, and on each trip, I eat to my stomach’s content.

Food in Vietnam, especially the “street food,”* is delicious and inexpensive—it’s my absolute favorite stuff to eat over there.

And so in the spirit of street food’s no frills, no nonsense attitude, I’ll get right down to business and deliver the goods.
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Happy year of the goat!

**Please excuse the many misspelled Vietnamese words in the following entry, as I don’t have the software to write proper Vietnamese, accents and all.

This Thursday marks the lunar new year, or Tê’t, as we call it in Vietnamese. Growing up, the red envelopes containing minted bills (or—like xì—were my most anticipated new year tradition. It meant I was that much closer to that Super Mario game or, when I was in high school, that Green Day CD.

Another fond memory of Tê’t was the banh chung my grandmother made not only for us but all the extended family members that visited over the week-long holiday. Bánh chung (or banh Tê’t as they’re known in the Vietnamese South) are glutinous rice cakes filled with pork and mung bean and wrapped in banana leaves prior to steaming. The leaves impart a hint of green and earthiness on to the rice, which is why it’s no surprise they are meant to symbolize the earth. My grandmother and aunt made dozens of them, and sometimes I would help tie the red decorative ribbons around the massive cakes before stacking them on to the dining table. There they rested like stacks of sandbags, waiting to be gifted to our relatives.
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I Am Vietnamese: A project anthology

My achievements as a Blind Cook often supersede my identity as a writer. That’s what I was before I went on “MasterChef,” and that’s what I still consider myself, in spite of my latest lackluster attempts at the memoir. (That’s a discussion for another day.)

In fact, I find writing much more challenging than cooking; results are less tangible, and gratification, if it comes at all, is way delayed.
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Leftover Thanksgiving turkey congee

Thanksgiving is done, but the leftovers are not. Because Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday (and with that comes the love of traditional Thanksgiving food), the hubs and I usually cook enough fowl to feed family, friends, and ourselves for days, even weeks.

This year was no exception: we sous vide a turkey and fried two turkeys. We vacuum sealed most of the leftover turkey to make it last as long as possible in the fridge. (You can freeze the turkey leftovers too.)
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Sous vide pork belly bao

Last week, I posted a video about my menu for the Ikea Supper Club: five courses of small offerings that reflected both my heritage and upbringing. A month has gone by since the Supper Club, and I still reflect upon the menu fondly.

The guests seemed to thoroughly enjoy the dishes (or at least that’s what they told me), and when asked which was their favorite, a majority said it was the sous vide pork belly bao.

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Simple sous vide Vietnamese short ribs

Our family has been obsessed with sous vide ever since we got a PolyScience immersion circulator. The great thins about sous vide cooking are: (1) the prep is minimal (just set it and forget it); and (2) the results are perfect (granted your ingredient and ratios were perfect going in). The hubster once got overly excited about brining and let his spareribs sit in a salt bath for two days, and after an additional 72 hours in the water bath, the ribs were the best texture but way too salty.

Sous vide is a great technique for tough cuts of meat because the slow cook at low temperatures help turn the fibrous collagen into gelatinous goodness, while preserving the protein’s cell walls so that they don’t break down and leak vital juices.

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Get your slurp on: A foray into other Vietnamese noodle soups

“Brrr…it’s cold outside.” That was the outgoing message my college roommate and I had recorded on our answering machine. Don’t ask why. I think it had something to do with our adoration of Chilly Willy. But today, it is cold outside. It was a freezing 25°F last night in Houston. But who am I to complain? The northern states saw an insane −44°F (according to the hubster). I didn’t even think that was possible outside of the Antarctic.

I am so not a cold weather person. So when it gets down to the 20s, 30s, even 40s outside, my ideal evening is one spent indoors in fuzzy socks in front of the television with a good book. (I like to multi-task, often reading a book in Braille while listening to a sitcom.) And then I like to sidle up to the kitchen counter and slurp down a bowl of noodle soup. That’s the ultimate comfort food on a cold day.
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Stock & congee: What to do with all that leftover turkey

Our deep-fried turkey before it became a bare carcass.

Your crazy family came and went. Now all that’s left is a big ol’ turkey carcass. Wait, don’t throw anything away just yet. In this time and age when offal eating has become the trend, I’m going to show you what you can do with all those leftover turkey bones.

First, you make turkey stock. Duh! Then, you use that stock to make turkey congee.

Every Asian country has its own version of rice porridge. It’s the ultimate Asian comfort food. Think of the Americans with their chicken noodle soup. Well, the Asians have their rice porridge. It’s what you feed someone under the weather. I admit I used to hate congee or chao (as it’s called in Vietnamese) because it was all my mama let me eat when I was sick. Incidentally, I grew to associate congee only with illness. Of course it left a negative impression on me. But now that I’ve got no mama to cook me homemade congee, I had to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. Now I don’t necessarily eat congee just when I’m sick; I’ll eat it when it’s cold out. (Speaking of which, Houston is finally starting to feel like winter. Yippee!) I eat it because it’s hearty, warm, and best of all, simple to make. I almost always have the ingredients on hand to make congee, but even if I don’t, the great thing about congee is its versatility. You can just about throw anything into it. Perhaps the only requirement is stock or broth and rice. (I’ve even seen some people cook congee with plain water but I don’t recommend this—too plain.)

So read on, and learn how to make turkey stock with that leftover carcass and then, subsequently, turkey congee. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you. Happy winter eating!

 

: Turkey Stock

: Stock can be made from any animal’s bones, but I especially like poultry stock made from chicken, duck, or turkey.

 

  1. 1 bird carcass
  2. 2 to 3 carrots, chopped into 2″ pcs.
  3. 2 to 3 celery stalks, cut into 2″ pcs.
  4. 1 med. onion, chopped
  5. 1 to 2 bay leaves

 

  1. If necessary, chop bones so they will fit into a stockpot. Place bones into a stockpot and fill with enough water to cover. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves. Bring almost to a boil but do not let it boil.
  2. Reduce heat. In the first hr., skim off any scum that floats to the surface. Cover and let simmer for approx 3 hrs.
  3. Turn off heat and let cool. Strain through a mesh sieve into containers, leaving 1/2″ space at the top. (This is to prevent the containers from busting when the stock expands in the freezer.) Discard bones and vegetables.
  4. Refrigerate overnight. Spoon out and discard any gelatenous fat that solidifies at the top before using or freezing.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 3 hour(s)

: Turkey Congee

: Chao is the Vietnamese term for congee.

 

  1. 1 c. uncooked jasmine rice
  2. 4 to 6 c. turkey stock
  3. 3/4 c. leftover turkey meat, shredded
  4. 1/2 med. onion, chopped
  5. 1 sm. pc. ginger, minced
  6. 1 to 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped (optional)
  7. 2 tbsp. fish sauce or to taste
  8. 1 scallion, finely chopped
  9. a few sprigs cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
  10. ground black pepper

 

  1. In a med. saucepan, combine rice, stock, turkey meat, onion, ginger, and carrots if using. Bring to a low boil.
  2. Reduce heat and add fish sauce. Cover and let simmer for approx. 25 min. or until rice reaches desired consistency. Season with ground black pepper and more fish sauce to taste. Garnish with scallion and cilantro. Serve hot.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

Sweet rice with Chinese sausage

Xoi ga lap xuong

Salty from the sausage, sweet from the rice

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe or talked about cooking, for that matter. Enough with all that blind stuff, eh? Let’s take a break from all the tech talk and get back in the kitchen. Last week was my mama’s birthday–she would’ve turned 61–so here’s a dish from her repertoire. A comfort food I crave every so often is xoi lap xuong, a very easy dish to prepare using sticky, sweet rice and Chinese sausage. My mother used to make this and shape the rice into a perfect circle, spreading the sausage in one layer on top so that each bite contained exactly one slice of the dark red, fatty meat. Because this dish was so delicious, I thought it took a lot of skill to make. Little did I know after experimenting in the kitchen years later that xoi lap xuong was a very simple meal.

There are many different components to this dish, and it’s one of those things that different mamas prepare them in different ways. Here is my version along with some possible variations noted below. This is definitely a dish where if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

: Sweet Rice with Chinese Sausage

: Xoi Lap Xuong

 

  1. 1.5 c. uncooked sweet rice
  2. 1/4 to 1/2 c. raw peanuts
  3. 4 to 6 Chinese sausage, sliced on the bias
  4. 3 stalks scallions, finely chopped
  5. 3 shallot cloves, finely sliced
  6. 2 tbsp. oil

 

  1. Steam rice and peanuts together in a rice cooker.
  2. In a lg. skillet, heat oil over med.-high heat. Add scallions and shallots and saute until tender, approx. 5 min. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In the same skillet, pan-fry Chinese sausage over med. heat, stirring frequently until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, set aside.
  4. Serve Chinese sausage over sticky rice. Drizzle oil and scallion and shallot mixture over the top. Season with Maggi sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

 

Since my husband was on a pork fast, I made some chicken for him to eat with the sticky rice. Take 6 chicken thighs and cut into pieces. Marinade with 1 tbsp. honey, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, and salt & pepper to taste. After cooking the Chinese sausage, cook the chicken in the same skillet, using the sausage fat for flavor. You can also serve finely shredded pork (thit cha bong or thit ruoc) over the top–it looks like carpet meat but I grew up with the stuff. You can also added dried onion bits or crispy pork skin. Like I said, there is not one right way to eat this. The only constants are the sweet rice, the oil and scallion mixture, and the Maggi sauce.

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