Braised Straw Mushrooms (Nam Kho Ca Recipe)
Nấm kho cà tô mát, which translates to "braised mushrooms in tomatoes" in Vietnamese, was my late grandma's (Bà Ngoại) specialty. Bà Ngoại was an excellent cook; she mastered vegetarian cooking in particular. This dish resembles sweet tomato beef because of the texture of dried straw mushrooms in the sweet and sour sauce. The preparation is fairly simple. A lot of garlic and a fair amount of different soy sauces (zesty, sweet and salty) really make the dish flavorful. The sweetness and tanginess from the fresh tomatoes gives the final touch for this quick side dish.
As a child, I didn't come often to Vietnam to visit my grandma but I always remember all the wonderful stories she told me. Bà Ngoại used to be the director of a Saigonese school and was proud to educate and empower Vietnamese women through various disciplines, including culinary arts among others. I remember she was a very strong-minded lady who really represented the essence of Vietnam. I'm not saying this just because she was my grandmother, but she was such a great role model, always dedicated to excellence and so devoted to her children, especially during times of crisis. She was an admirable woman.
Yields: 6 servings4 tomatoes
4 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1-½ cups dried straw mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
2 tablespoons ponzu soy sauce
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce (see tips)
3 tablespoons sweet and savory cooking sauce (see tips)
3/4 cup coconut soda (or water), up to 1 cup
Prepping the dried straw mushrooms: Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour a cup of boiling water over them. Soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, draining the soaking liquid. Rinse in several water baths. Set aside.
Prepping the tomatoes: Cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise. In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add 2 teaspoons of garlic. Place the tomatoes in the skillet flesh side down for about a minute on each side until slightly browned and caramelized. Transfer to a platter. Allow to cool a little. Once they're cool enough to handle, cut them in small wedges.
Assembly time: In the same skillet, add the remaining oil. Add the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the soaked mushrooms. Stir fry for a minute, then add the ponzu soy sauce. Cook for another minute, then add the regular soy sauce and the sweet and savory cooking sauce. Add the coconut soda (or water), bring to a boil, then add the tomato wedges. Cover with a lid and cook over medium-low until the sauce reduces by half.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
I used Mr. Yoshida's brand sweet and savory cooking sauce for its thick, sweet quality. I bought it at Costco. If you don't have any, you could replace it with ketchup but then I would advise using water instead of coconut soda; otherwise the dish will be too sweet.
The soy sauce brings saltiness to the dish and a nice amber brown color. My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a good flavor and isn't too salty.
I use Ponzu soy sauce; it's lemony and less salty than regular soy sauce.
You can find most ingredients listed in any Asian markets.
You could remove the skin from the tomatoes (I didn't). This step is optional but if you find tomato skin unpleasant to chew, here's a neat method for peeling tomatoes. Make a small, shallow criss-cross cut at the bottom of the fresh tomatoes using a bread knife (I use a bread knife because the blade won't bruise the fruit). Fill a small saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Place the tomatoes in the water and wait for at least 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes quickly (I use a large strainer or a slotted spoon), then transfer to an ice cold bath to stop the cooking process. The skin will come right off.Published By: on March 24, 2011.