Vietnamese Cuisine Recipes

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Bottle Gourd Recipe with Tofu Recipe

Bottle Gourd Recipe with Tofu

01.24.11 by Jackie

Trái bàu translates to calabash, bottle gourd, long melon or opo squash. It's a very common vegetable used in Vietnamese cuisine. The shape is cylindrical and the color is light green. It's best harvested while still young. It can be boiled, stir-fried or added to soups. The texture is very similar to zucchini; the flesh is very soft, spongy and tastes mildly sweet.

Whenever I look at calabash, it makes me think of a very nice lady named Trần and her lovely family. Last year, I got to meet Trần through PhamFatale.com. She read my article about the dragon fruit that I bought at the market and she kindly offered to give me dragon fruit trees her mother grows as a hobby. Trần's mom has magical hands and is a very talented gardener. While visiting their garden in San Jose, I noticed beautiful, giant calabash growing on vines hung over a trellis. I took a few home with me and they were the some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m going to try and to grow some of my own this year, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

For this particular version I made a quick vegetable stir-fry, using miso and honey. In honor of the upcoming Asian New Year, I'm determined to eat vegetarian for a week and at the same time, shed a few pounds.  This recipe was a great way to kick off my challenge.


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Banh Mi Mam Chay (Vietnamese Vegetarian Sandwich Recipe) Recipe

A lot of Vietnamese dishes are inspired by French cuisine, because Vietnam was a longtime colony of the French empire. Bánh mì sandwich is an example of a dish that reflects the fusion of both cuisines. The sandwich consists of cilantro, fresh chiles, pickled carrots and usually a meat filling (grilled chicken, which is shredded meat with roasted rice powder) or sometimes a vegetarian filling, served on a baguette, spread with mayonnaise on one side and butter on the other.

For the veggie option, I normally fill the sandwiches with bì chay (shredded tofu with roasted rice powder). But this time, Aunt Danielle stopped by and we made mắm chay. She knows it's my husband Lulu's favorite, so she makes it very often. As I've said before, Aunt Danielle is a sweetheart and an amazing cook, except that she does not share her recipes. She used to run a successful restaurant in the early 90s. She taught me a lot of Vietnamese staple dishes to cook for the family until she found out about PhamFatale.com through her friends. I had to confess and she was not happy. It's funny; family and friends are a lot more reluctant to share their tips and secrets with me, so I have to do a little bit of recon and intelligence gathering.

In the end, Aunt Danielle hasn't entirely showed me how to make mắm chay. We prepped and mixed the ingredients together but she hid a few tricks from me. All I can tell you is that there are a lot of ingredients similar to bì chay involved, such as fried tofu, bean thread noodles, dry roasted rice powder (thinh) and seasonings (fried garlic, sugar and salt). What makes it different from bì chay is the addition of galangal (a type of ginger), young pickling cucumber, chayote squash (trái su su), ripe papaya, fresh pineapple and dried daikon radish cured in brine.

Even though the sandwich is reminiscent of the typical French jambon-beurre (ham and butter sandwich), bánh mì provides a taste of Vietnam. Lulu's been addicted ever since I first introduced him to the Vietnamese version, and if you try one, you will be too!


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Ca Nuc Kho (Traditional Vietnamese Whole Mackerel in Sugarcane Sauce) Recipe

Cá nục kho mía literally translates to "mackerel braised in sugarcane sauce". It's the fish traditionally served in  a Vietnamese claypot. The dark caramel ginger sauce is made from galangal and sugarcane juice (nước mía in Vietnamese).

Mackerel is high in Omega 3 oils but can have a strong fishy flavor. There are several steps that can be taken to ensure this dish is absolutely delicious. First, when you're at the market, make sure the fish is fresh; fresh mackerel shouldn't smell fishy. Look for clear-eyed fish with bright, shiny scales. The second step is to clean the inside of the fish thoroughly in several water baths and let the fish rest in a vinegary solution for a few minutes. The last part is to use a lot of shallots and galangal, which has a sharper, more aromatic flavor than ginger. It's slightly more expensive than ginger but it's well worth it.

I served the fish with steamed jasmine rice and sautéed rau muống (Vietnamese pea shoot tendrils) with fresh chestnuts and wood ear mushrooms.


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Bun Rieu Chay Recipe (Vietnamese Vegetarian Vermicelli Rice Noodle Soup) Recipe

Bún riêu cua is traditionally a vermicelli rice noodle soup made with tomato broth, meat, crab and shrimp paste. I'm not a very big fan of the meat flavors with shrimp paste so I usually make it meatless, using a paste of soybeans (and add the crab separately). The visuals and texture resemble the crab patties and the broth has the same fragrance from the sweet tomatoes.

The soup is typical Vietnamese comfort food. It's paired with the usual Vietnamese aromatic herbs and topped with other vegetables and fried tofu for a complete meal.


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 Vietnamese Grilled Beef Rolls (Bo Cuong Hanh Huong Recipe) Recipe

Bò nướng hành hương is a wonderful South-Vietnamese specialty. It's a dish of beef wrapped around sliced yellow and green onions, then grilled to medium doneness. The beef is infused with the aromatic scent of green onions and five-spice powder rub with honey. The blend of all the flavors gives the meat a sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty taste.

The dish is traditionally served with vermicelli rice noodles (bún) and aromatic Vietnamese herbs, but I served mine with nước chấm, ginger guava sauce and crushed peanuts. The main component of ginger guava sauce is guava jam. It can be difficult to find, but it's available in some Indian stores. Make the effort to find it because the flavor is amazing, and it contrasts with the beef very well.

I make this dish quite often for parties because it's easy to eat in one or two bites and doesn't interrupt conversations. Try it as an appetizer at your next dinner party. Your guests will love you!

Note: Glossary of relevant Vietnamese cooking terms.

= beef

Bún = vermicelli rice noodles

Cuốn = rolled

Hành = onions

Hành hương = aromatic onions

Nướng = beef

Thịt = meat

 


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