Archive for the ‘vietnamese’ Category

Fresh Spring Rolls

In appetiser, eastern, salad, vege, vietnamese on October 21, 2012 at 4:16 pm

When it comes to traditional food, I’d say, stick to the tradition! Why mess with a good thing?

When truffle mooncakes appeared at the office, everyone made a beeline for them. I too was curious. I took a bite and… I can’t even describe the taste. No one could. It was very strange and AWFUL. So bad you’d want to spit it out. Sometimes, simplicity is really the best policy. All this fusion thing for the sake of being different is not working.

Which is why I like Bobby Chinn’s take on the Vietnamese spring rolls. I’m not sure if this is the original traditional version, but I’ve tried a few (including one with mango – didn’t work) and this is the best so far.

There are lots of vege in this, and it is surprisingly filling. Great for a simple meal if you’ve been pigging out. If cows can survive on greens (and they have four stomaches), so can you.

It’s easy to make. Just a matter of assembly. Except for the rice vermicelli and prawns, everything else is raw.  I favour steaming the prawns over boiling to retain the nutrients. Be careful not to overcook or you’ll get a rubbery texture.

Shopping list: rice papers, rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint, coriander, chive; for the fish sauce dip: rice vinegar, sugar, bird’s-eye chilli, garlic, lime, fish sauce

Hardware: salad spinner and a very large plate to soak the rice papers flat (you can also use a cake pan or baking tray)

Can I do it?: Of course. Assembly is easier than putting together IKEA furniture. But you do need a delicate touch not to tear the soft rice paper.

Credit: Vietnamese Cooking by Bobby Chinn. Full recipe here.

Tip 1: For the leaves, buy just enough a day or two before you make the rolls. Leaves don’t keep well. Wrap in newspapers if you need to store them in the fridge. Don’t leave them in plastic wrappers as condensation will ruin them. Use a salad spinner to get rid of excess water after washing.

Tip 2: Consume immediately. If you need to prepare these beforehand, place a damp muslin cloth (kitchen rolls will do too) over them to keep the rice paper from hardening.



Roast Aubergine with Shallot Oil

In roast, vege, vietnamese on March 7, 2011 at 3:39 am

Brinjal is one of my favourite vegetables. Slice, rub with light soya sauce and pan-fry wit a little oil and ta-daa!! – a tasty, simple dish to go with rice. The brinjal yong tau foo (a variety of ingredients stuffed with fish paste) is also a must-have for me.

For something a bit more impressive, try this great Vietnamese dish. The ingredients are easy to get and it’s hard to screw up this recipe.

What I really love about this is the layers of tastes. First, the smoky burnt headiness. If you always burn your food, this is the dish for you. Place the brinjals over a fire (your gas stove burner will do) until the skin is burnt on all sides. Black is good (you can peel off the burnt bits later), as this means the insides are completely cooked. Eating raw brinjal is like eating an unripe banana. Not pleasant. Then, you have the wicked taste of fish sauce dip heated together with spring onions. A drizzle of shallot oil. A generous sprinkling of crispy-fried shallots, crunchy and sweet-sharp. Heaven!

I’ve made this twice. First was the best (like first love), because I read from the recipe book. Second time, so-so to me but my parents loved it. They came down after Chinese New Year and I was really excited about making this for them, and teaching my mum a new way to cook brinjal.

I was winging it and had left out one ingredient (spring onion – which I couldn’t get from my regular supermarket and mini market – damn climate change and erratic food supply!) and forgotten the seasoning (salt and pepper) and one step (poking holes into the brinjal before grilling it). Oh, and strangely, I couldn’t find any long brinjals (which are always available – must be the climate change again), so, had to settle for the round eggplant.

As my father was getting hungry (and cranky) I also skipped leaving the grilled brinjal to sweat it out in a plastic bag. It still turned out okay but could’ve been better if I followed everything to the T. Sometimes, I leave out or substitute ingredients I can’t get or skip steps to speed things up. But this is one instance where the best results are guaranteed only if you use everything on the ingredient list and follow every single step.

Shopping list: brinjal/eggplant/aubergine (get the slender type – the round ones are less flavourful and are harder to cook evenly), spring onions, and for the fish sauce dip: cili padi and lime juice

From the pantry: crispy-fried shallots (make your own – you can buy but they’re all crunch and no taste), shallot oil (from frying the shallots), salt, black pepper, and for the fish sauce dip: rice vinegar, fish sauce and garlic

Hardware: plastic bag

Can I do it?: Idiot-proof. You can burn your food!

Tip: Want to do something different at a barbecue? Serve this! The fire’s ready. Just prepare the fish sauce dip and fried shallots in advance.

Credit: Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn

Chicken or Fish?

In chicken, eastern, fish, soup, vietnamese on January 12, 2011 at 1:25 am

Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup - part of my lunch at work! Oops! I forgot to take a picture of the Chicken Noodle Soup. I'm sure you can imagine what soup looks like.

I’ve been cooking a lot of Western soups, where the method is boil and blend. Getting a hold of Bobby Chinn’s Vietnamese Cooking brought me back to my Eastern roots.

Eastern soups are always clear and light, sometimes sour or salty, which you’d rarely find with the Western kind. They also need a lot more ingredients, which can be a hassle.

This time around, I tried the Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup. Cooking it back to back over two weekends gave me a sense of Vietnamese cooking. Two words – fish sauce. This ingredient is to Vietnamese cooking what oyster sauce is to Chinese. Remember Wok With Yan? “If Yan can cook, so can you!!” He used oyster sauce and Chinese rice wine for almost everything.

Now I have a use for the fish sauce I bought. I’ve only used it once as a marinade for a chicken and onion dish (friend’s mum’s recipe – yummilicious!). Fish sauce is essentially anchovy extract, salt and sugar. Friend’s mum recommends the Squid brand.

Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup

This is a hearty soup and it packs a pleasant surprise with the addition of okra/lady’s fingers (first time I used it in a soup). For the fish stock, I used the cubed kind. Bobby’s fish stock uses fish bones, celery, leek, onion, parsley, garlic and bay leaves, so you can add these in if you have them lying around.

This recipe calls for barramundi fillets, but I suppose any fish will do. I can’t tell my fishes apart (except for the obvious one like pomfret, eel, catfish and yellow tail), so I just asked my regular fishmonger for ‘fish good for soup’.

The soup also contains pineapple and tomatoes. If you put in a lot, the soup can be a meal on its own.

Shopping list: barramundi fillet, pineapple (ask the seller which type is suitable for soups), okra, red chilli, tomatoes, celery leaves, beansprouts, mint leaves, coriander leaves

From the pantry: tamarind (for tamarind water), sugar

Can I do it?: Easy enough but tedious on cutting up the pineapple.

Credit: Vietnamese Cooking by Bobby Chinn

Tip: If you made too much tamarind juice, freeze in an ice cube tray. Keep the cubes in a Ziploc bag for future use. For the bean sprouts, buy just enough a day or two before your cooking day. They don’t keep well and turn brown and icky easily. Wrap in newspapers! Don’t leave them in the plastic bag because condensation will ruin it fast.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Compared to the fish soup, there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in this. Besides the shreds of chicken meat, star anise and cinnamon stick, you don’t see much of anything else apart from the garnishing. It’s meant to be enjoyed with noodles, but I prefer it on its own.

The surprise in this is the charred ginger and shallots, which give the soup an interesting layer of taste. If I’m a wine snob, I would write this like a wine review.

For the stock, I used Knorr Chicken Stock (in powder form, for professional use) because making stock from scratch takes too much time. Again, if you have these stock ingredients at hand, just add them to the soup: parsley, garlic, peppercorns, onions, carrots, celery and leek.

And here’s something I learned from Chef James Thong of the Loaf. Chefs don’t waste. If you have any stalks from herbs, don’t throw them away. Save them in Ziploc bags and store in the freezer. I also keep the stalks of leafy vegetables, which I don’t eat anyway. When you’re making stock or any soup, just add the stalks in. Good for extra flavour and additional nutrients.

Of the two soups, I prefer the fish one. The fish sauce, pineapple and tamarind gives it a nice twang.

Shopping list: chicken breast, ginger, and for the garnishing: spring onion, coriander, Thai basil, cili padi, lime

From the pantry: chicken stock (cube, powder, liquid, whatever you fancy), shallots, star anise, cinnamon stick, fish sauce, sugar, rice noodles, black pepper

Can I do it?: Easy lah, soup mah…

Credit: Vietnamese Cooking by Bobby Chinn

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