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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mực Nộm Dưa Leo (Octopus Cucumber Salad)


The sun's harsh rays and hot summer heat here in Sacramento has been making me lazy and losing the will to cook and yet I still need to feed the family. 

Well, how about an octopus cucumber salad?

Crisp, cool, elegant, simple and yet well balanced, this salad is perfect for any summer meal. It's one of the salads that my girls and husband really enjoy. The seasoned octopus that I purchased from my local Oto's Japanese market has a delicate flavor, tastes sweet, and has a tender and only slightly chewy texture which I like. It adds contrasting bites to the refreshing crunchy cucumber slices, and the spicy, tangy, tasty radish sprouts.  The light, deliciously tangy taste of yuzu citrus flavored dressing brings out a clean, refreshing flavor to this octopus salad.  

Don't worry if you can't find this yuzu citrus flavored dressing. You can whip a similar salad up with just a few ingredients: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, lemon juice, or lime juice, or yuzu juice, and sugar.  

Yuzu is a unique Japanese citrus fruit grown in East Asia. It is now inspiring fusion chefs throughout the world. I actually bought a small yuzu tree from Costco this late spring. It might take a couple years to blossom and produce fruit but I am waiting patiently. But you can find bottles of yuzu juice in some Asian markets.
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RECIPE: Octopus Cucumber Salad
Ingredients


1 piece  sushi-grade seasoned octopus
4 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1 pack radish sprouts
1 jalapeño, optional
shredded seaweed, for garnish
bonito flakes, for garnish
1/4 cup yuzu citrus flavored dressing
1 full teaspoon chili oil with crunch garlic, optional
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Directions
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Prepping Octopus


This sushi-grade seasoned octopus is typically pre-cooked.  It  costs around $31 per pound. This small piece I purchased costed me $7. I could have gotten a bigger piece so my daughters and I didn't have to fight for the octopus on the salad plate.

Slice octopus thinly. Set aside.

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Prepping Cucumbers


Slice Persian cucumbers thinly. If used English cucumber, halve each lengthwise, slice cucumber thinly.  Set aside.
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Prepping Radish Sprouts


Trim off  the roots of radish sprouts and discard.  Cut radish sprout into half.  Set aside.

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Prepping Jalapeño


Slice jalapeño thinly. Set aside.
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Prepping Yuzu Citrus Dressing


Shake up  the bottle of the yuzu dressing, then pour 1/4 cup of it to a small bowl.  If used chili oil with crunch garlic, mix a teaspoon of it to the yuzu dressing.  Set aside.

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Tossing the Salad


In a mixing bowl, add the cucumber, octopus, radish sprouts, jalapeño, yuzu dressing and toss all together.  Serve as is or chill in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes.

Before serving, transfer octopus cucumber salad into a serving plate, garnish the octopus salad with a large pinch of shredded seaweed and bonito flakes.


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Presentation



Enjoy!
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Eat well.  Stay healthy. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Canh Khổ Qua Nhồi Tôm Cua - Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup


Khổ Qua (kohl-wa) in English is called bitter melon, bitter gourd, or bitter squash. It has long been used in Vietnamese recipes, often in stir-fry, soup, or added to the diet as a supplement. 


Bitter melon is definitely an acquired taste. The really bitter ones can startle your taste buds if you didn't grow up with it. When I was a kid, my family often prepared bitter melon in our meals and I hated it. It's acrid and sharp on the tongue and I refused to eat it. When I became an adult, I realized how much health benefits is packed into this bitter melon, so I decided to acquire the taste. After a few tries, I am now fond of its unique bitterness. Served in a light, hearty broth with steamed rice, it's quite delicious, refreshing, and addicting. Once you warm up to it's unique bitterness, it opens up your repertoire as you can be creative with the stuffing.

This stuffed bitter melon soup recipe below is cooked with the mixture of crab meat and fresh shrimps paste. Bitter melon tastes wonderfully when stuffed with ground pork, turkey, chicken, or shrimps, or both meat and shrimps. It's a great meal on its own as a nourishing soup or can be served as a side dish to compliment your dinner. 
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RECIPE: Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup

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Ingredients


4 bitter melons
1/2 lb crab meat
1/2 lb shrimps, peeled, deveined, finely minced
1/4 cup dried shredded wood ear mushrooms, also called black fungus slivers OR
4-5 fresh shiitake mushroms, thinly sliced
1 bunch vermicelli bean noodle
2 green onions, white parts only, finely minced
fish sauce
sugar
salt
garlic powder
ground pepper
home made or canned chicken broth
4-6 garlic cloves
cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish
green onion, finely chopped, for garnish  
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Directions

Preparing Mushrooms



Shredded Wood Ear Mushrooms - I prefer to use this type of mushroom in this dish as it adds a crunchy texture to the filling. Soak mushrooms in a bowl of warm water until soft. Rinse and chop into small pieces.


Shiitake Mushrooms - most of the mushrooms shouldn’t be soaked in water and wash as they absorb lots of water. You just need to wipe well with cloth or paper towel. If you want to wash them, make sure to dry well or lightly squeeze each one to extract the excess water before cooking.
Cut  mushroom into slices and chop into small pieces.
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Preparing Vermicelli Bean Noodle


Soak the noodle in a bowl of warm water until soft. Remove noodle from the water bowl. Drain. Cut noodle into shorter strings.  
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Preparing Shrimps and Crab Meat Stuffing


In a mixing bowl, combine shrimp paste, crab meat, noodle, mushrooms, white parts of green onion, black pepper, salt, a bit of fish sauce, sugar, garlic powder. Mix well. A very quick way to taste test the seafood mixture is taking a teaspoonful of the mixture and set in on a plate and nuke it for 20 seconds. Let it cool a bit and then taste what you have so far. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
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Preparing Bitter Melon


Cut the tips of both ends off from the bitter melon, then cut each bitter melon into about 2-inch segments. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds and the spongy center, and discard. 
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Stuffing the Bitter Melon


Stuff each round of the bitter melon with the seafood stuffing.  Pack the meat inside the core, filling it completely.


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Cooking Bitter Melon 


Place stuffed bitter melons into the pot, then add the homemade chicken broth, submerging stuffed bitter melons in the chicken broth. If used canned chicken broth, you can use half chicken broth and half water.  Add garlic cloves, slightly crushed to improve the flavor of the broth.   My homemade chicken broth was cooked with garlic cloves, seasoned with salt, and rock sugar, therefore, I don't need to add more garlic nor too much seasoning in this broth.


Bring the pot to a boil on high heat. Turn the heat down to reach a low boil, simmering for about 20 minutes until the stuffing and bitter melon fortify the broth and release flavor into the broth. 


If you have any leftover stuffing, make it into small balls like meatballs and drop them into the broth pot. Season with a bit of fish sauce, salt, and maybe a bit of sugar to your taste. 


Cook for another 5 minutes until bitter melons turn a little yellowy green and fork-tender. The broth flavor should be subtle and the bitter melon has a bitter edge.
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Presentation


Remove bitter melons and cut into an inch rounds. In a serving bowl, serve bitter melons with broth. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and green onion.  Sprinkle on some ground pepper.  Serve hot with steamed rice. Enjoy!
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Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gỏi Cuốn Chay (Almond Butter Tofu and Vegetables Summer Rolls)

click the picture for better image quality

There was a time that I cooked 30-days of vegan meals for my family. My husband accepted a vegan challenge and he made the whole family ate vegan for an entire month. He lost weight and his cholesterol dropped significantly without any changes to his exercise. So the benefits are there. My older daughter became addicted to vegan/vegetarian food since. Since she doesn't care much for eating meat, I have incorporated vegan meals into our diet more regularly. Here's one of their favorites: The Summer Vegan Roll - I suppose you can call it whatever depending on the season and ingredients you use. 

These light, healthy, and satisfying Vietnamese-influenced summer rolls are comprised of a hearty, crunchy textures and fresh flavors from pan-tried tofu and almond butter sauteed shiitake mushrooms, brown rice noodle, sweet and tart mango, and plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables. 
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RECIPE: Summer Rolls
make about 15 rolls

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Ingredients


1 block of firm tofu
8-10 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 bell peppers, assorted colors
1 mango
1/2 English cucumber
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1/2 package of thin rice noodle
sesame oil
a pack of rice paper
1 package of radish sprouts, optional

for the almond butter sauce:
1/2 cup creamy or crunchy almond butter, salted or unsalted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, for sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, for tofu
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Directions
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Prepping Sauce


In a bowl, combine sauce ingredients except water and garlic, whisk to combine. Put aside 2 tablespoons of sauce for sauteing the tofu and shiitake mushrooms. 


In a small sauce pan, saute garlic with oil until fragrant and slightly brown. Pour the sauce and water into the garlic. Whisk to combine. Adjust those seasonings depending on your preference. The almond butter sauce becomes thick once they're off the heat and have cooled down.

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Prepping Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms


Shiitake Mushrooms - Most of the mushrooms shouldn’t be soaked in water and wash as they absorb lots of water. You just need to wipe well with cloth or paper towel. If you want to wash them, make sure to dry well or lightly squeeze each one to extract the excess water before cooking.
Cut mushroom into slices. It looks a lot in volume at beginning, but it will shrink to about half the size after they're cooked.

Tofu - drain the tofu and thoroughly pat dry with a kitchen towel or a paper towel.  Slice tofu in half thin.


Cut tofu into 12 strips.


Place tofu strips on a paper towel or a kitchen towel to keep them dry.


Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Add tofu to the skillet and fry until all sides of the tofu are brown. 

When I make a double batch, I use the pancake griddle to fry the tofu.


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Sauteing Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms


Use the same skillet to cook a tablespoon of garlic with sesame oil until fragrant. Add mushrooms into the skillet, mix it well. 


Cover and keep cooking until they shrink, soften, and become golden brown. Add fried tofu and the almond butter, stirring to coat. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce is absorbed. Remove from heat and let it cool down.

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Cooking Noodle

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Noodle and rice paper can be purchased at any Asian market for a lot less.  For convenience, I sometime get them both at BelAir market.  The brown rice noodle and rice paper made of brown rice are from Belair.


Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add noodle and cook according to the package directions.  Rinse, drain and set aside.  
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Prepping Vegetables


Bell Peppers - cut into long thin strips.


Cucumber - peel some of the rough outer skin of the cucumber then cut into long thin strips.


Mango - peel the mango skin, cut mango into strips.


Cilantro and Mint - wash, shake it to remove excess water.  

Radish Sprouts - cut them at the roots.  Discard the roots.  Wash and set aside.

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Assembling Summer Rolls



Pour water in a shallow bowl for dipping the rice paper. You can also find the rice paper holder/water bowl at most of the Asian markets for a few bucks.

Immerse a rice paper in water until wet on all surfaces, give it a shake to remove excess water, then transfer to a plate. Place a small amount of desired fillings in the center. 


Roll the front edge of the wrapper over the filling away from you.


Fold the right and left sides over toward the center.
Roll it away from you once, then add radish sprouts at the edge of the roll for presentation then continue rolling into a tight roll.  

brown rice paper

Cover the roll up with a plastic wrap to keep them moist and fresh. Repeat until all fillings are used up.  
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Presentation


Serve summer rolls with almond butter sauce. Add a dash of sriracha sauce to the almond sauce for some spice.


When time is pressing, I would serve summer rolls as a self serve style. I simply lay everything out on the table and let everyone wrap their own roll.



Enjoy!
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Eat well. Stay healthy.