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Friday, November 21, 2014

Cà Ri Gà (Vietnamese Chicken Curry)


There's just something magical and cozy about autumn that makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Maybe it's joy of seeing these two rascals having a good time.   I am still hanging on to the pile of dry brown, yellow leaves laying on the ground waiting for a strong winter wind to scatter it all away.  


As autumn comes to a close, it welcomes in the Thanksgiving holiday.  Cà ri gà would make a wonderful dish to usher in the holiday season.  It's a beautiful looking dish. The rich and vibrant colors of this dish that's composed of purple, and yellow sweet yams, curry, and orange carrots is a reflection of the season's colors. This rich and hearty cà ri gà is incredibly aromatic with curry, coconut milk, lemongrass, shallot, and garlic.  
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RECIPE: Cà Ri Gà

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Ingredients


10  pieces Chicken Thigh, bone in
2 tablespoons Curry Powder
2 tablespoons  Salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon Sugar 
6 medium Shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped Garlic
3 stalks of Lemongrass
6 cups Water
1 3/4 cups Coconut Cream
6 medium Sweet Yams
Potatoes, optional 
6 large Carrots
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Directions

Preparing Meat


I personally like to use chicken thighs with skin on and bone-in for more flavor.  If using skin-on chicken thighs, trim off excess fat. Chop thigh into large chunks.  
Place chicken in a large bowl.  Mix chicken with curry powder, salt, sugar and shallot. Marinate for half an hour or overnight.  

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Preparing Vegetables


Cut sweet yams into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Cut carrots into 1-inch chunks.  You can also use potatoes if preferred.  I am not a fan of potatoes, so I leave it out.  

Add cooking oil in a hot frying pan, fry the sweet yams at medium heat until slightly golden on both side. Set aside.

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Preparing Lemongrass


Cut lemongrass stalks into 5-inch segments.  Smash with the flat blade of knife to release the aromatic oils.  Set aside.
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Cooking Chicken Curry


Use the same frying pan to saute garlic and lemongrass until fragrant. Add chicken and saute until slightly cooked.


Transfer chicken to a large pot.  Add water and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes until chicken is fully cooked. Add carrots and sweet yams.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables soften. 

Add coconut milk until it hits a boil, then turn off the heat.  Avoid cooking chicken curry with coconut milk too long to preserve the vibrant colors.

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Presentation


Chicken curry goes well with toasted French bread, noodle, or even naan bread. Break toasted bread into big piece then dunk it into the sauce and gobble up.  It's guarantee to make your taste buds and tummy quite happy.  Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bánh Tiêu (Fried Sesame Puff Bun)



When the cold starts creeping in, and the rain starts coming down; while my girls are in school and the husband is at work, the entire house is so quiet I can hear the pins drop. I often enjoy sitting comfortably on the couch with a throw blanket over my shoulder watching the little raindrops racing down the window pane. Listening to the rhythm of the falling rain while sipping my favorite hot drink, and munching on something warm, crunchy and sweet is really comforting. The relaxing sound of the rain makes everything ordinary peacefully beautiful.

Bánh tiêu is one of those comfort snacks that I enjoy during a cold, rainy day.  Once a dough ball , covered in sesame seeds, is rolled out into a flat disk  and dropped into a pot of hot oil, it pops up like magic, creating a hollow bun.  The golden brown bánh tiêu, slightly sweet and crispy on the outside with a mildly chewy texture, carries a wonderful aroma when the sesame seeds burst in your mouth , making it so addictive. I wonder what it would be like with poppy seeds!

Bánh tiêu is fairly easy to make. You just need four basic ingredients (flour, milk, sugar and sesame seeds ) to produce a big bowl filled of delicious banh tieu within a short amount of time. Now you have the recipe, make these bánh tiêu to show off your culinary skills on your next weekend get together.
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RECIPE: Bánh Tiêu


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Ingredients


3 cups Self Rising Flour
1 cup Milk
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup White or Black Sesame Seeds
Canola Oil, for frying
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Directions

Preparing Dough


In a large mixing bowl combine flour and sugar, mix well.


 Add milk and mix well using a spatula.


Dust the surface of your work area with flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Transfer the dough to the work area and knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes until you get a nice smooth round ball. You can also knead the dough in the same mixing bowl if preferred.  

Place the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a lid if it has one or cover with a clean damp kitchen towel to prevent the dough from drying. Allow to rise in a warm place until its size is doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. To speed up the rising process, I usually turn on the oven at 350 degree for a couple of minutes just to keep the oven slightly warm then turn it off. I then place the bowl of dough in the oven.


When the dough is ready, remove from the oven. Smash down the dough to remove air bubbles.  Divide dough into about 25 balls. Continue covering the dough balls with the damp towel to keep them from drying out.
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Rolling The Dough Balls


On the work area, sprinkle some sesame seeds then place a dough ball on top of the sesame seeds. Sprinkle some more sesame seeds on top of the dough and roll it out flat into round disk.  If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, dust the rolling pin with flour.  The thinner you roll it out the more hollow the bread gets when frying it.


You can start to fry the dough as you finish rolling out each one or roll all the dough balls out and fry them all at once.
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Frying Bánh Tiêu


Heat up the oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium. You can tell when the oil is hot enough by inserting a wooden chopstick into the oil and you should see the oil bubbling around the stick.

Carefully drop a dough disk into the hot oil to prevent splashing.  Use tongs or chopsticks to push the dough down into the oil to help puff up the dough. As soon as the dough starts to puff up, flip it quickly back and forth until it's golden brown and evenly puffed. The dough turns brown really quickly and burns easily if you don't pay attention .


Place bánh tiêu on a couple pieces of paper towel so that the excess oil can be absorbed into the paper towels.

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Presentation


Enjoy bánh tiêu with a cup of hot green tea while they're still warm and crunchy. Any left over can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Toast them up for a minute and let it cool down to get them crunchy again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Xôi Chiên Giòn (Pan-Fried Sticky Rice Cake)


Pleiku is a special place. It has 2 seasons really but the evenings are always chilly regardless of how hot the day may be. During the rainy season, it always rain, from morning to night, day in, day out. My favorite time of the year is when the Vietnamese lunar new year approaches - when all the trees and flowers are waiting to burst into spring. What a wonderful feeling it is to be walking down one of these streets in Pleiku on a cold or even rainy day and having your soul yearning for something wonderful to fill. And just as you could have imagined, the wonderful aroma of xôi chiên (pan-fried sticky rice cake) comes wafting through the evening air. . . and fills your senses.

That nostalgic scent of street food is incredibly irresistible and beckons me to my kitchen once again.

My older daughter longs to have me deliver homemade food to school for her every day at lunch.  I like to make different kinds of food that is easy to pack for her and also for my little one to munch on after school.  This xôi chiên is one of their favorite savory snacks.  It's crunchy on the outside, chewy  on the inside, and the filling is packed with tantalizing flavors of ground pork, carrot, jimaca, onion, and mushroom. While it's still warm  and crunchy, one won't do your tummy justice.

A few weeks ago, my childhood friend from Pleiku helped capture these pictures of a lady who sells xôi chiên right in front of the school.  I can see that now xôi chiên is also filled with cooked mung bean, boiled eggs beside the other ingredients. I like to keep my version of xôi chiên simple just as I've seen and tasted it more than twenty years ago.


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RECIPE: Xôi Chiên

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Ingredients


For Sweet Rice
4 cups Sweet Rice
3 1/2 cups Water
1/2 teaspoon Salt

For Filling
1/2-3/4 pound Ground Pork
1 Onion, diced, make 1 cup
1 large Carrot, diced, make 1 cup
1 small Jicama (củ sắn), diced, make 1 cup
6-8 dried Shiitaki Mushroom, soaked, sliced, make 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Corn or Tapioca Flour
2 tablespoons Water
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Tool


Cookie Cutter, any shapes
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Directions

Cooking Sweet Rice


Rinse sweet rice a few times until water is clear.  Drain.  Pour the rice, water and salt in a rice cooker and cook. Make sure to stir it a couple times to ensure the sweet rice is cooked evenly. Remove rice from the cooker and let it cool down.

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Blanching Jicama and Carrot


Peel and dice jicama and carrots. Make one cup each.   Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add jicama and carrot, and blanch for a couple minutes.  Remove and drain.  Set aside.
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Preparing Mushrooms

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Soak mushrooms in hot water to speed up the process if necessary. Otherwise, room temperature water is fine.  When mushrooms are soft, slice thinly.  Make 1/2 cup. Set aside.

Cooking the Meat


Bring a pan to a medium-high heat, add oil, mushroom, and onion. Saute until fragrant.


Add carrot, jicama, mushroom and saute for a couple minutes.  Add meat, oyster sauce, sugar, salt, and black pepper.  Mix well and saute until meat is cooked.


Mix well flour and water.  Pour over the meat and stir well.
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Molding Sticky Rice Cake

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In a small bowl, add water and set aside.  This water is to prevent your fingers from sticking to the sweet rice.


Place sweet rice in 1/3 of  the cookie cutter.  Dip your fingers in the water bowl, then press the rice down with your fingers.


Add a layer of filling then another layer of sweet rice.



Pack the cake down with your fingers and remove the cake from the cookie cutter.  
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Pan-Frying Sticky Rice Cake 


Bring a pan on a medium heat.  Add oil.  Once the oil is hot, place the cakes on the pan and fry until both sides are golden brown.

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Presentation

Enjoy xôi chiên while it's still warm and crunchy.  For those who love spicy food,  swirl some sriracha hot sauce over it to add some heat!.

Hope you are enjoying this on a cold or rainy day as you are strolling vicariously down the street of my hometown Pleiku!

Biển Hồ (Sea Lake), a freshwater lake to the north of Pleiku City of Gia Lai Province

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chè Khoai Môn Bột Báng (Taro Coconut Tapioca Pudding)


Waking up I suddenly realize that the room has become much colder than the previous mornings. I shiver as the crisp chilled air penetrated my body.  A peek outside my window and just like that I realize summer is gone!

Autumn promises a rich, vibrant season. During these days, I like to sit on a warm cozy chaise in my bedroom, enjoying the bountiful beauty surrounding my backyard. As the gentle breeze blows, I can hear the soothing harmonies of the wind chime hanging in front of my kitchen bay window and making me think of something sweet and warm to go along with my cup of hot green tea.



In just under 30 minutes, I can get back to my cozy lazy chaise with a cup of warm taro coconut pudding filled with the wonderful aroma of pandan leaves and vanilla.   Taro is a purple root vegetable that is used in Asian cuisines.  I love the starchy, sweet, and mild flavor of the purplish taro and even more so when it's served with a deliciously rich flavored coconut milk and chewy tapioca pearls which is the starch extracted from cassava root. 

Taro coconut pudding is very quick and simple to prepare.  My kitchen is always filled with frozen pandan leaves, vanilla, coconut milk, tapioca pearl, and frozen taro. Anytime I have a last minute craving or guests, I know what I can do in just a short amount of time.  
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RECIPE: Taro Coconut Tapioca Pudding 
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Ingredients


1 peeled Taro, about 2-2.5 pounds
1 can Coconut Milk, about 2 cups
1/4 cup Tapioca Pearls
1 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3-4 knots Pandan Leaves
2 tubes Vanilla
6 Pandan Leaves, tied in knots
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Directions

Cutting Taro


Cut taro into small chunks. Set aside
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Preparing Tapioca Pearls


Soak tapioca pearls in water while cooking taro.
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Cooking Taro Pudding


In a pot, add 6 cups of water, knots of pandan leaves, and taro. Bring it to a boil. 

As soon as it's boiling, reduce the heat. Drain the tapioca pearls from the soaking water then add to the pot. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until tapioca is almost translucent. The taro should be cooked by now. Make sure to stir occasionally while cooking to prevent tapioca from sticking to the bottom of the pot. 

Add coconut milk, salt and sugar. My dessert is usually mild sweet since I don't have a much of a sweet tooth, so adjust the sugar to your liking. Continue cooking for a couple more minutes. 

Turn off heat. Add vanilla powder. Stir it well. Let it sit for about 5 minutes or until tapioca completely translucent.

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Presentation


Ladle the taro pudding into small bowls.  Serve it hot or cold and enjoy!