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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Canh Tần Ô Nấu Chả Tôm (Chrysanthemum Greens with Shrimp Balls Soup)


Simplicity is beauty.  Such is the case with this lush, green, edible chrysanthemum. You can turn it into a wonderful soup with just a few ingredients.


As soon as my daughters return from school, we would rush out to our vegetable garden and cut chrysanthemum leaves to make soup for dinner.


Chrysanthemum soup is a common Vietnamese soup that is usually cooked with tenderized beef, pork, or minced shrimps. It's organic, earthy and full of vitamins and minerals.
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RECIPE: Canh Tần Ô Nấu Chả Tôm
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Ingredients
Chrysanthemum Greens
1/2 lb (21-25 count) Shrimp in Shells
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
4 Green Onion, white parts only 
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Directions
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Preparing Chrysanthemum Greens


Chrysanthemum leaves come in small bunches. Cut off the roots and discard. Wash the leaves thoroughly to get rid of dirt. If the leaves are long, cut them into half, otherwise, cook them as is.
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Preparing Shrimps Balls


Remove the shells and digestive veins from shrimps. Save the shells for later use. Place shrimps, green onions, garlic powder, black pepper, sugar, and salt in a mini food chopper or a food processor, and process it until finely ground.  



Transfer it to a bowl and keep in the fridge until ready to use.

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Cooking Chrysanthemum Soup


Add water and shrimp shells in a pot and bring to a boil. How much water depends on the amount of greens you put in.  Shrimp shells, tails, and even the heads are packed with delicious, sweet, delicate briny flavor. 


Once the water is boiling, dip an empty spoon in the boiling water first to help loosen the shrimp paste from the spoon.  Scoop each teaspoon of shrimp paste and drop it in the boiling water.  


Add chrysanthemum greens, and a tablespoon of fish sauce.  Let it cook for no longer than a minute as the delicate leaves cook quite fast.  In fact, it can be added to the soup after the heat has already been turned down and allow to steep.  The greens might seem a lot in that amount of water but will shrink considerably after a few minutes in the hot water. Season to taste with salt if needed.  

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Presentation


Ladle chrysanthemum soup into a serving soup bowl.  Sprinkle a pinch of black pepper.  Enjoy it along with some steamed rice. Light. Simple. Delicious.
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Eat well.  Stay hungry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spreading Good Cheers!


Watching the heavy downpour and strong wind lashing at the trees in my backyard while cozying up to enjoy a banana flan and a cup of hot tea somehow triggered a picture of the homeless waiting in a long line at Friendship Park outside of Loaves and Fishes to receive breakfast. 

2015 was an amazing year. While we were reaching out and providing essential needs to the less fortunate in Vietnam, we also didn't forget to help those nearest us. In October and November, we had the opportunity to serve breakfast twice to over 250 homeless people at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento and also delivered over $700 worth of brand new rain boots to the homeless children at Mustard Seed school. It was heartwarming to see how happy they were as they expressed gratitude for this unexpected bounty from unknown hands. 

THANK YOU ALL for being a part of this.

rain boots to the homeless children at Mustard Seed school

serving breakfast to the homeless at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento

preparing lunch bags for the homeless children 

children from a poor village of Mang Yang district receiving cookies and candies

10 wheelchairs were donated to the Eucharist Orphanage for children

reaching out to this 3 year-old boy who fell into a boiling pot of pigs' food

bibs, baby formula, and infant cereals were donated for 50 disabled and abandoned orphans

orphans whom were originally left on the side of the forest or on the streets and were brought in to be cared for and sheltered by a 52 year old priest

providing supplies and essentials including books, pens, pencils, milk, rice, disposable bibs, soaps  to the orphanage


providing a bike and some money for the two orphaned brothers

giving essential food items to the poor elderly

During this rainy, bitter cold winter, it's difficult for an unsheltered person to stay warm and dry. Many of them are at high risk of hypothermia. Low body fat, malnutrition, smoking, diabetes and other underlying health issues make them more susceptible to the harsh weather. The least we can do for them is to provide a nutritious, hearty meal to warm their hearts and lift their spirit. 

Please join me once more in reaching out to the homeless by helping out in the following ways: preparing food, serving breakfast, or donating food or accessories.

Food Items Needed: 

1. Sausage, potato, egg breakfast burrito = $200
2. 300 Granola Bars = $51 
3. 300 Cups of Instant Noodle = $70 
4. 300 Bananas = $30 
5. 600 Tangerines = $120 
6. 300 mixed vegetables or dried fruits mix packets =  $91.62

Below are pictures of the breakfast event from November 2015. Special thanks to Chick-Fil-A in Elk Grove for donating 150 hot fresh chicken biscuits and to all the employees of Jefferson Pharmacy in West Sacramento for your 300 pairs of brand new socks!

Wonderful volunteer group-friends/parents from my kids' school, and the Spices Of Life readers



Hard-boiled eggs are an excellent source of protein and most people like them

A day old cake and pastry are the only food that they get every morning for breakfast. Some get extra to save for dinner.






the homeless desperately need new socks

My kid's classmate, her brother and mom gathered in my kitchen to assemble sandwiches

600 eggs were boiled at different households

Preparing food in my garage



It's so wonderful to see kids get involved in charity work

Arriving at Chick-Fil-A at 7:00 am to pick up 150 warm and fresh chicken biscuits.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Đậu Hũ Chiên Giòn (Crispy Fried Tofu)


It's hard to cook, capture pictures, and blog during this time of the year. The gloomy, cold, windy, rainy weather and moody lighting make it difficult to capture good food photos especially when the phone's camera is the only tool I use. 

This crispy fried tofu is simple and yet tasty to have as an appetizer. The bite-size fried tofu has a natural sweetness and tender center; the beautiful golden brown skin is full of hearty savory notes.

Firm tofu is best for frying as holds its shape and browns better than other varieties.  There are many brands and types of tofu in the market but not all tofu are created equally. When making fry tofu, I would make a trip to a local tofu store Thanh Son Hien Khanh on Stockton Blvd or Otto's Market on Freeport Blvd to buy their fresh daily made tofu. If you can't find a local product, the next best bet is buying packaged tofu with the farthest expiration date.
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RECIPE: Crispy Fried Tofu
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Ingredients


1 block FirmTofu
Salt
Water
1 teaspoon Chicken Bouillon Powder
or
1 teaspoon Vegetable Bouillon
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon minced Garlic
2 stalks Scallion, finely cut
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vegetable or Canola Oil, for deep frying
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Directions
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Preparing Tofu


Slice tofu into bite size cubes. In a bowl, add water and just enough salt to create a salty water bath. Soak sliced tofu in a bath of salty water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes. Using this method draws out the moisture and add seasonings, resulting in a better crust and texture.


The next step is removing excess moisture content in the tofu.  Lay tofu slices on a couple layers of paper towel or a kitchen towel. Then, add another paper towel or kitchen towel (doubled over) on top and gently press out the excess water, until the paper towel is no longer drawing out much water. 
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Preparing Scallion Sauce


Put about a tablespoon of olive oil and garlic in a sauce pan over medium-low heat until the garlic begins to turn pale gold.  Turn off the heat. Add chicken bouillon powder, sugar, and mix well.  Let it cool down for a little bit then add scallion (scallion will wilt if added too soon.)
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Deep Frying Tofu


Heat oil for deep frying in small saucepan on high (oil should fill pan to at least 2 inches). To test if your oil is hot enough, dip the tip of a chopstick  into the oil.  If it begins to sizzle then the oil is ready for frying.  

Blot dry tofu with a clean dish or paper towel to avoid splattering.  Carefully add the tofu to the pan. Don’t crowd the pan. Let it cook, flipping the tofu occasionally to prevent tofu from sticking to pan and also to ensure that all sides of the tofu are golden brown. 

fresh daily made tofu

organic tofu from Costco

Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.


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Presentation



Transfer tofu to a serving plate. Drizzle the scallion sauce over the tofu. My little one loves seaweed, so I topped tofu with shredded seaweed.


Serve while it's still warm and crispy.
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Eat well.  Stay hungry.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chanh Muối (Salted Preserved Lemons)



Happy New Year! 
Going back to blogging after a long absence can be too difficult but I must overcome the laziness, beat procrastination and get motivated. Thanks to the preserved lemon jars that keep staring at me every time I am in the kitchen. That's my muse to resume blogging although I hadn't planned to write about it.

So my friend's lemon tree is full of beautiful, juicy, thin-skinned lemons and he doesn't know what to do with all of them. I took a full basket of them home and preserved in salt and water. I've had these lemons fermenting on the kitchen counter for almost a month. The fermentation is going to take a little while to complete due to the lack of sunlight in the wintertime. The finished lemons should be salty, tangy and nicely soften but as of this post, mine are not there yet. 

This morning the lemon jars caught my eyes again. I went by and unscrewed the jar lid and whiffed up a wonderful distinctive scent of salt and slightly sweet brine. I took out one lemon, a couple tablespoons of lemon brine and mash it in a mason glass jar, added a couple tablespoons of sugar, poured in club soda, stirred it well, and tossed in a few cubes of ice. Voila - I have a wonderful lemonade - uniquely flavored and delicious. One sip and summer comes rushing back. Oh how I love the nostalgia.
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RECIPE:  Chanh Muối

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Ingredients
Lemons or Limes 
Pickling Salt (available at Walmart) 
Water
a Glass Jar, sanitized
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Directions

Preparing a Brine Solution


Pickling salt- salt is one of the key ingredients in the pickling process. Pickling salt is pure granulated salt (sodium chloride). It does not contain anti-caking ingredients, which can turn pickling liquid cloudy, or additives like iodine, which can make pickles dark. In addition, pickling salt has fine granules that make it easy to dissolve in a brine.  

The ratio of salt to water for a brine is 4 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart (4 cups) of water.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add pickling salt. Dissolve the salt in water.  Let it cool to room temperature. 
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Preparing Lemons


Wash and scrub lemons thoroughly to remove any dirt.

Cut off the top and bottom of the lemon so that a little flesh is showing.

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Preserving Lemons


Pack the lemons tightly into a jar and pour the cooled salt water over them. Make sure the lemons are completely covered in the salt water so that they are protected from mold and other bacteria that would cause decay. If your lemons won’t stay submerged, you can break a chopstick into halves and wedge it inside the jar to form a crisscrossed grill. Wipe any salt residue off the rim and seal the jar with a lid.

In the hot days, leave the jar outside where they will get sunlight. When the lemons are done, the lemons will turn darker and the brine becomes a little bit cloudier. These lemons will be ready after one month of preserving, and will last for at least 2 years. It can be kept at room temperature and does not need to be refrigerated. Just remember to use clean utensil to scoop the lemons out every time.

When fermenting lemons or vegetables, it is common to see a white layer forming on top of the liquid. The white film is usually a type of yeast known as kahm yeast and is quiet safe. Kahm yeast can form for a variety of reasons: insufficiently acidic; there is not enough salt in the brine; the batch is over-exposed to oxygen; good hygiene was not observed during preparation. 
If kahm yeast develops in your ferment, skim it off.
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Presentation


Preserved Lemons can be used for cooking or making drinks. Sparkling salted lemonade is a common refreshing drink in southern Vietnam. Make yourself a jar of salted preserved lemons and enjoy it when spring arrives.

Eat Well. Stay hungry. . . and drink homemade salted preserved lemonade.