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Friday, December 12, 2014

Dưa Cải Chua (Pickled Mustard Greens)



What's a woman to do on a rainy day especially with the forecast of a storm looming on the horizon? How about cozying up with a nice hot cup of matcha green tea on her couch and blogging away about mustard greens? Doesn't that sound sour and delicious all at once?

Dưa Cải Chua (pickled mustard greens) is one of the recipes that I've been blogging on and off for some time but remains unfinished due to the busy holidays season. Thanks to inclement weather, it shall be done today.

This Dưa Cải Chua is simpler to prepare than you may imagine. It's a Vietnamese staple and should have in your lovely kitchen; It serves as a great to contrasting taste to many salty home-cooked dishes such as braised catfish in claypot (cá kho tộ), caramelized pork and hard boiled egg (thịt kho trứng), caramelized pork belly with lemongrass and shrimp paste sauce (thịt kho ruốc sả) or fried fish (cá chiên) - you can finish off the list. The irresistibly crunchy and tart  dưa cải chua is perfect with almost any rich and savory dishes. On a cold day like today, instead of eating it straight from the jar, I like to saute it with diced garlic for a nice warm dish; make soup or curry out of it, or braise beef shank with it. One of my favorite dưa cải chua dishes is sauteing it with diced garlic and scrambled egg.



The main ingredients to ferment the mustard greens are just salt, sugar and the omnipotent sunlight. It is simple and allows the natural flavor and color of the greens to come through. It's effectively preserved the greens as well. The preparation of dưa cải chua takes no more than twenty minutes but the process of fermentation takes about a week before it's ready to serve. This fermentation process can be sped up by sun drying.  Dưa cải chua can be kept in the fridge for a few months.  
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RECIPE: Dưa Cải Chua
Printable Recipe

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Ingredients


2 bunch Mustard Greens, about 4 pounds
1 medium Onion
4-6 cloves of Garlic
1 bunch of Spring Onion, optional
12 cups Water 
3 tablespoons Salt 
3 tablespoon Sugar 
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Directions

Clean and dry jars or glass bowls and lids thoroughly. Set aside.
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Preparing Water Mixture


Bring water to a boil. Add sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Let it cool. It's okay if the water is still a little bit warm.
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Preparing Mustard Greens


Cut off ends of the mustard greens and discard. Trim the parts that are bruised, and yellow. Wash the greens with cold water, then shake off the excess water.  Cut greens into sections about 1 inch long.  


Shake off the excess water one more time.  I like to place the bottom of the coriander on top of the other one and shake off the the excess water.  Set aside.


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Preparing Onion and Garlic


Slice onion and garlic. Set aside. If used green onion, cut it into 2 inches segments. Set aside.

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Fermenting Mustard Greens


Pack greens, garlic, onion, or spring onions into the jar. Pour the liquid into the jar covering the greens.


Press the greens down with the back of the soup spoon to submerge them in the liquid. It's okay if the liquid doesn't cover the greens completely right away since the greens will continue to expel liquid as they ferment. But make sure the liquid covers the greens in the same day. If necessary, make more liquid to fully cover the greens.


Secure the mouth of the jar with a tight lid. Place the jar in a warm spot in your kitchen and allow to ferment for 4-6 days. The warmer the room is, the quicker it will ferment.  You can speed up the fermentation process by leaving the jar in the sun.


As the greens start to ferment, they will turn a beautiful shade of yellowish green. Properly fermented greens should smell like pickles. They are crunchy and have a sour, salty, and spicy taste.


You can keep it refrigerated for at least a few months. Drain the greens well before serving.


Here's to your sour and salty cravings!

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
printable recipe

chicken tenderloin curry with Japanese yams
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Ingredients


10  pieces Chicken Thighs or a pack fresh Chicken Tenderloin (about $19 at Costco)
3 tablespoons Curry Powder
3 tablespoons  Salt
4 tablespoons 
6 medium Shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped Garlic
4 stalks of Lemongrass
9 cups Water
2 - 2 1/2 cups Coconut Cream 
6 medium Sweet Yams
6 large Carrots
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Directions

Preparing Meat


Chicken tenderloin also makes wonderful curry.  The tenderloin is the small strip on the underside of the breast.  It is much more tender and juicy than the breast.
You can also 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.  You can cook it right away or 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 lemongrass to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil.   Add chicken and bring it to a boil again. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes until chicken is fully cooked. Add carrots and sweet yams.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables soften. 


Add 2 cups of 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.
This curry broth has a mild taste but if you prefer a richer taste, add another 1/2 cup of coconut cream.

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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.


You can also enjoy it by itself.  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