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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chè Sương Sa Hạt Lựu (Agar-Agar with Imitation Pomegranate Seeds Dessert)

Summer time . . . when the living is eeeassyy.  What you need is a glass of Chè Sương Sa Hạt Lựu not only to sastify your thirst, hunger, but also to remind you that everything amid the sweltering heat can be as cool and relaxing; do you see the palms swaying and azure waves lightly splashing yet?!

Well, as soon as your taste buds are awaken by the myriad of lightly crunchy translucent colorful polygonal gelatin and  the smooth refreshing coconut milk, you may just be able to see it.

The main ingredients of Chè Sương Sa Hạt Lựu are agar-agar (bột Sương Sa) and pomegranate seeds (Imitation Hạt Lựu).   

Agar-agar is a vegetarian gelatin substitute produced from a variety of seaweed vegetation.  According to Fitday, Agar is a good source of calcium and iron, and is very high in fiber. It contains no sugar, no fat and no carbohydrates. Some of its claims are the ability to aid in digestion and weight loss, reduce inflammation, calm the liver, and bring relief to the lungs. It is also considered a mild laxative and not recommended for those with weak digestion or loose stools.

Imitation Pomegranate Seeds which are made of water chestnut diced into small cubes about the size of the pomegranate seeds coated with a tapioca starch. It's quite fun to eat these imitation pomegranate seeds as the insides are so crunchy from the water chestnut and the chewy tapioca cover.  It's best to enjoy  Hạt Lựu (Imitation Pomegrante Seeds) right away.  If not, they will absorb the water and the beautiful vivid red color will fade and the tapioca coating will expand, making them look unappetizing.  If you any of you know the secret to keeping Imitation Pomegranate Seeds long and appetizing, do share. 

Both agar-agar and imitation Pomegranate go well with the starchy, mildly sweet mung bean paste, the   smooth  richness of coconut milk and the tangy sweetness of the syrup.  This chè is probably the least sweet and most refreshing of all of chè. 
RECIPE: Chè Sương Sa Hạt Lựu
Printable Recipe


For Syrup - Nước Đường
2 cups Sugar
2 cups Water
2 Pandan Leaves, optional

For Mung Bean Paste - Đậu Xanh Đánh
1 cup Peeled and Split Mung Bean
1/4 cup Sugar, for mung bean
2 cups Water, for mung bean
1 Pandan Leave, tied together

For Jelly - Sương Sa
1 bag Agar-Agar Powder - 25 grams or .88oz
7  cups Water, for agar-agar

For Imitation Pomegranate - Hạt Lựu
1 can Chestnut - 20 oz
1-2 cups Tapioca Starch
Red Food Color

For Coconut Sauce
1 can of coconut milk (13.5 oz)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract or Pandan Leave, tied together
1 tablespoon Water + 1 teaspoon Tapioca Flour, mixed well
Making Syrup

Combine sugar, water and pandan leaves (recommended) in a pot.  Bring it to boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer it until the syrup is thickened.  Keep it in fridge to chill.
Making Jelly

Combine agar-agar and water.  Mix it well.  Bring it to boil.  Make sure to stir it constantly.  Remove from heat.  Pour it into a bowl.  Let it cool down and place it in the fridge to keep it cold.  Cut jelly into strips. Set it aside in the fridge to keep it cold.

Making Mung Bean Paste

Wash and rinse mung bean a few times until the water is clear.  Bring water, pandan leave and mung bean to boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cook it with lid on for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Add sugar.  Use a wooden spatula to smash the mung bean into paste.  Set it aside.
Making Imitation Pomegranate

Wash and rinse water chestnut.  Dice the water chestnut into small cubes about the size of  the pomegranate seeds.  Add  red food coloring and a tablespoon or two of water and mix until chestnut cubes cover with red.

Place a layer of tapioca starch into a large bowl with lid. Use a strainer to scoop one batch of water chestnut and place in the tapioca starch bowl. Add tapioca starch to the water chestnut then cover it with lid and  shake it  off.  If needed,  add more tapioca starch to the water chestnut until it is evenly coated.  Pour it into a colander and shake excess off.

Bring a pot of water to boil.   Prepare a bowl of ice water on a side.  Once the water boil add one batch at a time of  tapioca-chestnut mixture to the pot.   Use a pair of chopstick to separte the imitation pomegranate seeds to prevent them from sticking together if needed.

Once pomegranate seeds float to the top, scoop it up with a strainer, rinse with cold water. Place pomegranate seeds in the ice water bowl to cool. Remove pomegranate seeds from ice water once it has cooled.  Repeat with remaining batch of water chestnut.

Making Coconut Sauce

If using pandan leave, tie it into a short string. Bring the sugar, salt, pandan leave and coconut milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the tapioca flour mixture and stir it at the same time. Add vanilla extract if you don't use panda leave. Pour coconut sauce into a bowl and set aside.

In a glass or a glass bowl, assemble a layer of suong sa, mung bean and a layer of pomegranate seeds.  Fill it with the syrup and coconut milk.   Top with shaved ice or without if all the ingredients are cold enough.  Stir to mix and enjoy!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bánh Mì Xíu Mại (Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich)

I always remember those days when I woke up every morning to the aroma of delicious foods everywhere from my kitchen to the corner across the street. As the youngest kid in the family, I was spoiled by everyone.  I wouldn't eat homemade breakfast unless they give me money.  In the morning,  I received money for breakfast.  In the afternoon, I was given money for snacks.  I was getting paid to eat.   How wonderful was that? 

Gone are those good 'ol days but I'm left with an indelible  memory of this dish of Bánh Mì Xíu Mại, sold by a lady who sat at the street corner every morning. She served it as a sandwich stuffed with meatballs, cucumber, herbs and a dash of fresh black pepper --- simple yet addicting.

I have tried to replicate this recipe of Bánh Mì Xíu Mại several times before but without much success.  Yesterday, I decided to give it another try and fortunately had better luck at capturing the essence of this dish.  The wonderful aroma and the tasty meaty flavor of Xíu Mại that I remembered was present.  My family enjoyed it.  My husband made fun of me for serving breakfast at dinner but after a bite, he nodded exuberantly in satisfaction.
RECIPE: Bánh Mì Xíu Mại


for Xíu Mại
about 1.3 pounds Ground Pork
3 Eggs
1 medium Jícama (củ sắn)
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Salt
2 Shallots, finely chopped 
6 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
3 green onions, white parts only, thinly sliced
for Meaball Sauce
3 riped Tomatoes
3 cups Water
2 tablespoons Annatto Oil (dầu hạt điều) - click here for Annatto Oil recipe
1/2 Onion, diced
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Chicken Bouillon Powder
1/2 tablespoon Salt
2 tablespoons Tapioca Starch + 2 tablespoons Water, mixed well
2 Cucumbers, cut into thin strips
Cilantro, finely chopped
Ground Pepper
Red Chili Pepper, thinly sliced

Preparing  Jícama 

Bring a small pot of water to boil.  In the mean time, peel the skin of jicama, cut it into thin stripes. Place it in boiling water and cook for a few minutes until the water is boiling again.


Pour it into a colander.  Let it cool down a little bit, use your hands to squeeze out the liquid.  Chop cooked jicama into small pieces.  Make about 2 cups.  Set it aside .
Making Meatball

Bring a steamer with water to boil. Place a shadow plate or a aluminum foil inside a steamer tray.  Make sure to leave some space on a tray for the steam to enter. 

In a large bowl, combine ground pork, jicama, eggs, sugar, black pepper, salt, half of shallot, half of the green onion, and half of garlic (save the other half for later use).  Mix it well. Form the meat into balls.  Place meat balls into the tray and steam for about 10 minutes. 

Preparing Tomatoes 

Cut each tomato in half.  Squeeze out the seeds.  Finely chop the tomatoes.  Set it aside.
Making Xíu Mại Sauce

Heat up annatto oil in a deep pan.  Saute onion, the remaining garlic and shallot until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, water, juice released from meatballs, salt, sugar and fish sauce. Bring it to boil. Reduce the heat and let it cook for another 5 minutes.  Stir up the tapioca mixture then pour it into the sauce pan to thicken the sauce a little bit. Immediately stir it.  Add meatballs and simmer for about 5 minutes


Place a few meatballs into a shadow plate or a small bowl.  Top with cucumber and cilantro.  

Sprinkle a dash of fresh ground pepper.  Heat it up with a couple slices of red chili pepper.  Then serve it with a nice, warm toasted bread. 

Another way to enjoy Bánh Mì Xíu Mại is make it like a meatball sandwich.  Place meatballs, cucumber and cilantro inside the sandwich.  Sprinkle some fresh ground pepper.  Add a few slices of red pepper if you can tolerate the heat. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cháo Cá Nấm Hào (Fish Porridge with Dried King Oyster Mushroom)

Waking up in the morning to a steamy bowl of cháo lòng (pork innards rice porridge) would make my husband's day.  But since I dislike working with innards I prefer cooking fish porridge with oyster mushrooms instead.

I love mushrooms in general, but the oyster mushroom is a new type that I recently discovered and came to love. When cooked, it gives the typical mushroom umami flavors but with a texture similar to that of abalone.  Its texture becomes smooth, slightly chewy with a little crunch at the end.

You can use these King Oyster Mushrooms in various dishes such as noodle soup, sauteed with other types of mushrooms, stir-fried or you can also grill it.   A few weeks ago during our camping trip to Donner Lake, I made a pot of chicken glass noodle soup cooked with dried king oyster mushrooms for breakfast.  The mushroom brought the sweetness and wonderful flavor to the broth.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

RECIPE: Fish Porridge with Dried King Oyster Mushroom

12 cups Water
2 cups White Rice
1/3 bag Oyster Mushroom, about 2 handfull
2 cuts of fish 
2 tablespoons Shredded Fresh Ginger
6-8 White Part of Spring Onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon MSG, optional
Prepare Rice

Rinse and drain the rice.  Add the water and bring to boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for about half an hour.   While the rice is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Prepare King Oyster Mushroom

Wash mushroom and soak it in warm water for about 15 minutes or until soft.  Slice the mushroom into any shapes and size you prefer.   Keep the mushroom water for later use.
Prepare Escolar Fish Steak

 Remove the skin.  Cut fish steak into small cubes.  Set it aside.

Fish Steak, Mushroom, Scallion and Ginger
Making Chao

Add the water that you soaked the mushroom in earlier into the porridge pot.  Add mushroom, ginger, white part of spring onion and continue simmering it for another half an hour until the mushroom is soft and the rice blends with water and and loosen the starch. If poridge is a little bit thick for you, just add a little more of water.
Place the fish, salt, msg in the porridge pot and stir gently.  Cook for a few more minutes, so that all the ingredients blend together.