Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Lesson on Vietnamese Food

I did not post anything last night because I was too busy cooking up some yummy Vietnamese food with my mom at a Sur La Table cooking class. It was one of my birthday presents, and I am so glad my mom gave me the opportunity to go. I had never been to a cooking class before, and did not know what to expect. Not only did our lead chef teach us how to make the recipes, but he also gave us some facts about the culinary culture of Vietnam.

Vietnamese food is very centered around rice. Along with that, there are many other seasonings, vegetables, and meats that are incorporated into every meal. Because it used to be under French control, there are a lot of French influences found in the cooking like coffee and bread, but everything still has a very Asian twist to it. The class was nice to be to be a part of and take advantage of their well stocked exotic panty. Some of the ingredients I would not have been able to get my hands on if I had made these recipes at home. This is another advantage to taking a cooking class. Everything was already laid out for us to cut, chop, mix, and cook.


The first thing had was Vietnamese iced coffee, or ca phe sua da, that they prepared in front of us and then let us sip on while we listened to the presentation of the class. My dad had this coffee while he was in Vietnam last year, and he loved it. Unfortunately, it is not just plain coffee, but also has sweetened condensed milk in it. This caused my dad to have a gallbladder attack, but why not live on the edge a little? My mom and I were not fans. Neither of us like coffee at all, and we can't handle any caffeine. Vietnamese coffee is different than American coffee. It is lighter, the beans are coarsely ground, and it is brewed individually. The sweeten condensed milk and ice are put in the bottom of a mug, and then the hot water and coffee are poured over the top. You then swirl it all around to stir everything up.

Ca Phe Sua Da
serves 4
2 2/3 cups water
1 1/2 cups dark roasted coarsely ground coffee
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Pour the water into a medium saucepan. Add the coffee and bring to a vigorous simmer (do not boil), stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and steep for 5 minutes. Pour the coffee through a filter into a heatproof glass jug. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the milk into four glasses. Fill the bottoms with ice cubes, and pour the hot coffee over the top. Stir everything together and serve.


The first thing we actually prepared (unless you considering swirling coffee around a cup preparation) was some carrot and daikon pickles for our banh mi sandwiches. It was mom's first time having daikon, and she really liked it, even in pickled form. This pickling method is very simple with no hours of waiting or vinegar. Just prepare everything an hour or two ahead of time, let it sit out, and your pickles will be done. It is important not to cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap so that the oxygen can get to it. Also, if you decide to refrigerate them, it may take longer for them to be done.

Daikon and Carrot Pickles
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick matchsticks
1 pound daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick matchsticks
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup lukewarm water

Put the carrot and daikon in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and 2 tsp sugar. Mix with your hands for 3 minutes, or until the daikon is slightly translucent and pliable. Drain the vegetables into a colander, rinse under cold water, and press out any access water. Combine the remaining sugar, vinegar, and water in the bowl. Pour in the drained vegetables. Let them marinate uncovered on the counter for 1 hour before serving.

Summer rolls are a common occurrence at my house, but it was still fun to make them in the class. My mom had never really rolled them before because I always make them for her. She had some issues with the rice paper tearing, but it was good for her to finally learn how to do it. These summer rolls were more of a light appetizer or side dish than anything else because they had not meat or other source of protein. They did have a variety of herbs and vegetables that made them delicious. I think this was my mom's favorite part of the meal.

Gio Cuon
makes 16 rolls
2 heads Boston lettuce, lettuce
3 carrots, peeled
4 green onions
1 red bell pepper, seeded
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro
16 rice paper wrappers
peanut sauce (recipe below)
Cut the bell pepper and carrot into 4" long matchsticks. Cut 2" off the top and bottom of the green onions, and then cut them into 4" pieces. Slice each piece in half lengthwise and then slice them in half again. Fill a large pan (about 10” in diameter) with super-hot water and place over low heat. Soak the rice papers one at a time in the water for about 10 seconds until softened. Immediately spread the papers out onto a plastic cutting board. Place a leaf or two of lettuce on the bottom third of the rice paper. Top with some carrot, scallions, and red bell pepper.
then sprinkle on a tablespoon each of the cilantro and mint. Fold one side of the rice paper over the filling, fold the two ends up, and roll it all up to seal with the remaining side. Repeat with the remaining rice papers. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator covered with a damp towel for up to 3 hours.

The peanut dipping sauce for the summer rolls was delicious. You can take down the heat by reducing the amount of pepper, but I liked it spicy. My mom loved it too, and had to control herself from licking the bowl clean.
Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce
makes 2 cups
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. dry roasted peanuts
1 tbsp. peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. fermented soy bean paste
1/2 cup water
2 tsp sugar
1 bird chili, minced
1 tbsp. lime juice
Process the peanuts in a food processor until they make a course flour. Heat the oil in a pan over a high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic and cook for 15 seconds until the garlic starts to brown. Add the soy bean paste, stirring to blend. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the water and all but 1 tablespoon of the peanuts. Stir in the sugar, chili, and lime juice. Remove the sauce to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining peanuts.

I had never had a Vietnamese Crepe (Banh Xeo) before. A reflection of the French culture blending with the native Vietnamese, these crepes are made out of rice flour. They are a little chewy in the center with crispy edges. They are filled with mung bean sprouts and then topped with a variety of herbs. To eat them, you wrap them up in a piece of lettuce and then dip them in a fish sauce.  My mom and I loved the crepes. She liked the dipping sauce, but it was too sweet and fishy for me. I was the first in our group to make the crepes, so mine was the guinea pig. I think it turned out well. You just have be patient to wait for the edges to brown before removing the crepe from the pan.

Banh Xeo
serves 6
1 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. canola oil
8 ounces mung bean sprouts
dipping sauce (recipe below)
1 head green leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh mint

Whisk the rice flour, sugar, salt, and turmeric together. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the coconut milk and water. Mix until everything is just combined. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a 10" pan over medium high heat. Add in 4 ounces of batter and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on the mung beans. Once the edges are browned and the center is no longer gummy, flip half of the crepe over and slide it onto a plate.

Serve with the lettuce, herbs, and dipping sauce.

Banh Xeo Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bird chili, minced
1-2" pieces of carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
Whisk the water, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and sugar together. Add in the garlic, chili, and carrot. Let sit refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before serving.


Once the vegetables were done pickling, it was time to make the banh mi sandwiches. These have gained a lot of popularity lately, and I do not have trouble seeing why. This is street food at its very best. You can fill them with a variety of ingredients and then dig in!

Banh Mi
serves 2
1 baguette, sliced in half lengthways
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp soy sauce
8 ounces deli meat turkey, ham, or beef
4 ounces Vietnamese pate (gio lua) or tofu, sliced into 1/2" slices
1/2 seeded cucumber, cut into strips
4 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
daikon and carrot pickles (recipe above)

Hollow out the inside of the bread. Spread on the mayonnaise and soy sauce. Layer on the fillings. Close the sandwich, cut in half, and serve.


Last of all was our pho. My dad LOVED the pho when he went to Vietnam, so we were eager to try this dish. It is typically a breakfast dish, but because of the noodles and meat, it can easily be eaten for lunch or dinner. Both my mom and I thought it was okay. It was fun to add all the individual ingredients to the soup ourselves to alter the flavor and composition. The noodles were not our thing, and the broth had a very unique flavor. My mom was freaked out that her meat was not all the way done, but I thought it was fine. I did find a new love for Thai basil. (I was just eating it straight.) It's a lot different than your typical basil, and has a distinct flavor that you will just have to try for yourself.


Pho Bo
serves 6-8
For the broth:
1 yellow onion, whole and unpeeled
1- 1 1/2" piece ginger, unpeeled
4 pounds beef bones
1 tbsp. palm sugar
2 tsp salt
4 quarts water
1/2 tsp white pepper
1- 1 1/2" piece Chinese cinnamon
1/2 star anise pod
1 whole clove

To serve:
1 pound flat rice noodles (banh pho), softened in warm water for 20 minutes, rinsed and drained
3/4 pound boneless beef top round, trimmed and sliced thinly against the grain
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced
3 cups bean sprouts
2 cups Thai basil leaves
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce
1/4 cup Fish sauce

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roast the onion and ginger in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Slice the ginger into 1/4 inch rounds.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the bones and boil for 3 minutes. Drain the contents of the pot into a colander and rinse with cold water. Return the bones to the pot. Add the onion, ginger, sugar, salt, and water to the pot. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that comes to the top. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 4 hours, continuing to skim off any scum.

Add the white pepper, cinnamon, star anise, and clove. Cook for another hour. Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the bones, vegetables, and spices. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Allow it to sit overnight in the refrigerator. Skim off any fat that comes to the top.

Bring the broth back to a boil. Divide the noodles between serving bowls and top with broth. Serve with all the accompaniments, allowing the hot broth to cook the beef.


Overall, the cooking class was a great experience as was trying out the food of Vietnam. We are already planning on taking future classes. It was a great way to introduce the cuisine and culture of Vietnam to us in a kitchen setting. Now I know why my dad loved the food in Vietnam so much!

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