Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sautéed Lamb Kidneys (serves 6 as part of a shared meal)

My husband and I stopped at Market Basket (grocery store) in our town in the Seacoast and came across lamb's kidneys. My husband had spotted them and asked if we should try them.  When we got home he asked if I know how to cook them.  I was a bit insulted!   

The kidneys tasted close to liver but the texture is not as soft and the taste is not as strong.  I made some last night for a few friends, served it on top of baguette slices.  Most of my guests thought it tasted too gamey.  What good are your friends if you cannot try experimental food recipes on them!  : D  Last night I did not add too many ingredients, so today I added more ingredients and the dish tasted less gamey.  I served this dish with toasted baguettes. 


2 Tbsp oil (canola, olive, grape oil, or any type you prefer to use)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 Tbsp grated or finely chopped ginger
2-3 scallions (about 1/3 C chopped)
1 white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
12 oz sliced white button mushrooms
8 lamb's kidneys (about 1.1 lbs), washed, halved, removed tough cream color part (the renal pelvis, major and minor calyx), cut into bite size
10 oz ground pork
3 Tbsp rice wine
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp black bean sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper


1)  Heat oil in a large wok or pan over medium high heat.
2) Once the pan is hot add garlic, ginger, scallions and onions.  Saute for about 3 minutes.
3) Stir in pork, break it into small pieces, saute about 1 minutes.
3) Add in kidneys, saute about 2 minutes.
4) Add mushrooms and bell pepper, saute about 3 minutes.
5) Add wine, fish sauce, black bean, sugar and black pepper, saute for about a minute or 2.
6) Turn off heat and let the ingredients continue to cook on the stove.

window box
Trinity Church (Boston)

Steamed Malanga Cake--Auntie's Style (makes two 9-inch cakes)

steamed malanga cake
My maternal second aunt, Di Y made this cake when I last visited Vietnam in Spring 2013. She used a type of taro called môn cao in Vietnamese. While shopping in an Asian market in Boston recently I saw these beautiful, fresh and giant looking taro called malanga and decided to make the cake inspired by my aunt. Malanga is a root vegetable and it resembles taro. I think it tastes similar to taro. It looks similar to môn cao except it is 3 times its Asian size! At least I have never seen one in Vietnam that weighs 6 to 7 pounds each!  

When I asked my aunt how she makes these she said she added môn cao, coconut milk, dried shrimp, peanuts, scallions, garlic and ginger. This is basically how we provide each other recipes in my family! If you are lucky you may get more information such as "add a little of this and a little of that"!! I was sure she added rice flour to bind everything together but I could not remember so I sent an email back to cousin Sieu Hui (her daughter) to confirm.  She responded and here is the delicious cake! How did we ever lived without email?!

Earlier this week I made a batch but added too much fluid and not enough rice flour. That batch was edible but came out too soft. I am embarrassed that I actually gave some of this bad batch to a senior, highly respected colleague. My husband told me that I have to give him my second batch so he knows how it should come out. I hope he still wants to try my food! 

For the best result, keep this cake refrigerated at least 6 hours or overnight and then cut into squares and lightly fry them on each side until golden brown. I had a few very good friends/neighbors over last night and served them these fried squares. They came out nice but I think they tasted much better the next day. The refrigeration kept the cake firm and they fried nicely. 

fried malanga cake pieces for breakfast,
DELICIOUS with a slight crispy skin!
Steamed Malanga Cake--Auntie's Style (makes two 9-inch cakes)


400 mL (13.5 fl oz) coconut milk, plus 125 mL coconut milk or water
2 C rice flour
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 lbs malanga, shredded
2 oz dried shrimp, soaked for 30 minutes, rinsed and drained
2 oz raw peanuts, boiled for about 20-25 minutes
9-10 oz ground pork
1/3 C chopped scallions
1 tsp grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped


1) Stir coconut milk, water, rice flour, sugar and salt until well blended, set aside.
2) Mix shredded malanga, shrimp, peanuts, pork, scallions, ginger and garlic until well blended.
3) Add #1 into #2 and stir until well blended.
4) Pour the mixture into a 9-inch cake pan or a container that is able to handle the steam and heat.
5) Gently pat the mixture into the pan with a spatula to remove the air.
5) Add water to the pan or wok about 2 inches, cover pan or wok and steam for about 40 minutes.

mix most of the ingredients together (step #2)
cut a piece of parchment paper or banana leave (s)
to fit inside the size of your container
(this way the cake will be
easy to remove once it is cooked)
giant malanga
(the inside flesh has beautiful lavender pattern)
I placed a few cookie molds on the bottom of my pan,
filled it with water  up to about 2 inches,
filled my container with the prepared malanga
and placed it in the pan to steam
*You may add water up to a third of your steaming container. If you must add more water during the steaming process be careful not to injure your hand. Never put your hand over the steam, you can get very bad blisters! 
*The steaming time depends on the thickness of your cake.  
*You can use any containers that can handle the steaming heat. I have only round containers in my kitchen. 
*Once the cake is cooled completely you can cut it up into 2-inch pieces and fry with a little oil, 2-3 minutes over medium high heat on each side or until they are golden brown.
*I did not eat these with a sauce. However, you can make one if you like. If I use a sauce for this I prefer making one using vinegar, light soy sauce, hot chili and a little sugar.
*You can make this cake using daikon (radish). My mother always makes these small steamed daikon cakes for us. They are always delicious. Steamed daikon and taro cakes are eaten regularly in my Teochew family.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sautéed Angled Luffa & Eggs (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)

 Every time I visit relatives in Vietnam, I also visit my favorite local open market near my grandparents' home.  The beauty about this market and similar markets found all over Southeast Asia is that everyone sells just a small amount of produce and they are all very fresh.  In fact the produce were handpicked that morning.  It is best to shop at such a market as early as possible to ensure the highest quality ingredients available for your next meal.  

On one visit I bought so many of these angled luffa that the seller wanted to know if these are available in the States.  I informed her that some places in the States do not carry them in the market, however, where I live these are available but not as fresh or as good as hers!  The seller offered to peel the tough ridges and gave me scallions and garlic for no additional fee. What a bargain!  

This is one of my favorite gourd/squash vegetables.  Here is a typical way my family likes to prepare these sweet tasting luffa.  The unique quality of this luffa is that it does not become mushy after cooking.  Often times my parents add pork, shrimp or both to this dish. However, you may omit any of these ingredients.

Sautéed Angled Luffa & Eggs


1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 angled luffa, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 1 1/2 lbs peeled and cut up)
3 lightly beaten eggs
1/3 C water or chicken broth
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar


1) Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.
2) Once the pan is hot, add garlic and scallions.  Saute for about a minute.
3) Add the luffa and water or broth, saute for about 8-10 minutes or until the luffa slices are soft.
4) Mix the eggs, fish sauce, sesame oil and sugar together, pour this mixture over the pan.
5) Stir quickly until all the egg mixture is cooked (about a minute) and turn off heat.
6) Garnish with uncooked luffa slices and extra scallions slices if desired, serve hot.

these luffa can grow very long,
I broke these in half so
I could carry them home
*Cut and save a few slices of the whole angled luffa for a beautiful garnish for your dish later!
*Since the luffa is already slightly sweet you can omit the sugar in this dish.
*The luffa can be found in Asian markets.  Most Asian markets in Boston carry them.

*4/28/15 addendum: I always try to improve my blog. Here I updated a photo for this recipe.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cá Kho (Vietnamese Braised Fish)--Siếu Hủi's way (serves 6 as part of a multi-course shared meal)

ca kho or Vietnamese braised fish
My cousin, Sieu Hui is an excellent cook. I had no idea she could cook since I do not see her often except for the few visits back to Vietnam. However, I am not at all surprised. She now cooks the food at her parents family-owned restaurant, Minh Chau in Nga Ba An Trach (a few miles from Soctrang--one of the larger cities in the Mekong Delta). When I visited she made this delicious classic Vietnamese braised fish dish known as ca kho. She used a fish called Basa, a type of fish that is popular in this region of Vietnam. However, you can use any type of firm fish. Catfish or salmon would work well in this dish. It is best to keep the bone on the fish for a better taste and to keep the meat whole and together during the cooking process. Fillets tend to make the fish too dry, broken into pieces and not so tasty.

After we fled Vietnam in 1979 by boat we lived on several small islands in Indonesia before we were finally settled in a refugee camp on Galang for almost a year. Initially we were rescued by an Australian ship and pulled to safety to find shelter on a deserted island. Somehow my father managed to set up a temporary home for us and we lived there with the other boat people for a few days. I remember my brother Dan caught a fish. He and I used to fish in the seven man-made ponds on our property and he was always the one catching all the fish no matter what. I did not know how he caught this fish since we had no fishing poles, lines or hooks. He brought it to my mother and she made delicious cá kho for all 6 of us (family). It was one of my most memorable meals that I ate as a child. I remember the meal probably because I was starving.

I was in Rye, NH and came across this pair of
sculptures that reminds me of my brother and me fishing
in our back yard...and he was the one always with the fish!
On our second island hopping my father set up another small temporary shelter using dried up palm fronds and a plastic tarp at the base of a tree by the ocean--it was prime location but no one in my family knew it at the time! The plastic tarp was used to collect rain water for drinking while we were on the boat. While living on this island my mother made another cá kho for us. I don't know how she made it since we had no money, I did not remember seeing a market and Dan did not catch the fish this time. Somehow she made this dish. After my family ate, our neighbor (who came on the same boat) asked if he could have some of the sauce so he could feed his brother and son. The sauce is very good and you can just use it for another whole meal. This is how poor people in Vietnam would extend one meal to the next. You can blanch some vegetables and dip them in this sauce and eat them with rice. That neighbor never forgot my mother's kindness and he still remembered her to this day. We visited them in Canada one year after he was reunited with the rest of his family (wife and children left behind in Vietnam in 1979) years later.

Cá Kho (Vietnamese Braised Fish)--Siếu Hủi's way (serves 6 as part of a multi-course shared meal)


1 whole fish (about 2-3 pounds), scaled, gutted, and washed well, cut into 1 1/2 inch wide (round rings, see photos)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp oil (canola, vegetable or olive oil)
3 tsp sugar
4-5 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
2-3 whole fresh hot chili peppers, optional
1 C cold water
Black pepper, garnish
Chopped scallion, garnish


1) Marinade the fish with fish sauce, oil, sugar, garlic, and chili peppers in a large deep pan for roughly 15 minutes.
2) Heat the pan over medium. Add water. Cook until the liquid reduces down. Carefully turn the fish slices a few times. Once the fish is cooked and the sauce has reduced to your liking, turn off heat, sprinkle with black pepper and fresh chopped scallion. The cooking process takes about 20-30 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the reduction of your sauce. Serve with fresh or steamed vegetables over piping hot rice.

*When it comes to the sauce, everyone has a taste preference. I like my sauce to have a balance, not too salty or too sweet. At the end of cooking if you find the sauce to be too sweet then add more fish sauce, if too salty then add more sugar. You can also thin the sauce out with a little more water if you happened to dry out the liquid during cooking. However, when adding anything at the end just remember to add small increment of ingredient (s). If you want the dish to be more spicy then bruise the chili peppers before putting in the pan.

turn the fish pieces once or twice to
coat them with all the sauce
cook until the liquid is reduced
a few Vietnamese classic dishes
Sieu Hui--the chef
sharing a meal with the family
(typical Chinese or Vietnamese
family style meal serves with rice)
Sieu Hui and one of her sons
Here are Sieu Hui's instructions in Vietnamese via an email for me! Cam on S. Hui!!

"Cach kho ca Basa: chuan bi 1 con ca, nuoc mam, duong, hat nem, toi, dau an. sau do lam sach ca, cat khoanh xong uop ca voi nuoc mam, duong, hat nem va dau an. de khoang 15 phut cho tham gia vi. roi bac len bep kho voi lua nho va cho them nua chen nuoc vao. kho cho den khi can la duoc. muc ca ra dia cho mot it tieu va hanh vao."--Sieu Hui

*For some interesting photos and stories about the refugee camp in Galang you can check out I have corresponded with Gaylord Barr who taught English in Galang from 1979 to 1980. He reinforced and confirmed what I remember from living in Galang and put a name to places/locations of where I was. Thank you Gaylord! I attended a few English classes and quit after my second or third day because I found the language to be too difficult. Shamefully I do not remember my teacher but I know it was not Gaylord.

My family lived on Site I . My parents worked many long hours, 7 days a week at their small portable "convenient" shop that they set up to sell fruits, candies, and other household items. All four of us kids were under 8 years old. I was the oldest so I took care of my brothers and cooked rice for the family while my parents worked. We did not have the electric rice cooker so I basically cooked from scratch. When I say "scratch" I meant gathering wood, make a fire and make sure not to burn my rice as it was cooking! I remember my brothers and I frequented the Youth Center at night and we listened to older Vietnamese people telling ghost stories until we were shaking with fear. When it got so dark and late we would run home as fast as we could. Although life was tough for my parents in Galang they never complained in front of us and never made us feel unsafe. We were very poor and barely had money to eat our next meal but I never felt that was the case. While in Galang my mother sold my only pair of earrings--they were 
gold dangling earrings with red stones. Looking back now I realized how desperate our life must have been for my mother to exchange a little piece of gold for a few dollars. My brothers and I had a good time while living in the refugee camp and did not get a sense that our family was struggling for survival. I can only thank my parents for protecting my brothers and me for that. They lived a life full of the unknowns and stress and they never showed their fears and anxiety to their children. That is amazing parenting, love, and sacrifice!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Teochew Preserved Turnip Omelet (serves 1)

I grew up eating omelets such as chai poh nung.  This one is made from chai poh or preserved salted turnips. Most of the time my parents served these omelets with a bowl of plain rice soup, called mue in Teochew or cháo trắng in Vietnamese (made from boiling water and a little rice).  Sometimes I make this and eat it with steamed rice.  This is a very simple meal and it always reminds me of my Teochew comfort home cooking.

My Ah Ma often tells me stories of her childhood near Swatow (or Suatao).  One of the stories is that her family was very poor and when she was a child her mother almost gave her away. However, her father decided that no matter how poor they were he would keep his family together.  I suspect that some of the dishes such as chai poh nung were created by the poor people such as my grandmother's family to extend their daily meal.  The preserved salted turnips can be kept easily in the house without refrigeration and a little of this goes a long a way! 

Teochew Preserved Turnip Omelet (serves 1)


1/2 cup of chopped preserved turnips
3 large eggs
1 tsp olive oil


1) Heat a small pan with oil over medium high heat.
2) Once the pan is hot add the preserved turnips.  Stir and fry for about 4-5 minutes.
3) Lightly whisk the eggs with a fork in a small bowl.
4) Add the cooked preserved turnips in the egg mixture, stir a few times.
5) Pour this mixture into the pan.
6) Cover the pan and let the egg mixture cook for about 2-3 minutes.
7) Uncover the pan and either flip the egg mixture or fold the 2 sides in.  Cover the pan and cook for another minute or two until the egg mixture is not runny anymore.
8) Serve immediately.

*Be sure to wash the preserved salted turnip well in water and dry before using.  
*After step 3 you can also pour the egg mixture into the pan.  Make sure to have the cooked preserved turnip equally scattered in the pan before pouring the egg mixture for equal distribution of both ingredients.
*You may purchase the preserved salted turnip in an Asian market.
*I found this interesting website with proper pronunciations on how to address people in Teochew.

Ginger Braised Pork Spare Ribs (serves 3-4 as part of a shared meal)

ginger braised pork spare ribs
Once in a great while my mother would make this rib dish for our family and it is always so delicious. Our family prefers to eat this with fresh herbs, fresh vegetables (such as cucumber, tomato, or lettuce) or steamed vegetables.  We like to dip the vegetables in the sauce to balance out the saltiness. You can have your butcher cut the ribs into 1-inch pieces. The Asian markets usually carry these already cut into strips in a package.  All you have to do is cut the long pieces between the bones to make this dish.  

Pork fat is very bad for your health--over time it can raise your bad cholesterol and clog your arteries, increasing your chance for many health problems and premature death. Be sure to trim off as much fat as you can before you use the ribs.  Once you have completed cooking, remove the ribs in a bowl. Carefully scoop the top clear layer and discard it in the trash--this is the fat.  If you have a fat or gravy separator you can use this to get rid of the fat layer.  Another great method is to keep the liquid or sauce in a refrigerator overnight and remove/discard the white condensed layer the next day. The latter method is something my mother used decades before everyone got excited and concerned about cholesterol.

Ginger Braised Pork Spare Ribs (serves 3-4 as part of a shared meal)


2 lbs pork ribs (have the butcher cut into 1 inch pieces), washed and dried
1/2 C thinly julienned ginger (or cut a piece about 2-3 times thumb size)
1/2 C cold water
2 large garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
Ground black pepper, garnish (optional)


1) In a small cast iron or pot heat oil over medium high heat.
2) Once the pot is hot add ginger and garlic, saute for about 4 minutes.
3) Add the ribs, saute for about 5 minutes.
4) Add 1/2 cup water and cover the pan.  May turn the heat down to medium low or low.  Cook for another 10 minutes, stir a few times.  At this stage you may cook longer depending on how soft you want your meat.
5) Add oyster sauce and sugar.  Stir and cook partially uncovered for another 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.

ginger braised pork spare ribs, steamed vegetables and rice

*You can add 1-2 whole hot chili peppers to the beginning of the cooking process if interested.
*Use as little or as much ginger as you prefer.  I like this dish with a lot of ginger.  You can make this dish without ginger.  
*If you already have high cholesterol you can make this dish using the leanest pork instead of ribs.
*Cast iron pots retain the heat well and you may have to lower the heat when cooking, especially when covering the pot.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Bánh Cuốn (serves 4-5)

banh cuon
I have several favorite Vietnamese street foods and bánh cuốn is one of them. The Vietnamese translation for these delicious rolls: bánh = cake and cuốn = roll. In Vietnam these bánh cuốn are steamed on a tight muslin cloth that reminds me of a drum. However, my mother makes her bánh cuốn using a regular frying pan and they come out very thin and as tasty as those made with the special steamer. I have a non-stick crepe pan and it makes beautiful bánh cuốn.



6 cups water
1 lb rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/4 tsp salt


1) Mix all ingredients in a large container or pot until well blended, set aside. May prepare a day before.
2) Use a non-stick pan or a crepe pan and wipe the pan lightly with a paper towel soaked with a little oil. This method prevent leaving too much oil on the pan. Heat the pan over medium heat.
3) Once the pan is hot, add a ladle of crepe batter, swirl the batter all over the pan and empty out access batter back into the batter container or pot.
4) Cover the pan and let it steam for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling along one end of the crepe. Use a pair of chopsticks and a silicone spatula to help roll the crepe up.  Remove the rolled crepe to a dish.
5) Wipe the pan clean with oil soaked paper towel. Repeat the cooking process until all of the batter is done. Cover the finished crepes to prevent from drying out.

cover and let crepe steam for about 30 seconds
add filling and roll
the completed rolls
*It may take a few tries before you achieve the right temperature for your crepes and understand the amount of time needed to cook each one.  If you cook the crepe too long they will start to dry up and break.  Also it may take a few practices before you can make thin crepes.  The best crepes are ones that are made very thin and the filling can be seen once they are rolled up.
*I used a pair of chopsticks and a silicone spatula to help roll the crepes.  However, you can use whatever you have available at home to roll the crepe without burning your fingers.
*I find the tapioca flour helps make the crepes more translucent.  However you can make perfectly good crepes with rice flour alone.

cooked filling


1 lb ground pork
2/3 cup dried wood ears, hydrated, rinsed well, and chopped (yields about 1 C)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4-5 large garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp sugar


1) Heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat.  Once the pan is hot add garlic and scallions.  Saute for about a minute.
2) Add pork, break the meat into small pieces.  Saute about 6 minutes.
3) Add wood ears, fish sauce and sugar.  Saute for about 4 minutes or until all the meat is completely cooked.  Drain the contents before using (if the filling is too wet).

*Wood ears are a type of mushroom that has a little crunch to them.  These are often sold dry in an Asian market.  You can hydrate these in warm or hot water.  Once hydrated be sure to rinse well in water and squeeze out all the access water before using.


Julienned fresh cucumber
Blanched fresh bean sprouts
Julienned cha lua
Vietnamese dipping sauce (with hot sauce if desired)
Dried shallots (garnish)

*Cha lua is a Vietnamese sausage or pork roll. Some people make these at home but you may purchase these rolls in Asian markets.
*You can make the shallots by frying these thinly sliced shallots in oil until they are golden color.  For convenience you may purchase them in a container in Asian markets. They are used as garnishes. I like to add them in my noodle soups.

addendum: My cousin, Ngoc and I made this batch of banh cuon
 using banh cuon flour already mixed in a bag.
Water was added to the flour to make a batter.
Ngoc made the dipping sauce and fried shallots.
We used a non-stick pan to make these delicious and thin crepes (2015).
Addendum: Below are a few photos of a home-made steam pot belonging to my friend's mother. The fabric is cotton sewn with a string. The round tube to hold the fabric is made from hard metal. The pot has 4 screws to anchor the round metal with the fabric. 

4 screws on the top of the pot to hold
the steaming layer
round metal piece
cotton fabric sew with a string for
easy removal and washing

the steaming pot
home-made banh cuon steaming pot

Ah Ma's Special Fried Rice (about 6 servings)

On my recent trip to visit relatives in Vietnam my cousin Sieu Hui made Ah Ma's fried rice. This is how Ah Ma likes her fried rice.  It is made with rice, shrimp, taro and Chinese broccoli. People add many different ingredients to their fried rice, however, Ah Ma's special ingredient is taro.  Tonight I decided to add some Chinese sausages since I have a few left in my refrigerator. I must tell you this dish turned out amazingly tasty!

Ah Ma's Special Fried Rice (about 6 servings)


3 C uncooked rice
1 lb taro (or 6 taro roots), peeled and diced
3 Chinese style sausages
1 lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined, roughly chopped
5 oz Chinese broccoli leaves only, sliced thinly
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1/2 tsp salt


1) Cook the cubed taro and whole sausages with the rice either in a pot over the stove or in a rice cooker.  Once the rice is completely cooked, remove the sausages and dice them.
2) Heat oil in a large pan or wok over medium high heat, add the diced sausages, garlic and shrimp.  Saute for about 2 minutes or until the shrimp is just cooked.
3) Add the broccoli leaves, saute about a minute until the leaves are wilted and cooked through.
4) Add soy sauce and salt and saute for about a minute.
5) Decrease heat to medium low.  Add the rice with taro a little at a time, mix all contents until well blended.  Continue to add a little more rice with taro until all the contents are mixed together.

when I was in Vietnam my cousin Sieu Hui made this fried rice
(Ah Ma is holding a bowl of rice made just for her)
*The smaller shrimp are a lot less costly and this is a great recipe for them.
*I believe that fried rice is made as a way to use up old rice, at least this is one of the ways old rice is used in my family.  If you don't have day old rice then you can just make it using freshly made rice.  If you are making the rice then use a little less water so that the cooked rice is less wet once cooked. Dryer cooked rice will make better fried rice.

Sweet October Soup (serves about 6-8)

I often associate Fall with crisp cool air, colorful leaves and pumpkins.  There are plenty of small sugar pumpkins available in many markets. You can pick a few for decorations and one to make this dessert.

Growing up in my family we almost never eat dessert right after a meal.  Dessert is eaten randomly. Most of the time it is served on special occasions or as a snack.  Also the dessert is never overwhelmingly sweet. When my family and I immigrated to the U.S. my mother made different types of Chinese/Vietnamese dessert treats for us.  Often times she made a dessert called chè (in Vietnamese) for us.  Chè is basically a sweet soup.  It is versatile, quick to make, delicious and nutritious.  You can add anything you want in this sweet soup.  I like to eat this while it is still hot.  


1/2 sugar pumpkin or about 1 1/2 lb, peeled and cut into bite size (about 1 1/2 x 3/4th inch)
1 medium size sweet potato or about 1 lb, peeled and cut into bite size
1 medium size yam or about 1 lb, peeled and cut into bite size
8 C water
1 can (14 fl oz or 400 mL) coconut milk
1/2 C brown sugar (or according to your taste
1/3 C barley
1 tsp vanilla extract


1) In  a large pot add water, pumpkin, potato, yam, and barley over medium high heat.  Once the water boils turn the heat down to a gentle boil.  Cook with the cover on for about 20-25 minutes or until everything is soft.
2)  Add coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla and cook for another 5 minutes and turn off heat.

leaves of gold
(NH, October 2013)
*The beautiful Fall place-mat is made by my brother's grandmother-in-law, Barbara.  She has many amazing talents and one of them is her creation of these for me.  Thank you, Barbara!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sautéed Ají Dulce and Shrimp (serves 2 as part of a meal)

I was at SoWa market (Boston) and these beautiful and colorful tiny ají dulce (sweet peppers) caught my eye. These peppers smell and look similar to Habanero peppers but without the heat.  I was told by a Dominican farmer that these peppers are often used to make sofrito (a blended sauce commonly used in Latin cooking).  Today I decided to make a quick dish with some shrimp.  The lightly sauteed peppers will maintain their crunchiness, texture and colors.  The multi-color of this dish reminds me of our Fall season during this time of the year in the Northeast U.S..


20 shrimp, washed, peeled, butterflied, and de-veined
25 sweet peppers, washed, slice in half, and de-seeded
2 carrots, washed, peeled, and diced
2 celery hearts leaves included, washed and diced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 Tbsp canola oil, olive oil or grapeseed oil
1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 pinches of sugar


1) Heat 1 tablespoon of oil into a pan or wok over medium high heat.
2) Once the pan or wok is hot, add garlic, saute for about 1 minute.
3) Add shrimp and saute for about 2 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked.  Remove contents and reserve in a bowl.
4) Add the other tablespoon of oil into the pan or wok.
5) Add peppers and carrots, cover pan or wok and cook for about 3 minutes.
6) Add celery and cook for about 2 minutes.
7) Return the shrimp into the pan or wok, add fish sauce and sugar, saute for another 2- 3 minutes.

*You can add the peppers either when adding the carrots or the celery. It is all depends on how cooked you prefer your peppers.

ají dulce (sweet peppers)

Sautéed Trio of Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce (serves 3-4 as part of a meal)

I was in an Asian market and noticed an abundance of fresh mushrooms on display.  They looked so good that I had to purchase some.  I have home-made pork broth (made from pig's trotters) so I included it in this recipe.  You can use store-bought broth but just remember to buy the low sodium type, this way you can control the amount of sodium or salt in your cooking.  If you do not have broth you can use water.  If you use water you may need to add a little more fish sauce or salt. Also depending on the types of mushrooms you use, some mushrooms give out a lot of water especially the white button mushrooms.  The ones I have here in this recipe do not produce much water.  If your mushrooms have high water content you may omit the broth. Here is my inspiration for these mushrooms.  I served this with piping hot rice. However, you can serve this as a side dish or even over pasta.


1 lb or about 3 fresh king mushrooms, trimmed and sliced into 1/8th-inch slices
1/2 lb fresh oyster mushrooms, trimmed and sliced in half
1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced each mushroom into 4
1/4 C to 1/2 C of pork, chicken or vegetable broth (depending on how much liquid you want for this dish)
1 cilantro, chopped (about 1/2 C)
1 scallion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp of fish sauce (or to your taste)
1/2 tsp sugar


1)  Heat oil in a large wok or pan over medium high heat.
2) Once the pan is hot add garlic, saute for about a minute.
3) Add mushrooms and broth, stir a few times, cover the wok or pan for about 7 minutes.
4) Uncover the wok or pan, add scallions, cilantro, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar.
6) Continue to stir and cook for another 3 minutes.

*Trim each mushroom by removing and discarding the tough part of the stem.  If you want to make this dish even more special you can add some of Ah Ma's Shrimp Balls to this recipe, you can add them under step 4.

Forest Light
Boston Esplanade, 2013
Forest Light
(ghost of people can be seen on the path, 2013)
Forest Light is on display at the Boston Esplanade until October 13, 2013.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ah Ma's Teochew Shrimp Balls (makes about 60-64 balls)

shrimp balls
I grew up watching my grandmother and mother making these little balls using fish and shrimp and adding them into a steam boat on special occasions.  My grandmother is known to all her grandchildren as Ah Ma which means grandmother in Teochew, has made them the same way for many decades.  I remember she made these balls by mincing the shrimp or fish with a large cleaver.  First she finely chopped the shrimp or scraped the fish and then used the blade of cleaver to smash the meat a little at a time to turn it into a fine paste. The whole process seemed to be time consuming now that I have a food processor.  Ah Ma tells me that the old-fashioned way creates tastier and chewier balls.

One day while having our usual conversation I asked Ah Ma how she makes her delicious shrimp balls which is pronounced "heh ee" in Teochew. According to Ah Ma they are simple to make and her basic ingredients consist of shrimp, garlic, salt, and duck egg white. She believes duck egg is better than chicken egg for these balls. However, chicken eggs will do if duck eggs are not available.

Ah Ma's Teochew Shrimp Balls (makes about 60-64 balls)


2-lbs shrimp
1 duck egg white or 2 chicken egg white
4 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped finely
1/4-1/2 tsp salt


Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times until all the ingredients are blended together into a paste.  Take a spoon and scoop some of the paste onto the base of our thumb and index finger.  Make a fist and squeeze the paste to form a little ball on top of your thumb and index finger. Use your thumb to perfect the ball.  Take the spoon and scoop this little ball from your hand and drop it into gently boiling broth for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the ball floats to the top. Once done scoop the balls out and reserve them in a bowl. Repeat until all the paste is gone. Once the balls are completely cooled, you may divide them into small bags and freeze them for future use.

headless shrimp
peeled shrimp
tofu and shrimp balls soup
Ah Ma giving thanks and praying to our ancestors for good health, 2009
(the steam boat is seen at the center of table)
*My mother makes her shrimp balls using a mixture of Maine shrimp and non-Maine shrimp to create chewier shrimp balls.  Maine shrimp and New Hampshire shrimp tend to make the balls too soft if used alone, probably due to their high water content.  My mother likes to make combination balls using ground pork and shrimp.  You can also make chicken balls or combination chicken and shrimp balls. Sometimes my mother deep fried the shrimp balls and this gave the balls a whole different texture. These balls freeze well.  My mother often makes a huge batch and freeze them in little bags for future use. 
*When my husband and I visited Hong Kong I noticed that a few street vendors were selling similar meat and seafood balls on skewers.  These balls were fried and coated with a mildly sweet glazed sauce.  These snacks were addicting and tasty.
*If you are Teochew nang and/or are interested in learning more about Teochew please check this link:  Gaginang.  You can sign in and be a member of Gaginang.