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.

Bánh Cuốn (serves 4-5)

Crepes

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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
Bánh Cuốn (serves 4-5)

Filling

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

Bánh Cuốn (serves 4-5)

Toppings

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)

Ingredients:


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

Method:

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.  

Sweet October Soup (serves about 6-8)

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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 (United States).

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


Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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)


Ingredients

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

Method:

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.