Saturday, February 21, 2015

Char-Grilled Eels--Japanese style (makes 8-10 young eels)


When I visit An Trach Market (in Vietnam) the vendors are always so willing to share with me their best and freshest produce. I have not thought about eating young eels on this trip but when I saw them swimming around in a large container I thought this may be my last chance to eat them! It also seems that even though I do not intend on buying much when I visit An Trach Market, somehow on seeing the fresh ingredients I can be easily convinced by these friendly vendors to try some! My friend Ken (back in New Hampshire) informed me several months back that due to high market demand for baby eels there has been a lot of illegal poaching (for the young eels) in his hometown. I was told these baby eels go for $1000 USD per pound and are shipped to markets in countries such as Japan. 

The eel vendor beat each eel's head with a heavy mallet to kill it and then cleaned all 8 for me. I left her with the eels after I saw how she killed one and told her I will return for them after shopping. After she cleaned them I still had to scrape the skin well and remove the belly contents once home. I then rub them well with vinegar until all the slime is gone. I slice into both sides of the backbone to semi fillet them. After this I pour about half of the sauce to marinade them in a clean bag. I char-grilled these and they tasted pretty good, not soft and mushy like what you get from most Japanese restaurants across the United States. Shiho, my Japanese friend, confirmed that the Japanese char-grilled eels do not have any garlic or ginger. However, I prefer these ingredients in my eels. You may omit them but they may not be as tasty (my opinion).  

My grandmother has never eaten eels in her 95 years. However, after I made them she actually tried a little piece and thought it was tasty. So far she ate most of my food with the exception of the grilled mice which she was too afraid to try.

char-grilled (Vietnamese style)
Char-Grilled Eels (makes 8-10 young eels)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic, grated
1 Tbsp grated ginger
8 small eels (about 1/2 kg or 1 lb), cleaned well (see instructions below on how to clean eels)

Method:

1) Cook the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar garlic and ginger for about 25-30 minutes or until thickened. Avoid letting sauce boil too rapidly. Once done let the sauce cool completely before using.
2) Use half of the marinade sauce and pour over the cleaned eels and let them marinade at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
3) May cut the eels in half if interested to fit your grill. Grill these for about 5-7 minutes total over low heat or until they are done.

*These char-grilled eels are great with hot steamed rice.

How to Clean Eels

However you purchase your eels, chances are they are not totally cleaned. The eels are easy to clean and all you need is a little time and effort. I would recommend you clean these well before eating since these have a lot of slime and odor if they are not properly prepared. After I bring these home I scrape the entire body for each of them well with a knife and remove any belly contents. I then massage each one (inside and outside) with about 1-2 cups of vinegar until all the slime is completely gone. I rinse all of them several times with clean water. After this I cut along both sides of the spine to fillet it. I keep the backbone in. These eels have one long spinal bone and this can easily be removed during eating. For some dishes you may want to keep the eel whole or cut in 6 inch strips. For other dishes you may want to cut it into rings.

partially cleaned eels from the market (in Vietnam)
these semi-clean eels from the market will need a
more thorough cleaning once home
(as you can see it's a bloody mess)
cleaned eels
these eels must be extremely clean before cooking

Friday, February 20, 2015

How to Clean Eels

However you purchase your eels, chances are they are not totally cleaned. Eels are easy to clean and all you need is a little time and effort. I would recommend you clean these well before eating since these have a lot of slime and odor if they are not properly prepared. After bringing these home I scrape the entire body well with a knife and remove any belly contents. I then massage each one (inside and outside) with about 1-2 cups of vinegar until all the slime is completely gone. I rinse all of them several times with clean water. After this I cut along slightly into both sides of the spine to fillet it. I keep the backbone in. These eels have one long spinal bone and this can easily be removed during eating. For some dishes you may want to keep the eel whole or cut in 6 inch strips. For other dishes you may want to cut it into rings.

--partially cleaned eels brought home from the market (in Vietnam)
--these semi-clean eels from the market will need a
more thorough cleaning once home
--removing the belly contents
(can be one bloody mess)
--cleaned eels
(these eels must be extremely clean before cooking)
--cleaned eels (semi-fillet)
--cleaned eels (semi-fillet)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bun Xao Xa Thit Heo (Sauteed Round Rice Noodles in Lemongrass & Pork)--makes about 4 large plates


I made this simple bun xao xa thit heo (or sauteed round rice noodles in lemongrass & pork) for lunch and everyone seemed to think it was delicious. Perhaps because we were starving! I made a similar dish but with minced pork so my grandmother can eat. The lemongrass came from the clumps grown in the back of my grandmother's yard. The rest of the ingredients came from various vendors at An Trach Market. This noodle dish is flexible. You can add as many ingredients as you want. I prefer to make one or two servings at a time. It is best to eat this as soon as it is done cooking.

some of the ingredients
Ingredients:

Oil for greasing the pan
3-4 lemongrass (depending on size), chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 tsp grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
2 shallots, chopped
2-2 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
1/2 large white onion, cut in wedges
About 4 oz pork (or more if interested), thinly sliced
About 2 lbs and 10 oz bun (fresh round rice noodles)
2 tomatoes, de-seeded and cut in wedges
2 large handful of beansprouts
Fish sauce
Sugar
A large handful of young lettuce leaves
A handful of an assortment of herbs
2 limes, cut into wedges
Roasted peanuts, crushed
Vietnamese chili and garlic dipping sauce

Method:

1) Heat a large non-stick pan or wok over medium high heat. Once the pan or wok is hot add a little oil (about 1/2 a tablespoon).
2) Add about 1 tablespoon of lemongrass, a pinch of ginger, 1 tsp of garlic, 1 tsp of shallot, a small handful of scallions, and a few onion wedges. Saute for about a minute.
3) Add a few slices of pork and saute until the meat is just cooked.
4) Add a handful of noodles and saute until the noodles are heated through and the ingredients coat them.
5) Add 3-4 tomato wedges and a little of the beansprouts. Cook for about a minute or until they are cooked to your preference.
6) Season with a few drizzle of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar (or according to your taste). Toss all the ingredients together until they are all blended..
7) This is how I serve the noodles: Line some lettuce in a plate, add the noodles on top, tear or cut some herbs and scatter them on top of the noodles, sprinkle some peanuts and garnish with a wedge of lime. I drizzle some dipping sauce right before eating.
8) Repeat the same procedure until all the ingredients are gone or you may refrigerate some of the ingredients to make another batch later.

*May use beef or seafood instead of pork. Use more if you are interested. I prefer a few slices of meat and lots of herbs and vegetables in this noodle dish.
*I spoke to one of my aunts (living in California) over the phone and she asked me what I have been making. I told her about this dish. She suggested that I marinade the meat. So if you are interested you can marinade (for 15 to 20 minutes) the meat with some lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallot and a few squirts of rice wine. 
*My cousin Hui Chieu reminds me that some restaurants or vendors in Soctrang do not saute the noodles in with the rest of the ingredients. However, I prefer cooking the noodles for a more robust flavor. When you cook this dish you can choose whichever method you prefer. Also always feel free to adjust the ingredients to please your taste buds.

Pork Liver Pate (makes 2 small bowls)


My liver (pate) needs a little aged cognac (in this case literally)! :D I noticed during this visit that there was a half full or half empty (depending on how you prefer to look at it) bottle of cognac sitting on the cabinet. Di Y (my maternal second aunt) mentioned to me twice (once during the last visit and recently during this visit) that she likes liver pate. I have come to know a young trustworthy pork vendor at An Trach Market and bought a little of the liver she had hanging. The beauty about buying produce at these local markets such as in my grandmother's village is that I can buy however much I want. I can feel comfortable buying as small a fifth of a kilogram of meat or as large as kilograms. These vendors are great. Also if you don't know how to make a dish, just ask and usually you get quite a few suggestions! It's really a joy to shop here.


Ingredients:

3 Tbsp butter or oil
3 Tbsp chopped shallot
3 Tbsp chopped scallion
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
10 oz pork liver, cubed
3-4 oz pork, cubed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground pepper
2 Tbsp good cognac
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk

Method:

1) Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add butter, shallot, scallion, garlic, and ginger. Saute for about a minute. Avoid burning the garlic.
2) Add liver and pork. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the liver and meat are just cooked.
3) Season with salt, sugar, pepper, cognac and cream. Saute for about 2-3 minutes until everything are well blended and the liver and pork are completely cooked.
4) Once the contents cool down then put everything in a meat grinder and grind until smooth.
4) Pack the pate into a container or bowl and smooth out the top. Seal tightly and keep refrigerated for up to a week.

*As always you may adjust the seasoning according to your taste.

this pork liver pate makes a great spread in banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pennywort, Pineapple & Milk Blend (serves 2)


In the refrigerator I still have some pennywort extract, pineapple, and some fresh milk. With all these ingredients I came up with this tasty and refreshing drink!

Pennywort, Pineapple & Milk Blend (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh pineapple pieces
1 cup pennywort extract (see recipe below)
180 mL fresh milk (about 3/4 cups)
1-2 Tbsp condensed milk (optional)
Ice

Method:

Grind all ingredients together in a blender until well blended. Serve with extra ice cubes if interested.

*Depending on the sweetness of your pineapple you may not need the condensed milk.
*When you blend anything with ice it does not stay cold for long in the tropical heat (especially in the Mekong Delta--Vietnam). I usually like to add more ice cubes in afterwards.

rau ma (pennywort leaves)
Pennywort Extract (makes about 3 3/4 cups)

Ingredients:

1 kg (2.2 lbs) pennywort leaves and stems, washed well 
600 mL (2.5 cups) water

Method:

Depending on the size of your blender either use the full amount of water or use half. If using half water then divide the pennywort leaves/stems into 2 batches. Blend about a handful of leaves/stems at a time until well blended before adding more. Repeat until all the leaves/stems are gone. Squeeze out the juice (may use cheese cloth) and discard the pulp. Keep the juice in the refrigerator until ready to use. May keep for 2-3 days.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pennywort Creamy Drink (makes 2 drinks)

I recently blended 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of pennywort (rau ma) leaves and stems in 600 mL (2.5 cups) water. It is best to add a handful of leaves/stems at a time to blend before adding more. I used a hand-made strainer (made from cloth and wire) to squeeze out the juice. I used part of the juice extracted to make a special drink by adding coconut water and meat (coconut) with a little condensed milk. The result is "OK" per my cousin Mien Lai who stopped by for a short visit. He tells me his "Ok" means good!

pennywort (rau ma)
Pennywort Extract (makes about 3 3/4 cups)

Ingredients:

1 kg (2.2 lbs) pennywort leaves and stems, washed well 
600 mL (2.5 cups) water

Method:

Depending on the size of your blender either use the full amount of water or use half. If using half water then divide the pennywort leaves/stems into 2 batches. Blend about a handful of leaves/stems at a time until well blended before adding more. Repeat until all the leaves/stems are gone. Squeeze out the juice (may use cheese cloth) and discard the pulp. Keep the juice in the refrigerator until ready to use. May keep for 2-3 days.

home-made strainer and pulp
Pennywort Creamy Drink (makes 2 glasses)

Ingredients:

1 cup of pennywort (rau ma) extract (recipe above)
1 young coconut water and meat (about 2 cups total)
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp condensed milk (more or less depending on your taste)
Ice

Method:

In a blender blend everything together until well blended.

*The young coconuts that I have seen here are generally have about 2-2 1/2 cups of water. After the water is taken out then these are cut in half. I like to eat the soft meat inside by using a spoon to scoop it out. For this recipe I just spoon the meat and make this special delicious blend.

Here is a coconut that I have emptied the water from.
Next I take my cleaver and cut it in half to get to the meat.

Pennywort Extract (makes about 3 3/4 cups)


My uncle prefers his pennywort extract made from as little liquid as possible. This way the juice will be more flavorful. If you can make this with coconut water it will taste better than just plain water. Be sure to wash the leaves and stems well before using. These plants grow low on the ground so some may have a lot of soil on them. I think I must have washed them about 10 times! Once extracted you may drink it straight, add sugar or condensed milk. You may even blend it with other fruits.

my uncle has a little of the pennywort growing in a pot
Pennywort Extract (makes about 3 3/4 cups)

Ingredients:

1 kg (2.2 lbs) pennywort leaves and stems, washed well 
600 mL (2.5 cups) coconut water or plain water

Method:

Depending on the size of your blender either use the full amount of water or use half. If using half water then divide the pennywort leaves/stems into 2 batches. Blend about a handful of leaves/stems at a time until well blended before adding more. Repeat until all the leaves/stems are gone. Squeeze out the juice (may use cheese cloth) and discard the pulp. Keep the juice in the refrigerator until ready to use. May keep for up to 2-3 days.

*If you have a juicer it will make your job a lot easier!
*It is best to drink the juice as soon as possible.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Thit Heo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Pork Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf)--makes 30 rolls


Recently I made Bo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf) with a few pork rolls. I did not get to taste the pork rolls then but Ah Ma (my grandmother) said they were tasty and ate 6 of the 7 rolls! One of my aunts ate the 7th roll and also said it was good. After my first attempt I came up with a few improvements for the second time around. These leaves are thin and burn easily if the grill heat gets too high. I realized if the meat comes to the edges of the roll and the heat is low then it will not burn during grilling. People generally use beef instead of pork with these particular leaves. However, my relatives and I can say we enjoy the pork version. Here are my improved rolls. My grandmother, uncle and aunt tell me these are good to eat without any special dipping sauce.

charcoal grilled pork wrapped in wild betel leaf
Ingredients:

25 young and tender betel leaves, washed, chiffonade
1 tsp oil
400 grams pork (about 14 oz), cubed or sliced
2 Tbsp lemongrass, thinly sliced and chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp oyster sauce
30 medium to large young betel leaves, washed

Method:

1) Stack the 25 young leaves, fold in half and chiffonade. Saute in about 1 tsp of oil for about 15-20 seconds or until the leaves are just wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
2) In a meat grinder place the pork, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt, sugar, and oyster sauce inside. Pulse a few times until the meat is just grounded and all ingredients are blended. Avoid over grinding.
3) Remove and stir in the wilted young leaves. Use a chopstick or fork and mix everything until well blended. Avoid over mixing.
4) Portion the meat out to 30 pieces and gently shape each piece into a thin log (the same length as the widest part of the leaf).
5) With the shiny side of the leaf facing down, add the meat (log) closer to the tip. Make sure the log is the same length as the widest part of that leaf. Gently roll the leaf with the meat up towards the stem. Use a toothpick or skewer and poke a hole at the end (in the middle of the roll) and put the stem inside to hold the roll in place. The meat should come to both edges of each roll.
6) Repeat until you have complete all the rolls.
7) Oil the grill (I use a clean paper towel) if needed. Place the rolls on the grill over low heat (as the leaves will burn easily). Turn the rolls to prevent them from burning. Grill these for about 15 minutes (depending on your grill and heat) or until they are cooked.

*Be sure to save about 1/4" of the stem to help secure the roll together. If you have any with missing stems it is still fine to use. When you grill the roll just make sure you place the final end of the leaf facing down so the roll does not unravel during grilling. Once the leaf starts to wilt a little then the leaf will stick to the meat better.
*I have never heard of or seen anyone putting chopped or chiffonade young and tender leaves mixed in with the meat but I think these add depth, flavor and texture to the rolls. My grandmother seems to like them very much so if these are good enough for her then they are good for me.
*If you purchase your wild betel leaves they may be older and thicker. If you find them to be too thick to roll then you may blanch them quickly. I did not realized this until one of our visitors from Saigon told me this. Since I harvested my own leaves I can easily choose the young ones. She also tells me people do not put in turmeric. However, I added this because I have some in my kitchen and I was curious to see how it tastes. It turns out I like the extra added flavor. Be careful using turmeric since it can stain your skin and clothes.
*I did not sprinkle chopped roasted peanuts over these rolls as they are too hard for my grandmother. If you prefer them this way then you may certainly add them.
*I made Mam Nem Nuoc Cham--my cousin's way but added a little grated ginger and some lime juice as suggested by my mother and it turned out quite tasty. Please see Bo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf) for the recipe.

Tom Kho Tau (Sauteed Prawns)--serves 4 as part of a shared meal


This is a simple but very popular Vietnamese dish known as tôm kho tàu. It tends to be heavier on the salty side so load up on lots of fresh vegetables when you eat this! I have made a similar dish but with a few different ingredients, Sauteed Shrimp with Roe. My cousin Sieu Hui makes this with garlic, salt, sugar and MSG. She also marinades her prawns with the rest of the ingredients for about 15 minutes. Here I made this with less salt and no MSG.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp oil
3 garlic, smashed and chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 lbs prawns, heads and shells removed except for the piece of tail end, saved the roe, deveined
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Method:

1) Heat a small pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot add oil.
2) Add garlic and shallots, saute about 30 seconds to a minute. Avoid burning the garlic.
3) Stir in the prawns and its juice and roe. Stir occasionally but gently for about 4 minutes or until the prawns are curled up and just cooked. May turn the heat down slightly if needed.
4) Season with salt and sugar. Cook for another minute or until the prawns are completely cooked.

Vietnamese prawns
*If you prefer this dish to be saltier then just add more salt according to your taste.
*You can make this by using Maine lobsters if you have any. My mother (in Maine) makes this and it's very tasty. In the summer she serves this with plenty of home-grown vegetables and herbs.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Charcoal Grilled Asian Eggplants (serves 4 as part of a shared meal)


I was not planning on eating eggplants this week but while visiting An Trach Market I was convinced by these cute young girls to buy some. I have to say they are good business people!! I did not know what to do with the eggplants until I saw that there was a little charcoal burning in a clay stove outside. I took advantage of the heat and grilled these. They are delicious with a little Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham) and rice.




Ingredients:

6 eggplants, halved (may make more or less depending on your appetite)
A little oil
Scallion oil

Method:

Grease the grill and coat part of the eggplants with a little oil. Grill over medium low heat for about 7-10 minutes or until cooked to your preference. The cooking time will depend on how hot the grill is. Drizzle some scallion oil on top and serve.

*If you are not interested in adding the scallion oil you may drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on both sides of the eggplants and grill. These are great with steaks!
*You may use an electric grill for these. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rau Muong Xao Chao (Stir Fried Water Spinach with Fermented Tofu)--serves 4 as part of a shared meal


I still have some left over fermented tofu from making Vit Nau Chao (Fermented Tofu Hot Pot). I made a stir fried water spinach with fermented tofu last week using only the tips and I cut everything into 1/2 inch lengths for my grandmother. It turned out tasty and I wanted to make it again. Luckily I came across some tasty looking water spinach (rau muong in Vietnamese) at the An Trach Market!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 Tbsp oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 1/2 lbs water spinach (or rau muong in Vietnamese), tough parts or damaged leaves discarded
1/4 cup water
3 to 3/2 Tbsp fermented tofu (or chao in Vietnamese)
2 tsp sugar (or according to your taste)

Method:

1) Heat a large pan or wok over high heat. Add oil once the pan or wok is hot.
2) Add garlic. Saute for about a minute.
3) Add water spinach and saute about 5 minutes or until wilted.
4) Mix water, fermented tofu in a small bowl. Mash the tofu pieces well.
5) Stir this mixture into the pan or wok and cook for another 2 minutes.

fermented tofu (chao)

Stir Fried Sliced Bitter Melon with Pork and Egg (serves 4 as part of a shared meal)


I enjoy eating bitter melons. These are quite bitter and some people may not like the taste so much for this reason. I came across some fresh looking ones at An Trach Market. The vendors at this market are very generous to me. Many of them always ask what I plan on making and then add some extra ingredients for free so I can complete the dish. When I bought these I had not decided on what to make but thought about making a soup for my grandmother. The woman selling these gave me some scallions and cilantro so I can make it!

When I purchase bitter melons I tend to choose the small ones instead of large. I heard that some people think the larger ones have less bitterness but I really cannot tell the difference. Once home I cored and sliced them very thinly. Then I washed and massaged them in salted water. I rinsed them well and squeezed out the water with my hands before cooking to help remove some of the bitterness. I made this a little on the drier side since I like it this way but my uncle prefers a little more liquid. If you prefer it that way then add a little broth to this dish.

bitter melons with extra free scallions and cilantro
from an An Trach Market vendor
halved and cored
sliced bitter melon with shallot and garlic
Ingredients:

1 1/2 Tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed, chopped
1 shallot, peeled, sliced thinly
1/2 cup of sliced pork
4 small bitter melons, halved, cored, sliced thinly, washed, squeezed dried
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp sugar
1 egg, whisked lightly with a fork

Method:

1) Heat a wok or large pan over high heat.
2) One the wok or pan is hot, add oil.
3) Add garlic and shallots, saute about 30 seconds.
4) Add pork. Saute about 2 minutes or until the meat is just cooked. Push the meat to the sides.
5) Add bitter melons and saute about 5 minutes or until wilted to your preference.
6) Add fish sauce, and sugar. Saute about a minute.
7) Add egg and stir for about a minute.

*If you prefer this dish with more liquid you may add some broth (about 1/4 cup or even more) in step 6.
*My grandmother likes to eat this with a little squirt of Maggie soy sauce.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rau Dang Bien Xao Toi (Stir Fried Ocean Bitter Herb with Garlic)--serves 2-3 as part of a shared meal


Every time I visit An Trach Market I am greeted by many happy vendors looking to sell fresh produce. I spotted Vietnamese rau dang bien which translates directly to ocean bitter herb. I still have not encountered a reference for these herbs or vegetables in English. There was only one bunch left at the market and it looked fresh and tender. Once home I washed it, drained off the water and used half of the bunch for a quick stir fry in garlic and oil for lunch. My uncle, grandmother and I ate this along with the steamed snakehead fish (or ca loc in Vietnamese), a platter of fresh herbs and vegetables with 3 different dipping sauces (one type for each of us). My uncle and I agreed that sometimes the best foods are the ones that cooked simply and quickly. 

You can also check my previous posting on another similar herb, Bitter Herb and Snakehead Soup (Canh Rau Dang va Ca Loc)

rau dang bien
Ah Ma said she loves this lunch.
Ingredients:

1 Tbsp oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
200 grams (about 7 oz) rau dang bien (ocean bitter herb), tough ends discarded, cut into 3 inch lengths if interested
A few squirts of fish sauce
A pinch of sugar

Method:

1) Heat a pan or wok over high heat.
2) Add oil once the pan or wok is hot.
3) Add garlic. Saute about 30 seconds to a minute.
4) Add bitter herb. Saute about 2 minutes or until the stems and leaves are wilted.
5) Season with fish sauce and sugar. Saute for another 30 seconds and remove from heat.

*You may wash any left over vegetables, drain off the water and store in a clean bag in the refrigerator. They can be kept fresh for up to 2 days.
*As with any of the stir fried dishes you may add meat or seafood. You may add them after step 3. Once the meat or seafood is cooked you may remove them and return them at the end of step 4. 

Fried Taro


At the market I bought 3 large sized taro called mon cao. These have white meat with pretty purple specks mixed in. My aunt peeled and soaked them in water for me. She suggested that I make taro chips since she remember I had made them in the past for my husband and she thought that was good. She also talked about French fries that she saw the kids eating in Saigon. I decided to make her special taro fries. These are tasty and can be quite addicting!

Ingredients:

Taro, cut in 1/4 inch thick
Oil for deep frying
Salt

Method:

Heat a pan or pot over medium high heat. Pour oil to a pan or pot to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. Once the oil is hot put a handful of taro in and cook for about 12-15 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove the taro pieces and put into a strainer, and sprinkle with pinches of salt. Repeat until done.

*If you have left over the next day just refry until hot and crispy.

Frog Eggs in Coconut Water (makes 2 glasses)


I made a drink called Frog Eggs in Sugar Cane from the dried basil seeds that I bought recently, and wrote about it in an earlier posting. These seeds brought back some good memories of my childhood. One of my aunts cut open a young coconut for me. It was very juicy so I took half the liquid and added these seeds for old times sake. Feel free to adjust the ingredients, especially the condensed milk, for sweetness.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp dried basil seeds (known as hot e in Vietnamese)
16 oz coconut water
Meat from 1 young coconut
2 Tbsp condensed milk (more or less according to your preference and health)
Ice

Method:

1) In a container large enough to hold the liquid and meat, add the seeds and coconut water. Wait about 10-15 minutes for the seeds to expand.
2) Add the meat, condensed milk and ice. Shake well and serve.

Bo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf)--makes 20 rolls


I have always wanted to make the Vietnamese bò nướng lá lốt or grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaf but did not have access to these leaves. During my last visit to Vietnam my uncle bought me some rolls from Soctrang after he heard I wanted a taste. Those rolls were very dark, almost black. I also ate some freshly grilled rolls from a young vendor at a Khmer temple (in Soctrang). He used the back of his scooter to grill these beautiful neatly wrapped rolls on a skewer and sold them directly from there! What a true entrepreneur. Only in Southeast Asia in countries such as Vietnam will you see this type of business exist frequently and freely. Witnessing such hard work and dedication from the local people makes me feel good and excited to be here. Both rolls tasted good except they contained far more fat than meat. My cousin Hui Chieu (Hue Chau) and I agreed that the vendors need to make a profit and meat is costly.

grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaf (bo nuong la lot) that
my uncle bought in Soctrang for me to try (2013)
--beautiful skewers of grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaf (2013)--
(bo nuong la lot)
a few hungry but happy young customers
waiting patiently for the grilled rolls (2013)
--skewers of "bo nuong la lot" on wheels (2013)--
What a great way to turn your scooter into a business!
This can only happen in places like Vietnam!!
Living in the East Coast it is difficult to find these leaves. Actually I have never seen them sold even in any of the Asian markets in Boston. I also have never seen it sold in An Trach Market (Vietnam). I think there is just not enough demand for these leaves.

The other day I visited An Trach Market and asked a few vendors where I can find some of these leaves. One of them asked me how much I want as she has some growing in her yard. I told her I want a small bag, some larger leaves for grilling and some young leaves for stir frying. When I asked her how much she responded that I can pay her however much I want. She asked me to return the next morning for them I knew she leaves the market around 10 each morning. The following morning I came to see her early. She admitted she had not been watering them. She was afraid to pick the leaves for me since she thought they looked too old and dried. She motioned to the woman sitting diagonally from her telling me she has some in her yard and I can pick them free of charge. She must have asked around after realizing she can't get any! I asked the woman for the location of her home and the next day I rode my borrowed bicycle down Highway 1 in search for the sugar cane machine (which was the landmark). After a short ride I found the machine and stopped to ask the woman vendor if the wild betel leaves are the green clump I saw growing on the side. I was quite surprised that the leaves looked so healthy...a little dusty but healthy. Later the man sitting next to the vendor woman started to talk to me, telling me the leaves are "nen thuot" meaning it has good medicinal purposes. He did not elaborate further. I was concerned about people discarding trash or even urinating on the plants but he assured me they are clean but just dusty. I parked my bicycle and started to harvest the leaves found highest from the ground. The woman came over and helped me. At the end she suggested that I pull some with the roots to take back to grow. I pulled one and she laughed and said that is not enough so she started to pull out a few more handfuls for me. After all the picking I decided to buy a sugar cane drink from her. I noticed she has one of those hand crank old-fashioned ones that required a lot of strength. I ended up purchasing 2 for less than $1 USD. You may check out my posting on Sugar Cane on the Rocks. I thanked them, told them I will return for more drinks another time and rode back home with my goodies. 

hand crank old-fashioned sugar cane machine
(as you can see from this photo it takes muscles
from all extremities just to squeeze some juice!)
Once home I cleaned the leaves well and placed them in plastic bags in the refrigerator. I soaked the plants with roots in a bucket of water for a few days to help take root.

Today I made charcoal grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaves (bo nuong la lot) with a few special pork rolls for my grandmother (since she does not eat beef). For my grandmother's rolls I added less ingredients to make it easy for her to eat. I spoke to a number of people at the market and my relatives (here in An Trach) and everyone tells me beef and lemongrass are the 2 main ingredients found wrapped in these wild betel leaves. Since I have some nice tender young leaves I sliced them and add to the meat to make it look and taste unique. My cousin Hui Chieu tells me her husband Nha have made these in the past. Nha picked the leaves from his parents' home (which is not close--I visted once and it took us 2 ferry crossings to get to their home). Chieu suggests I wrap the rolls in bun (fresh round rice noodles), some vegetables and herbs and dip in a special mam nem sauce. It sounds great but I was not sure how my rolls were going to taste. I am glad she talked me into adding these extra wrapping ingredients because it turned the rolls into a special meal. Also her mam nem (fermented fish dip) is excellent and goes well with the rolls. Even my grandmother ate her rolls with the sauce! Somehow food tastes much better when you go an extra mile (literally in my case) for the ingredients!

wild betel leaves (la lot)
wild betel leaves with roots for planting
wild betel leaves with roots soaking in water for a few days
prior to planting (to help the roots take)
my harvest
washed and dried leaves
cleaned leaves are bagged and kept in refrigerator

Grilled Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf (Bo Nuong La Lot)--makes 20 rolls

Ingredients:

20 small young leaves, chiffonade
1 tsp of oil (plus more for greasing the grill)
300 gram (about 10.6 oz) beef, cut into thin slices or small cubes
1 large lemongrass, chopped (about 2 Tbsp)
1 scallion, chopped (about 2 Tbsp)
1 shallot, chopped (about 2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp oyster sauce
20 large young wild betel leaves with about 1/4 inch stems, washed and drained
Roasted peanuts, chopped (garnish)

Method:

1) Stack the 20 young leaves, fold in half and chiffonade. Saute in about 1 tsp of oil for about 15-20 seconds or until the leaves are just wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
2) In a meat grinder place the beef, lemongrass, scallion, shallot, garlic, ginger, salt, sugar, and oyster sauce inside. Pulse a few times until the meat is just grounded and all ingredients are blended. Avoid grinding too long.
3) Remove and stir in the wilted young leaves. Use a chopstick or fork and mix everything until well blended. Avoid over mixing.
4) Portion the meat out to 20 pieces and gently shape each piece into a small log.
5) With the shiny side of the leaf facing down, add the meat (log) closer to the tip. Gently roll the leaf with the meat up towards the stem. Either use the stem or a toothpick and poke a hole at the end (in the middle of the roll) and put the stem inside to hold the roll in place.
6) Repeat until you have complete all the rolls.
7) Oil the grill (I use a clean paper towel). Place the rolls on the grill over low to medium-low heat (as the leaves will burn easily). It will take about 5-7 minutes to grill (depending on your grill).

chiffonade the young leaves
sautee the young leaves with a little oil
until wilted
pulse a few times to grind the meat
and blend all the ingredients together
add the sauteed wild betel leaves to the meat and mix well
roll the meat into logs
with the shiny part of the leaf facing
down, add the meat log by the tip
start rolling towards the stem
puncture a hole at the end to poke
the stem inside to secure the roll
once done they should look like these
grill these over charcoal
*If you are using charcoal spread the hot charcoal around in order to lower the heat and to help cook the rolls evenly.
*My cousin and aunt do not think the lemongrass is too much although I thought it was slightly too much. The next time I will use 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped lemongrass instead. Also the next time I will make the log meat skinnier and longer so it will be the same length as the widest part of the leaf. This way the leaf will not burn as much during grilling. 
*Everyone seem to be ok with the seasoning. My uncle thinks it needed a little more sugar. He ate it plain without any dipping or added garnish.
*For my grandmother's pork rolls I used pork mix with a little chopped garlic, shallot, scallion, ginger, salt, sugar and oyster sauce. I left out the wild betel leaves and the lemongrass. I made 7 rolls and she ate 6 of them telling me she really liked them! My aunt ate one. I can't tell you how they taste since I did not eat any.
*If you do not have a meat grinder then you may use a cleaver to mince the meat and the ingredients.  I use 2 cleavers to mince the meat as this will speed up the process. It turns out my grandmother also used the same. She tells me she had to do everything quickly.
*You can read more about the wild betel leaf or piper sarmentosum. There is another type of betel leaf but it is used for recreational chewing. My late paternal grandmother used to chew this along with this red paste and spit it out! 
*The fresh leaves have a nice fragrance and it tastes a little peppery. However once grilled the same fragrance and peppery taste is gone and the beef and lemongrass take over.
*Some people outside of Vietnam use grape leaves in place of the wild betel leaves. You may use these but try to substitute with the young fresh leaves instead of those found in jar.

Mam Nem Nuoc Cham--my cousin's way

Ingredients:

1/2 cup finely chopped pineapple
80 mL (1/3 cup) mam nem
80 mL (1/3 cup) water
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2-2 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp MSG

Method:

Cook all ingredients together for about 5 minutes.

*My grandmother ate this sauce and said it was very good. It must be very good since I have never seen her eat any fermented fish in my life. My cousin Mien Lai stopped by in the evening and ate 2 rolls with the sauce and said the sauce was very good. He has never eaten bo nuong la lot before.
*My mother tells me to add grated ginger to this sauce next time. She normally makes it with a little ginger.