Ever since I started this blog, I have received different questions about Vietnamese cooking in general. One of those is how to prepare Vietnamese-style vegetarian food. Some questions even go a bit backward, is there a vegetarian cuisine in Vietnamese cooking? Yes, of course!!! Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine has been mostly emerged and developed through the popular practice of Buddhism in the country. The most accepted school of Buddhism in Vietnam, if I am not mistaken, is Zen Buddhism. And followers of this school believe that a vegetarian diet assist in meditation and harmonization with other creatures on Earth.
I first experienced vegetarian meals at the village pagoda with my grandmother. The vegetarian food there was very simple and pure, produced from very fresh and healthy ingredients. Almost everything was home grown and made on premises from the vegies in the garden, to kitchen essentials like tofu and sauces. Such spirit has also been preserved in vegetarian restaurants. Most of my friends in Vietnam associate vegetarian food with fresh and healthy eating. Although faux meat and seafood are common, all dishes are prepared with much care and mostly house made.
For me, vegetarian food is a form of nourishment. And more importantly, it should be prepared with great respect to ingredients. That´s why I am starting a series on Vietnamese vegetarian cooking. It´s also my effort to bring my home cuisine to all my vegetarian friends … I hope these posts will help you have a better understanding about the Vietnamese cooking.
Let´s get started, shall we?
The dish I am making today is Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce. Braising meat/fish in caramel sauce is a staple dish for Vietnamese household. The most famous version is using fish or pork. But using pumpkin really lifts this familiar taste to a different level. After braising, the pumpkin is soft and its sweetness blend so well with the darker caramel flavors (it´s like bittersweet). Serve it with some rice, and I will be more than happy. And don´t forget the sauce! Spoon it over the rice to savor the delicious sauce, too…
I have used the lovely Japanese pumpkin (photo), but you can use whichever variety available. Remember to keep the skin on. This helps the pumpkin wedges to stay in shape, and provide a little crunch for the final dish.
Now, the caramel part! I have included two recipes for the caramel sauce. I personally prefer the dry method since it´s quicker. But if you are afraid of burning your pan, use the second one (almost fool proof). Whichever method you use, the final caramel should look something like the following photo. Don´t go lighter or the flavours will not be achieved.
Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce
Recipe inspired by idea shared by ihi from TTVNOL
Pumpkin, about ¼ (400g), cut into large wedges
Caramel Sauce, prepared as two methods described below
Flour to coat the pumpkin
Little oil to panfry
Sea Salt, to taste
Sesame oil (optional)
Chopped spring onion* and/or shredded bell pepper to garnish
Ground Pepper, to serve
- Lightly coat the pumpkin with some flour. Shallow fry until reaching a golden color. (Don´t skip this step since it helps to flavor the dish).
- In a saucepan (heavy bottom preferred), arrange the pumpkin wedged. Pour in the caramel sauce (the caramel sauce should reach at least 1/3 of the pumpkin height). Add vegetable stock or water so that the liquid barely reach the pumpkin surface.
- Add salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn on very low heat. Simmer for 20-30 mins or until the pumpkin is cooked through… You can simmer a bit longer so the pumpkin is very soft, giving a creamy sauce in the end. Check seasoning. The dish is supposed to be lightly sweet and have deep caramel flavors.
- Just before serving, add spring onion and bell pepper garnish. Drizzle a little sesame oil. Add some ground pepper if preferred. Serve hot with rice.
(*): Vietnamese Buddhists avoid eating spicy and ingredients like onions, garlic etc. But I just include it here according to my taste.
Dry method: Please go to this link. The quantity prescribed should be more than enough for this dish. This is my preferred method. Don´t burn the sugar since the caramel sauce is not supposed to be bitter!
Method 2: Please refer to the preparation here.I haven´t tested the recipe, but it sounds right!
This post is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, an event created by the wonderful Kalyn. The host of this week is Ulrike from Kuchenlatein. The round up should be ready on Monday next week. Don’t miss out! Also, we are all eager to celebrate the 2nd birthday of WHB. So please check out Kalyn’s blog for all the details!