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Baby….. It’s Baby Corn!

>> Tuesday, February 27, 2007

There is no doubt that my greatest discovery in the recent trip to farmers market is those lovely baby corns. Firstly, it was my first time ever buying baby corns with husk and silk still attached. My photo shows you just that… Lying inside the thick layers of husk and silk is the tiny yellow baby (corn), something so fragile and delicate. For me, these baby corns are truly precious treasures…

But what amazes me the most is the fantastic flavour of these baby corns. Forget the pre-packed ones with very light and bland tastes; the farmers market products are deliciously sweet and juicy. It is a real boost of flavours! With such excellent products, you can simply eat them raw (I did!) or throw into some simple salad. However, inspired by Alanna’s Soup Glorious Soup event, I decided to use corns, baby and normal, to cook up a simple Chinese-style Corn Soup.

This soup is so popular that you can always find it in any Chinese restaurants. Here, to celebrate the glorious baby corns, I roasted them lightly with some sesame oil to bring out the sweetness. When the soup was done, these baby corns were “floated” into the serving bowl – kinda like croutons. Man, they were so sweet and brittle, providing a beautiful bite in every spoonful of soup. Ohhhh, this is surely my type of comfort food!

I’d like to submit this post to Alanna soup event. The on-going list of soups submitted by bloggers is amazing and truly glorious! I also want to give thanks to a fellow blogger, Haalo from Cook (almost) anything at least once. Her informative posts about the farmers market in Melbourne and their products are the motivations for me to find and try more delicious local fruits and vegies.

Chinese-style sweet corn soup with baby corn “croutons”

Ingredients (for 4-6 serves as first course)

5 cups of vegetable/chicken stock

3 large sweet corns, husk and silk removed

4-5 baby corns, husk and silk removed

Sesame oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tbps cornflour mixed with a little cold water

Chopped spring onions (scallions) to garnish

Method:

  1. Remove the sweet corns from the cob with a sharp knife.
  2. Preheat oven to 180C, put baby corns in a baking tray. Drizzle with sesame oil and roast in the oven for 10-15 mins or until golden brown. Chop into bite size, keep warm.
  3. Bring the stocks to the boil, add the corn cobs & simmer for 10 mins.
  4. Discard the cobs. Add in sweet corns, simmer for 5-10 mins. Check seasoning. Thicken with cornflour paste, stirring until it comes to a gentle boil.
  5. Turn off the heat and gently stir in eggs.
  6. To serve, sprinkle some spring onions. Add in the roasted baby corns and serve immediately.

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Spice up your life

>> Saturday, February 24, 2007



I am always fond of pickles. And a good pickle always reminds me of India. It is all because of one book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. No, this beautifully written novel has nothing to do with culinary art, but the first chapter called Paradise Pickles & Preserves opened the whole story so marvellously that the name just stuck in my head. If you love reading, I do recommend this book. For now, let us go back to the topic of pickle…

Good pickles start with good ingredients. Keeping that in mind, I visited the farmers market and got 3 kilos of wonderfully ripe roma tomatoes just to make the Spiced Tomato Chilli Pickle. The recipe I used is from Australian (and my) beloved chef Christine Manfield, which is based on the southern Indian tomato kasaundi. While keeping all the Indian ingredients and method of preparations, Christine added fish sauce, a Southeast Asian element to the pickle. And it worked. The fish sauce lent another dimension of saltiness and sweetness to the pickle, something that salt alone might not have. The fish sauce I used is fermented from anchovies, which is lighter, sweeter and less salty than the one made from cuttlefish.

This pickle has everything that I love. The bright red colour can brightens up any day. Opening the jar, the aroma of Indian herbs and spices awakes your senses. Tasting it, and the flavour is beyond words. Everything is just well-balanced. The sweetness, sourness and spiciness blend together to create a versatile condiment. Do not be fooled by the colour and aroma, though. The spiciness of this pickle is just gentle enough to warm up the palate, which makes it a perfect accompaniment to a range of dishes, not just Indian cuisine.

Ever since I made it, my flatmate and I have been using it for every dinner. We paired it with our poached chicken, grilled beef or simply steamed vegetables. It was perfect to dip in fried pastries, too… I also used it to spice up the chicken mixture topping for the pastry as pictured above. It was so good for lunch, giving a boost of flavour in the middle of a working day.

I would love to submit the Spiced Tomato Chilli Pickles to the Weekend Herb Blogging, an event created by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen. The host of this week is Anna from Anna's Cool Finds.


Spiced Tomato Chilli Pickle

Recipe by Christine Manfield

Ingredients (for 500-600ml)
4 tsp of brown mustard seeds

125ml cider vinegar

8 tsp of cumin seeds; roasted and grind to a fine powder

125 ml vegetable oil

A pinch of freshly ground cloves

2 tsp of turmeric powder

8 tsp of finely chopped ginger

10 cloves garlic

10-12 small red birds eye chillies

2 kg ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and quartered

75g of pal sugar/jaggery shaved

60ml fish sauce

Method:

  1. Cook mustard seeds in vinegar over moderate heat for 10 mins, then set aside for 2 hours.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy based pan, fry the ground turmeric, cumin, cloves until fragrant. Remove from heat.
  3. Process the mustard mixture with ginger, garlic and chillies in a blender until smooth. Add to oil and spices.
  4. Add tomato. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 1 hour or until the tomato has broken down and the sauce is quite smooth.
  5. Add palm sugar and fish sauce. Cook for a further 30 mins. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Spoon into sterilised jar, cover with a film of oil. Seal when cooled.
  7. Keep in the fridge for one month.
***

Spiced Chicken Puff

  1. Cook chicken with onion. Add seasoning and a few spoonful of tomato spiced pickle.
  2. Thaw 2 sheets frozen puff pastry for 5-10 mins. Layer them together & cut into 4 squares. Score a 1 cm border in each square.
  3. Add some ricotta cheese, spoon the mixture to the middle. Bake for 15 mins or until golden brown.
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For the love of blueberries

>> Thursday, February 22, 2007



I am always very greedy when it comes to fresh fruits and vegies. Last week during my visit to the farmers market, I bought a lot of seasonal produces, some of which has amazing flavour! I am trying to use them all up, so the focus of the next several posts will be fruits and vegies!

One of my great finds in the farmer market is those little organic blueberries from Moondara, Victoria. They have very beautiful flavour, juicy and mildly sweet. I have been snacking on them since last Saturday and still crave for some more!

Anyway, as most of us would agree, blueberries are great in baking. So, after my fresh blueberries craze had been somewhat satisfied, I finally (struggled to) saved some for baking. Blueberries are healthy food according to this link. I, however, matched them with something sweet, rich and buttery – Ricotta Blueberry Buns.

My buns turned out very nice thanks to a man named Peter Reinhart. The sweet dough recipe from his The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread is excellent. The dough is not as rich as the brioche dough I normally used for my Raisin Buns. Yet, it is soft and buttery (I used Lurpack Danish Butter. The Australian product called Girgar Danish style is good, too). Compared to brioche dough which normally has 50% fat, this enriched dough (17% fat) is a much healthier yet satisfying alternative. If you intend to make cinnamon or other sweet rolls soon, may I suggest you try this recipe at least for once?

Ricotta Blueberry Buns

The dough is based on recipe from this book. I have kept the American measurement used in the book here (My digital scale has several weighing systems so I just had to switch the mode). You can use the online conversion here. Note that instant yeast is used.

The buns according to this recipe are just lightly sweet since I eat them for breakfast. You may need to increase the quantity of sugar for the filling.

Dough (for 12-15 buns or rolls)

3.25 ounces granulated (castor) sugar

1 tsp salt

2.75 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, lightly beaten

16 ounces (3½ cup) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour

2 tsp instant yeast

1 1/8 to 1¼ cup of whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature

Filling

Blueberries, around 7 ounces (200gram)

Ricotta Cheese, around 5 ounces (150g)

2 tbsp of honey

Vanilla sugar, as needed (I used about 2-3 tbsp)

Egg wash, optional

Direction

  1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg, mix until smooth. Add flour, yeast & milk. Stir until the dough forms a ball.
  2. Knead the dough until it is silky, supple but not sticky. You may need to add more flour or water. This should take about 12-15 mins by hand or 10 mins with a mixer with dough hook at medium speed.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, transfer the dough to it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  4. Ferment the dough at room temp. for appro. 2 hours or until doubled.
  5. Midst the counter with spray oil, and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dust the pin with flour to prevent it from sticking. Roll into a 12x14 inch rectangular of 2/3 inch thick. Do not roll the dough too thin, otherwise the buns will be tough/chewy rather than soft and plump.
  6. Filling: mix honey and ricotta cheese – taste if you want it to be sweeter. Spread thinly onto the dough. Sprinkle blueberries and vanilla sugar on top.
  7. Roll the dough up into a log. With the seam side down, cut into 12 even pieces.
  8. Place the dough on to baking tray, ½ inch apart. Midst them with spray oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 75-90 mins or until the dough is nearly doubled.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350F. Apply egg wash and bake the buns at middle rack for 20-30 mins.
  10. Cool the buns in the pan for 10 mins then transfer to cooling rack.

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Sugarcane Prawn

>> Sunday, February 18, 2007

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First of all, Happy Lunar New Year to all of you! I hope this year will bring you love, happiness and joy…

I did not really celebrate Lunar New Year to the full extent here in Australia. Reasons? Many, but one of them is the very hot weather this week. The heat really turned me off, thus no baking or deep-fried food allowed! Instead, we celebrated the New Year with a light and aromatic dish called Chao Tom (Prawn Paste on Sugarcane Stick). The prawn paste mixture was molded onto sugarcane stick before being steamed and lightly grilled. Here the sugarcane gave the prawn a juicy and lightly sweet flavour. You could even chew on the sugarcane to taste the wonderful sweetness after finishing off the prawn (note: strong teeth required :D !).

The fun part was actually on the dining table! What each person did was placing the prawn together with lettuce leaf, varieties of fresh herbs and some rice vermicelli onto a rice paper then rolling it up. To eat, dip the whole thing into nuoc cham (dipping sauce) and enjoy the flavour to the fullest! It was so fun watching people busy rolling up the rice paper and eating. Some were very messy with their rolls, some were neat. But the main point was to be really quick otherwise nothing would be left for you.

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As a host, this dish is quite quick to whip up. The prawn stick can be steamed earlier and grilled close to serving. The rest is just preparing some rice vermicelli, the dipping sauce and a lot of fresh herbs on the table. The herbs I used were lettuce, coriander, Vietnamese mint and Thai Basil. In Vietnam, more herbs are used but just use whatever available. The key point is the herbs should be fresh. And that’s all. You can sit down and relax until your guests arrive and let them practice their rolling skills!

Just some notes on the ingredients. I know fresh sugarcane is hard to get. I actually find that canned sugarcane from Thailand (pictured) works really well. The rice paper should be available at all Asian stores. However, if you can get the brand in the photo, it will be great. This particular type imported from Hanoi doesn’t need soaking before rolling. You can use it straight from the package to wrap things up.


PRAWN PASTE ON SUGARCANE STICK (CHẠO TÔM)

Ingredients (enough for 3-4 people as a light meal)

700gr of prawns, peeled, deveined and patted dry. (Frozen prawns work fine)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 chilies (optional)

2 tablespoons of fish sauce

1-2 tsp of ground white pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 can of sugarcane. Split each sugarcane into 3-4 parts lengthwise depending on the size.

Accompaniment

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (click on the link for recipe)

Rice Paper, as needed

300-400 gram rice vermicelli, soaked and rinsed as per package direction

Fresh herbs – Lettuce, Thai basil, Mint, Coriander or other Asian herbs

Cucumber, sliced (optional)


Method

  1. Process the prawn with the garlic and shallot to a fine paste. Add fish sauce, egg, pepper, chili and oil. Pulse a few times to mix. (If the mixture is too wet, add a few spoons of corn flour).
  2. Oil your hands; mould the shrimp paste onto the sugarcane – about 1 heap tablespoon each time. Place them into a oiled steamer and steam over high heat until almost cooked (3-5 mins). Alternatively, microwave them for 1-2 mins.
  3. Pat dry the sugarcane stick then grill them over a barbeque, a hot griddle or under the griller in the oven until golden. Brush with extra oil occasionally.

Serving

  1. Arrange a bowl of dipping sauce and a big plate full of fresh herbs on the table. Set a place for the rice paper. If your rice paper needs soaking, prepare a bowl of warm water as well.
  2. To eat: If needed, briefly dip the rice paper into the warm water until just softens (do not soak for too long other wise it will become soggy). Arrange the lettuce, herbs, vermicelli at the centre of the rice paper. Then, remove the prawn paste from the sugarcane, put it in the middle of the herbs. Roll up into a cylinder, then dip into the sauce and eat. Continue the process until you are full or until nothing is left on the table.

I am submitting this aromatic post to Weekend Herb Blogging. The host for this week is the Chocolate Lady. Make sure to check out the round-up for exciting posts!

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New Year Goodies – Vietnamese Cinnamon “Paté”

>> Wednesday, February 14, 2007


As Valentine and Lunar New Year approach, my workload is getting heavier with some unexpected duties coming up. It means less time in the kitchen, and my plan for the New Year has been altered significantly. I will just celebrate with whatever available at the time, something simple and easy to whip up… How much I wish to be in Hanoi with my family at this time of the year!

Despite of my busy schedule, I did manage to prepare Vietnamese Cinnamon “Paté” or Chả quế. This aromatic dish is so lovely and always appears on my family table during Tet. There is also steamed version where the finely pounded meat is wrapped in banana leaves into roll. The steamed version is called Giò and looks like a long loaf. Should I say both versions, baked or steamed, are lovely and you really have to try them out when possible.

Making Vietnamese Paté requires a lot of hard work. Traditionally the meat of very good quality is pounded in a large moral and pestle until it becomes a very fine and smooth paste. This is essential so that the final product has a firm yet soft texture. Now a food processor can be used. Nevertheless, the meat must be chilled in the fridge for a lengthy period. It must never get warm otherwise all the efforts will be lost…. I had to process the meat four times to get the right consistency (with 30 mins chilling time in between). The photo here shows you how the mixture looked after the 3rd time.


This round of making Cha Que is my first attempt ever. Back in Hanoi, we just have to buy it from a good shop. It is also a little achievement for me since I am able to convert a traditional recipe using pork to one with chicken. Ever since my allergy to pork developed, I haven’t had much chance to enjoy a lot of Vietnamese dishes. But now, at least I can enjoy my beloved Cha Que with a peace of mind.

If you are interested in making Cha Que, this recipe is a good and reliable one. My approach is quite similar, and I will find sometimes to write down the recipe using chicken and other associated notes when time permits. Meanwhile, you can find the steamed version, called Giò, in most Vietnamese stores. You can choose from pork, chicken or beef. Gio is sold in small loaf wrapped in banana leaves.

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My Dad’s Clam Soup

>> Saturday, February 10, 2007


One of the special features about Vietnamese cooking is the extensive use of fresh herbs. If you ever have a chance to visit a market in Vietnam, you will be amazed at the wide varieties available. So many even I sometimes feel a little lost. But no worry, I just have to tell the name or describe what I want to cook, the sellers will give me the exact herbs needed.

However, having a lot of herbs available does not mean you can mix or overuse them altogether. Using herbs is an art that a lot of cuisines have mastered after generations. It is also true for the Vietnamese kitchen. Sinece childhood I have learnt from my parents what to go with what – poached chicken with lime leaves, fish with ginger and galangal, veal with lemongrass, fish with dill etc. Of course there is room for improvements and innovations as long as there is harmony in taste and aroma in the final product.

The soup I feature today is very popular in northern Vietnam during summer. Here, the use of Vietnamese mint (Laksa leaves or rau răm) is a must. You may want to substitute Vietnamese mint with something else, but it won’t be the same. I once showed the picture of this soup to a Vietnamese lady now lives in Europe. She recognized straight away what it was: Clam Soup with Vietnamese Mint. This, for sure, is a classic combination of Viet home-cooking. I love the refreshing taste of clam juice and the spicy hint of Vietnamese mint here. Highly recommended to seafood lovers!


Almost all Vietnamese cooks (especially people from the North) know how to cook this soup. The recipe below, however, is dedicated to my dad since he was the one who taught me the dish. My dad loves and cooks excellent seafood. I miss his food, really!

Clam Soup with Vietnamese Mint (Canh hến nấu rau răm)

This refreshing, lightly sour and very low-fat soup is served as part of a rice meal. It is also excellent over rice noodles. The herbs are added to the hot broth just before serving so their fresh aroma will be released on the table. Serve the dish quickly so you can savor the beauty of herbs at their best.

Ingredients (for 3-4 serves as part of a rice meal)

1kg of clam (or pipi), washed thoroughly

1 tablespoon of oil

1 tomato, diced

Water, as needed

1-2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate, or to taste

Sea salt, to taste

1 sprig of spring onion (scallion), chopped

1-2 tablespoons of chopped Vietnamese mint (laksa leaves)

Method

  1. Soak the clam in water for 1-2 hours before cooking. Wash thoroughly. In Australia, the clams do not have a lot of sand in it, so I can use them almost straight away. However, if the clams carry a lot of sand (like in Vietnam) it is best soaked them with water and 1-2 brushed chili. The spiciness of chili will force the clams to get rid of the sand inside their shells.
  2. In a large pot, put in the clam and enough water to just barely cover the surface. Boil and stir briefly until almost clams open up (this should not take longer than 1 min).
  3. Discard the clams that do not open. Reserve the clam juice, set aside.
  4. Now, using your hand, carefully take out the meat from the opened clams. Discard the shell.
  5. In a medium pot, heat the oil and add in tomatoes. Cook & stir occasionally over medium heat, until the tomato is softened. Stir in the clam meat.
  6. Add in the reserved clam juice and enough water so you have 4 cups of liquid together. Bring to the boil.
  7. Lower the heat. Put in the tamarind concentrate and salt. Check seasoning.
  8. Just before serving, add in the chopped onion and Vietnamese mint. Serve immediately.

***

As a lot of you may have guessed, this is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging. WHB is a wonderful weekly event where bloggers from all overs the world share their love for herbs, plants, vegies, fruits and flowers. I love WHB and highly recommend it to everyone! This week WHB comes back to its founder, Kalyn. Please check her blog for the exciting round-up.

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Lovers’ Knots

>> Thursday, February 08, 2007


Dedicated to my two friends, Thu & Nam

Soon after Meeta from What’s for lunch honey announced the theme for her Monthly Mingle as Sweet Love, unexpected news arrived – one of my best friends from school days was getting married! Filled with joy, I would love to dedicate this post to the newly wed….

My dearest Thu is married! How strange to think about that? It feels like just yesterday when we were studying together, traveling around Hanoi with our bicycles, gossiping, and laughing young and free. I still remember us talking about being an independent and successful woman. We even thought marriage would not come in until the age of 25 or 26. But at the time, none of us knew about a little thing called love. 5-7 years later, love came and changed us with its charm. Mine is in the form of a Singaporean import, and Thu, she has found the man of her life, Nam!


Unable to attend their wedding, I posted a little wedding card and made these little Lovers’ Knots as a “distant gift”.


“Legend has it that the Dutch sailors tied this knot to remind them of their loved ones during their ocean voyages in the 16th century. The two intertwining overhand knots symbolize two intertwined lovers.” - Wikipedia

As my two friends tied the knot, I hope they will find happiness, support and enduring love in each other. And my dear Thu, take care in your new role of being a wife! “Rồi chúng ta sẽ gặp lại nhau”. ;-)

I am submitting this entry to Monthly Mingle – Sweet Love. My Lovers’ Knots are fried cookies & the recipe is from 500 cookies. You can view a similar recipe over at my pal Gattina’s blog here. Instead of shaping like her, roll ½ of the dough to 31x 8 cm (12 x 3 inch) Cut into 1cm strip then tie each strip loosely into a knot (Click here and here to see picture guide). Deep–fry then dust with icing sugar. The cookies are best served warm.


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Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza

>> Monday, February 05, 2007

Pizza with no cheese!

Pizza dough made from yoghurt!

Pizza has mince lamb!

& it is deliciously good!!!!

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Yes, I am talking about the recipe from Claudia Roden’s excellent book Arabesque. Ever since I picked it up at the bookshop before Christmas, I have used a lot of recipes from it and never disappointed. Claudia’s recipe is simple, detailed and very reliable. I truly think Arabesque is a good buy among a lot of “less useful” things I bought over Christmas and New Year…

Back to the lamb pizza… Although the topping was made from lamb, it was not too meaty thanks to the beautiful tomatoes, herbs and spices. The pomegranate syrup was a perfect touch, proving a natural sweet and sour taste which I totally adore. I wish I could fly to the Middle East right now to savour those pizzas!

The pizza is pretty simple to make. The dough was probably one of the easiest to handle since it was non-stick. The use of yoghurt also gave the dough a light texture. In other words, an interesting change from the ever popular Italian pizza.

Oh yes, the pizza can be shaped smaller for starter or cocktail party. I, however, chose to make medium size to satisfy the pizza “monsters” at my place (by the way I am not included here!). And if you love something spicy, add a bit of chili for an extra zing.

And a final thing, after eating anything meaty, I normally go for something minty. Mint aids digestion and helps to remove the meaty taste. Go for things like mint tea or mint food salad. I usually blend watermelon with some mint leaves and ice cubes. which is truly nice and refreshing!

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Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza

Recipe adapted from Arabesque

Ingredients (for 20 small or 12-14 medium size pizza)

The dough

About 250g warm yoghurt (put the yoghurt tube in a pot warm water for 1 hour)

2 tsp dried yeast

Pinch of sugar

50ml warm water

500g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Meat and tomato topping

1 large onion

600g minced lamb (not too lean otherwise it will be too dry)

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

½ tsp allspice

Salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses

500g vine-ripen tomatoes, chopped finely

50g pine nuts

Chili flakes (optional), to taste

Method

  1. Dissolve yeast with warm water and little sugar. Leave aside until it froths.
  2. In large bowl, mix flour with salt and oil. Add in the east mixture and just enough yoghurt to make the dough forms a ball. Knead for 10 mins, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Add a drop of oil to the bowl and roll the dough around to grease it all over to prevent a dry skin from forming.
  4. Cover and leave in warm place for 1½ hours or until doubled in size.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: finely chop the onion in a food processor and drain of the juices. Put the meat, onion, garlic, allspice, salt, pepper and pomegranate molasses into a bowl. Mix well and work with your hand into a soft paste. The work in the tomato, chili and pine nuts.
  6. Punch down the risen dough, knead around 1 minute. Take a lump size of dough (walnut size for small pizza, egg size for medium), roll thinly into rounds. Place in oily sheets of foil on baking trays.
  7. Take lumps of topping mixture and spread thickly over the dough, Go right up to the edge as the topping tends to shrink while the dough expands while baked.
  8. Bake one tray at a time on a preheated oven 200C/400F for 15 mins.
  9. Serve hot.
***
I am submitting this entry to Weekend Cookbook Challenge is #13, the theme is to cook from a newly acquired book/magazine/whatever. The event is hosted by Sara of I like to cook.

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The Color of Tết

>> Sunday, February 04, 2007

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Firstly, let me explain what Têt is. Têt is essentially Vietnamese New Year, which falls into the same time as the Chinese New Year since we both use lunar calendar. Tet is the celebration of spring and New Year. It is also the most important holiday for us. In my extended family, the preparation for Tet starts at least a month or so before the event. My grandmothers (from both mom’s and dad’s sides) prepare a lot of traditional dishes and sweets for the New Year, then “distribute” to their children’s families. Both of my grandmothers are excellent cook and we all appreciate their efforts to keep the tradition alive.

But this year I won’t be home for Tet due to working commitments. It is very sad indeed since Tet, after all, is the time for family gathering. To compensate a little for this, I will start making a bit more Vietnamese traditional food…

One of the essential Tet dish is this Sweet Red Glutinous Rice – Xôi Gâc. The beautiful red color matches the festive mood perfectly. The color does not come from any chemical food coloring but naturally from a fruit called Gấc. I have looked up on the internet for a common English name for the fruit with no satisfaction. Gac is called Baby Jackfruit, Spiny bitter-cucumber, Chinese bitter-cucumber, Chinese-cucumber etc. Confusing, huh? Anyway, here is a picture of the glorious fruit for your references.

Aren’t they beautiful? Gac is very easy to grow. My family used to grow them in the backyard, and they grew quite rapidly. Gac itself is a wonderful source of Vitamin A so it is recommended to use in poor area where children often lack of Vitamin A.

Back to my Sweet Red Glutinous Rice. Since I cannot find fresh Gac in Melbourne, I used the frozen flesh from Vietnam instead. The result was good, but the color is not as glorious. Nevertheless, I am totally satisfied with the flavor. It is nice, just like the way I had it before!

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Sweet Red Glutinous Rice – Xôi Gâc

Ingredients
250g glutinous rice, soaked overnight
1 tsp salt
1 can (500g) of frozen Gac, thawed (or flesh of one fruit)
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
2 heaped tablespoons of sugar or to taste
2 tablespoons of coconut cream
1-2 tablespoons of canola/corn oil or lard (chicken fat works best!)
1 panda leaf, knotted
Mung bean
120g peeled split mung bean, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons of sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon of coconut cream
Method
Add salt, cooking wine and Gac flesh to the drained glutinous rice, mix well. Place the rice into a steamer and place a panda leaf onto the surface. Cover and steam over high heat until cooked through (about 15-20 mins)
Meanwhile, drain and steam the mung bean (about 10-15 mins).
When the rice is cooked, take out and let stand for 1-2 mins. Put in sugar, oil and coconut cream, mix carefully and gently. Take care not to mash the rice but separate the grain. Check for sweetness and set aside.
Mash the mung bean, add in the sugar and coconut cream. Mix well.
Serve the rice with some mung bean at room temperature as a snack or part of a meal. The dish is not overly sweet so it can accompany savoury dishes perfectly.

Note
This dish is cooked throughout Vietnam. My version here is from Hanoi, where sweetened mung bean is added.
The coconut cream is added here to enhance the flavour. Traditionally, chicken fat is used.
If you cannot find Gac, some food colouring (red & orange) can be used. But even without Gac, the dish still tastes good!
I moulded the rice using my mini pound cake pan. The traditional way is to use a wooden mould. Always have a layer of mung bean in between two layers of red rice. However, moulding is completely optional and used for presentation only.

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