Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Vietnamese Cooking with Fresh Asian Herbs...

I love Asian cuisines, and Vietnamese food has always had a place in my heart. Not only are the favourite people in my world Vietnamese (hubby, family, best friend, close friends...), but it was the memories of my travels to the beautiful country that etched it deep within--

My husband is from Sóc Trăng, a province in the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam. We were lucky to go visit his family in 2004. While in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital we were delighted by a range of sumptuous, exotic foods, and equally seduced by the chaotic pulse and bustle of everyday life into the steamy nights with bright lights. Other than the amazing and elaborate meals we had at the family table, the best eating experiences were had by hitting the streets. Before sunrise, produce markets swell with people. Women were seen stoking kitchen fires and filling flat baskets with tin steamers and arranging soup or fresh spring roll ingredients; these baskets were then hung on both ends of bamboo poles and hoisted upon their shoulders as they hustle their goods to the flood of passersby. Others set up shop with a simple table, cooking ingredients and equipment surround, serving their offerings to hungry customers who would crowd around make-shift plastic tables to eat. The floating markets on small boats and the electric night markets add to the Vietnamese gastronomical charm.

The symphony on the streets were alluring in itself from the crack of dawn to the day fading into evening-- the buzz of vehicles, the voices of children and busy commuters, families of five riding on one motorbike, steady-handed bicycle drivers toting live animal cargo, trucks, cars, all zipping, weaving and honking their way down overcrowded no-lane boulevards. The frenetic energy and chaos, and the impromptu seeking of food all day all night in the form of savoury, sweet, spicy, soft or crunchy is right there in the streets of Vietnam.

And so, it was my immense pleasure to introduce some of these seductive flavours, aromas and ingredients to the lovely moms in my weekly culinary program at Fraser Mustard with a highlight on fragrant delightful Asian herbs! Fresh, bountiful cilantro, chives, rau ram (Vietnamese cilantro), mint, and Thai basil made their aromatic ways into shrimp salad rice rolls and shredded chicken and herbs salad! It was a party for all our senses along with the accents of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime and bird's eye chili peppers!

Our Community Kitchen's collective effort in producing this beautiful spread!

This bamboo farmer's hat doubled up as a herb basket :D

Vietnamese fresh shrimp rice rolls (and with pork) is a great way to welcome spring with its chock full of fresh herbs to get back in the mood of fresh lighter eating at the table.

Vietnamese Shrimp Salad Rolls
Makes about 12 rolls

Shrimps, frozen and thawed
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp. minced lemongrass, frozen and thawed, or freshly chopped (white part only)
Cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
Beansprouts, washed
Green leafy lettuce, washed
Herbs- mint, Thai basil, cilantro, chives, washed and leaves removed from stems
½ pkg. (375 g) vermicelli, cooked according to package, drained
2 Tbsp. oil
1 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. Fried shallots
Medium rice papers

Peel thawed shrimps into a bowl and add 1 tsp. table salt. Mix thoroughly and let rest for five minutes. This will draw out the impurities. Rinse and drain well. Bring water to a boil in a pot; add two kaffir lime leaves, 1 tsp. minced lemongrass and 1 tsp. salt. Add shrimps and cook until opaque about two minutes. Remove and let cool.

Heat oil to hot; add chopped green onions and fried onions. Then sauté for 30 seconds. Add the vermicelli and stir until noodles are coated for two minutes. Remove onto serving plate.

Dipping Sauces:
Peanut-Hoisin Sauce: Mix 2 Tbsp. peanut butter and 1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce. Mix 1 Tbsp. water to smooth and thin out.

Seasoned Fish Dipping Sauce (Nước mắm cham) (Makes 3/4 cup):
Dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/3 cup boiling water; Mix in 2 Tbsp. fish sauce and 2-3 Tbsp. white vinegar and leave to cool; To season, add 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped and Vietnamese chili sauce to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For step-by-steps, see my complete recipe Post.

Prepare to Wrap: Have a shallow bowl of warm water nearby. Dip the rice paper by horizontally sliding the rice paper into the water and rotate so the entire paper has been quickly soaked. Place onto a large plate, or layer in dividers stacked.

Place a piece of leaf lettuce onto the lower half of the wet rice paper to anchor the rest of the ingredients. Layer with vermicelli, bean sprouts, cucumber and then mixed herbs. Fold up the bottom to cover the filling, fold over the sides to cover ends of filling, roll up then add some chives (6-inch pieces) along the inner roll before placing shrimps on upper part of rice paper; roll over to seal. TIP: Work quickly so the rice paper does not stick to the plate as it can easily tear. Do not over stuff or it will burst!

Personalizing rolls with a little bit of this, a little bit of that...

This gorgeous dish boasts a bouquet of fragrant fresh herbs, a crunchy texture and spicy tangy taste. It's like layers of flavour sensations for your taste buds.

Vietnamese-Style Shredded Chicken and Fresh Herbs Salad
Makes 6 servings

2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cooked and finely shredded
1 small cucumber, cut into thin sticks
1/2 small jicama, peeled and cut into thin sticks (see my Vietnamese Chicken Jicama Salad)
7 chives, whites removed and cut into 1-inch sticks
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1/3 cup chopped Thai basil leaves
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup bean sprouts

2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup warm water
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red bird’s eye chillies, minced

Combine chicken, cucumber, herbs and bean sprouts. Mix sauce together. Use ½ to toss with salad and serve remaining at the table. Top with chopped peanuts if desired.

TIP: Shred cooked chicken meat easily with your fingers when it is cooled.

Chicken and herbs getting ready for an avalanche of Wham, Bam, Boom!

The fantastic thing is that these moms took leftover ingredients and herbs home, and some even replicated the recipes for their family!! That's what makes what I do so rewarding-- the sharing forward. Like this beautifully-wrapped shredded chicken and herbs salad rolls by mom Athira! She tells me her family loved them! YAY! :D

Photo Credit: Athira

More awesomeness! Sharing a recent TDSB Community Services Blog Post about our Community Kitchen activities-- from our very first class on dumpling-making :D

Dumplings 101

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