Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

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The melodic sounding ‘Cha Ca La Vong’ is one of Hanoi’s famous dishes consisting of white fish (often Vietnamese Snakehead fish) along with fresh turmeric, galangal, ginger, the pungent smelling Vietnamese shrimp paste, spring onions, rice noodles and a generous helping of fresh dill, coriander and mint and a scattering of peanuts.

My version is all of the above except no galangal (unless I happen to chance upon it), turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric and no Vietnamese shrimp paste. I also find cod or tilapia work best for me, but basically you can use any thick white fish that has been filleted and does not have a propensity to fall apart.

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The flavour combinations work so well and I find it refreshing to give dill centre stage once in a while as I tend to find that it only ever gets partnered with salmon, trout and creme fraiche. The textures also really compliment each other, from the soft and yet delicately fried fish, to the crunchy nuts, the fresh flavoursome herbs and the filling noodles.  I like to accompany the dish with my sweet and sour nuoc cham dipping sauce – see here (at the bottom of the post).

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It’s one of those dishes which is perfect for guests to get stuck in and help themselves.  Part of the fun of it is to create the dish yourself, choosing the amounts of herbs that suit your requirements. I also find that when guests help themselves there is far less wastage as people, on the whole, tend to take what they are going to eat.  Both my daughters adore the dish and for my youngest I tend to make up a separate nuoc cham dipping sauce without fresh chilli.

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Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

Serves 4

600g cod or tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated (equally you could use ginger paste)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or as above)

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

3/4 tbsp of vegetable oil

6 spring onions, thinly cut on the diagonal

bunch of fresh dill

bunch of fresh coriander

bunch of fresh mint

1 generous handful of unsalted peanuts, slightly crushed

300g rice noodles

1. Place the fish chunks, turmeric, ginger, garlic, flour, sugar and fish sauce in a bowl and gently mix in together so that the fish is completely coated in the turmeric. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

2. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet (normally I boil them for 4 mins) and drain. Run cold water through them and place to one side. When ready to serve pour boiling water through it once, drain and place in a serving bowl.

4. In a different bowl place the fresh coriander and mint and in another place the peanuts.

5. Prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce. For four people you will need to make two batches of this – see here.

6. In a frying pan add the oil and when it is hot add the fish in batches along with any remaining ginger and garlic from the marinade. Leave for a 2-3 minutes so they begin to crisp before turning over for another couple of minutes. Place the fish on kitchen roll whilst you are cooking the remaining fish chunks.

7. Once the fish has crisped up sufficiently add the dill and the spring onions for up to a minute before placing in a large serving bowl.

8. Allow guests to serve themselves, showing them how to layer up the dish by first placing the noodles in a bowl, followed by the fish, spring onions and dill, mint and coriander, peanuts and then a little nuoc cham dipping sauce over the top.


Vietnamese Chicken Rissoles with Shallots, Lemongrass and Garlic

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Vietnamese chicken rissoles, or patties if you prefer, are the perfect simple lunch/supper to prepare for all the family. Little Z, who is four, is always a bit unsure about eating chicken, however, disguising chicken as rissoles seems to really work as they are softer and therefore easier to eat than regular chicken pieces. Other than the dipping sauce, there is no chilli in the rissoles, so they really are family friendly.

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When preparing the rissoles you really want to make sure that the lemongrass and garlic is well chopped up. I chopped them with a knife to begin with before putting them into my spice grinder for a finer texture. The chicken and the shallots also need to be chopped up before whizzing them in a food processor.

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Once the all the ingredients have been combined place some oil into the palms of your hands which will allow you to easily shape your rissoles without them sticking to your hands. Roll them into a ball before flattening them slightly to give a pattie appearance. Cooking time is really short. After heating oil in a pan place five patties in your frying pan and leave them for 3 to 4 minutes before turning them over for a further 3 to 4 minutes. Make sure that the heat is consistent and they do not burn.

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I like to eat them with a fresh salad of tomatoes, red onions and coriander with splashes of nuoc cham sauce over the top, although my daughters prefer theirs with white rice noodles and splashes of light soy sauce. Any leftovers can be stored easily in the fridge and then enjoyed the following day in a baguette with shredded carrots, cucumber and fresh cucumber – similar to the Vietnamese sandwich – Bahn Mi. More on these glorious sandwiches another time.

Chicken Rissoles with Shallots, Lemongrass and Garlic

Makes 15 rissoles (yes myself and a little someone ate two before the photos above)

adapted from the recipe I learnt earlier this year from Van at her fabulous Green Bamboo Cooking School in Hoi An

500g boneless chicken breasts, chopped and then blended

4 lemongrass sticks, finely chopped/blended

4 garlic cloves, chopped/blended

3 banana shallots (if you only have regular shallots that is also fine)

2 eggs

pinch of five spice powder

pince of cayenne powder

2 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp caster sugar

salt and pepper

oil for frying

1. Finely chop the lemongrass and garlic, initially by hand and then in a spice grinder/blender./mortar and pestle. You want the lemongrass especially to be as fine as possible.

2. After roughly chopping the chicken and shallots place them in a blender until a chicken paste forms. Add the finely chopped lemongrass and garlic and pulse once again. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Add the eggs, flour, spices and all the other ingredients. Mix well with your hands.

4. Place a little oil in the palm of your hands and then roll some of the chicken paste into your hands to create a ball and then gently press down to create the flattened rissole.

5. Heat a large frying pan with oil and when it is hot gently lower the rissoles into the pan. I usually do mine in batches of 5. Leave the rissoles to cook well on one side (3 to 4 minutes should be sufficient) before turning over and cooking for a further 3 to 4 minutes.

6. When they have browned, place the rissoles onto some kitchen paper to cool.

7. Serve with nuoc cham dipping sauce and a fresh salad

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional/to taste)

1. Initially mix the lime juice with the sugar thoroughly before adding the rest of the ingredients. Continue to mix together. This sauce can be made ahead of time and can store easily.


Trang’s Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce

Not so many moons ago I met a Vietnamese lady when I was on a brief stopover in Singapore. We were both taking advantage of the hotel pool and as we pretty much had the pool to ourselves we struck up conversation. The topic of food naturally came up and I think she could sense my longing to experience the culinary treats of her native homeland. She spoke about her favourite Vietnamese spring rolls and I tried hard to take down a mental note of all the ingredients she was spinning off.

Later that day when I returned to my room I found a couple of hand written notes detailing her Vietnamese spring rolls, or Cha Gio to be precise. I was really touched that she had gone to the effort of writing it down and slipping it under my door. Life is clearly full of wonderful surprises.

Upon returning to London I sent her an email thanking her for the recipe and promising that I would try it out very soon. She then replied with a further recipe for the dipping sauce, known as Nuoc Cham, which would compliment the spring rolls to perfection.

So that brings me to today. Making spring rolls, much like making tortellini, is definitely a communal affair so I rallied the troops…..well slight exaggeration, I rallied a newlywed friend of mine who was up for the challenge.

They were really good fun to make although there are definitely some tips to take on board, before embarking.

Check them out.

1. Don’t wet the rice paper too much. Literally place it in a bowl of warm water and submerge it and spin it once and then remove it. If you leave it in the water for too long, it becomes very difficult and limp to handle.

2. There is definitely a skill in folding the rolls. Keep them tightly folded and secure and after the first turn tuck in both ends before proceeding to roll the rice paper further.

3. Don’t be greedy and overfill. Less is more, definitely comes to mind when rolling these beauties.

4. The oil must be very hot BUT on a low heat, that’s the trick folks. Place a crumb in the oil and if it fizzles, then the oil is ready.

5. The pork meat will cook beautifully, don’t worry that it won’t. 3-4 minutes and the spring roll will be ready.

6. Steaming is also an option – it will take 20 minutes, but I thought that I would try the less healthy option of frying for my first attempt.

So here are the ingredients for the spring rolls.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls  (Cha Gio)

Makes around 20

300g minced pork

120g crab meat, (tinned is fine)

150g bean sprouts

150g of fine rice noodles

1 handful of exotic mushrooms (ideally wood ear mushrooms), sliced

1 western onion, chopped finely

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

22 cm rice paper (I used the Banh Trang variety)

optional ingredient:

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1. Finely chop the onion and then combine it with the mince, egg, noodles, crab, mushrooms, beansprouts, carrots (if using them) and salt.

2. If you are going to use carrot then slice thinly into 2cm long straws.

3. If you are using wood ear mushrooms (I could not find them so opted for exotic mushrooms) you will need to soak them for 30 minutes before slicing them into strips. Similarly you may also need to soak your noodles for 20 minutes in cold water before cutting them to 10cm in length. I used Amoy  ‘straight to wok’ rice noodles, which do not need any soaking.

4. Place the rice paper into a bowl of warm water for no longer than 5 seconds. Then lay it out onto a flat surface and add a spoonful of the pork/crab mixture. Tightly roll the rice paper over the filling and after the first roll (so that the mixture is covered), fold in both ends before proceeding to finish the rolling. Rest aside on a plate, making sure that the spring roll is not touching another spring roll. They will tear each other apart from sticking if you place them side by side. I found that they stuck well together (only one broke in the pan, but that was from over filling the rice paper). However, if you find they need some help at sticking the ends together mix a little flour with some water to form a paste and dab a little of this past at the end of the rice paper.

I found a fellow blogger who has produced good step by step photos of the rolling if you care to take a look .

Once you have rolled them all up they should look something like this.

5. Heat a deep pan with vegetable oil. You need to have enough oil so that the spring rolls can be submerged under the oil. Heat the oil to a high temperature and then turn down the heat so that it remains cooking at this low, but hot, heat. If you drop a crumb in the oil and it fizzes you know that the oil is hot enough.

6. Place a couple of spring rolls in the oil at a time so that you can carefully monitor them. Turn them in the oil a couple of times. They should be well cooked through in 3-4 minutes. If you are going to use a steamer they will need 20 minutes cooking time.

Please note they will not turn a golden colour like they do when you go out to a chinese restaurant. This is because they are using egg roll paper, which is different from rice paper. With rice paper they will go crispy BUT will remain with a white ish hue. Let them cool on kitchen roll, which will soak up the grease.

7. Serve with nuoc cham dipping sauce.

If you are vegetarian these will taste really good with tofu as well, so give them a try.

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

1 tbs fish sauce

3tbs boiled water

half a tsp sugar

1 tbs of rice vinegar (or lemon/lime juice)

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

half a carrot, sliced and chopped into small pieces OR shredded

optional extras:

 1 small red birds eye chilli

half a kohlrabi, sliced and cut into small pieces

1 tsp of soy sauce (this will deviate from the traditional recipe but I like the salty balance)

1. Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid on and give it a good shake. I could not source kohlrabi so simply omitted it and to really throw caution to the wind I added a tsp of soy sauce, apologies to all those purists out there, I could not resist. I also liked having a little chilli to spice things up a bit – sorry I can’t help it. I promise though that when I do a blog on game in the next month or so, I won’t be adding chilli!

2. Add additional sugar, salt, lime to taste.

I hope you will love this gloriously sweet, salty, sour and spicy accompaniment for the spring rolls.

I’d really like to hear how you get on so do post a comment.

happy eating