The Little Viet Kitchen Cookbook and Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi

Recently, the lovely Thuy Diem Pham – founder of my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in London, The Little Viet Kitchen launched her very first cookbook of the same name published by Absolute Press.  I preordered a copy for it to arrive on launch date and it is as beautifully styled and photographed as I had hoped.

It is clear that a lot of love and attention has gone into compiling the recipes in this book and the photos, by David Loftus, are just dreamy. Just take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

I could literally eat all the recipes in the book, so will be working my way through it over the coming months. Happy days.

Just looking at the photos has me salivating.

Summer rolls – perfect for the months ahead and oh so pretty.

I was pondering on what to cook – so many choices – but I decided on Thuy’s lemongrass chicken banh mi – Vietnamese baguettes. My family are obsessed with them so I knew it would be a hit with everyone. If you prefer tofu I have a recipe post on how to make them here, and of course Thuy has her tofu version in the book too, which I will most definitely try out.

The cookbook guides you gently through Vietnamese cooking – from Thuy’s larder where she shows you clearly how to make all manner of sauces and dressings, to wonderfully fragrant broths – known as Pho (pronounced ‘fur’), street food, small plates, colours of Vietnam, Thuy’s creations and sweet treats. Like Indian cuisine, Vietnamese does require a few specialised ingredients, but once these have been found then you are ready to go.

Unlike Thai cooking, Vietnamese food is less chilli hot so is pretty versatile for the whole family to eat it. It is packed to the brim with fragrant, refreshing flavours such as lemongrass, tamarind, mint, coriander, ginger and lime juice. It’s all about balancing the sweet, salty, sour and hot and throw a good crunch and texture into the mix then you have the perfect dish. To make banh mi there are a few steps, but nothing that a bit of planning can’t solve.

SO here is what you need. Don’t panic if you find this too long winded. I promise you it really is simpler than it looks. I made a few changes, namely store bought mayo and adding sriracha and then I completely forgot to add the crispy shallots and spring onions – oh dear! – so you won’t find any of those in my photos.

Serves 4

1 or 2 large baguettes (I’ve been told the ones in Sainburys that you heat up in the oven are rather good for banh mi, but not tried and tested as yet)

4 tsp butter

4 tbsp mayonaisse

1 tbsp Sriracha sauce 

1 cucumber, seeds removed and cut into thick diagonal slices

2 spring onions, sliced lengthways

4 tbsp crispy shallots, either store bought or fry up your own (banana shallots work well)

pinch of crushed black peppercorns

4 tbsp chicken liver pate

small handful of pickled carrot and daikon (see recipe below)

large handful of fresh coriander leaves

3 tbsp light soy sauce

optional 1 red chilli, finely sliced

 

 

STEP 1

Make the pickled carrot and daikon (also known as mooli or white raddish).

Makes enough to fill a 500ml jar and will last for a couple of weeks

250ml rice vinegar

250g granulated sugar

250g carrots, cut into fine matchsticks

250g daikon, cut into fine matchsticks

  1. Heat the rice vinegar and sugar together in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Allow to cool completely before pouring over the finely cut carrots and daikon.
  3. Seal properly and cool before placing in the fridge.

 

STEP 2

Prepare a little bowl of the mayo/sriracha mix, to taste

 

STEP 3

Prepare the cucumber, spring onion and coriander and place in a bowl ready to fill the baguette.

 

STEP 4

Place the fried shallots in a separate bowl

 

STEP 5

Cut up the baguette at a diagonal. Scrape out a little of the bread so that there is more room to add the filling.

 

STEP 6

 

Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi

750g chicken breast fillets, sliced diagonally into 1 x 5cm strips

2 tbsp vegetable oil

for the marinade

2 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp honey

2 tbsp finely diced lemongrass stalks

2 tbsp finely diced garlic

1 tbsp finely diced chillies

1 tbsp finely diced onion

4 tbsp sesame oil

 

  1. Combine all the ingredients and place in a large bowl in the fridge to marinate for at least 3 hours or ideally overnight (I did the latter).
  2. When almost ready to fill the banh mi, heat the oil in a frying pan and when it is hot add the chicken strips and stir-fry for 10-12 minutes, or until the chicken in golden in colour and completely cooked. Keep the chicken moving around the pan or it will burn because of the sugar.
  3. Take off the heat and place immediately into your banh mi.

 

STEP 7 – to serve

  1. Put a little butter and chicken liver pate in the baguette.
  2. Add a good dollop of the mayo/sriracha filling
  3. Lay the cucumber inside, careful not to overfill and add the pickled carrot and daikon.
  4. Add the lemongrass chicken followed by the coriander, spring onion and drizzle of soy sauce
  5. Lastly, sprinkle with chilli slices, crispy fried shallots and crushed black peppercorns.

 

Dive in and enjoy.

 

You can purchase Thuy’s book at all good book shops and of course online here

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Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich

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I have a love affair going on when it comes to the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi. If the truth be told I love them in every form: pork, chicken, fish, beef, tofu – you name it and I pretty much love all the varieties that you can have. I love the cruchiness and sweet and sour piquant from the pickle, combined with the freshness of the coriander, the spices from the marinaded tofu/meat/fish, the chilli and the freshness from the baguette. Every bite has so much action going on for the palate – sweet, sour, umami chilli notes.

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They are not as much of a chore as you’d expect if you make them at home. I tend to buy the baguette, but if you have time on your hands, then I can totally recommend The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen to show you how to make the traditional baguette as well. Father Christmas kindly popped it in my stocking a few years back – such a thoughtful fella!

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I’ll talk your through it step by step, but once you’ve made the pickle – this takes no time at all – you’re pretty much all set. The pickle also lasts up to a month in the fridge so there is no need to use it all in a couple of days.  I am going to show you how to do the tofu version, but if you prefer to make it with chicken or pork then the same marinade can apply.

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I used the silken firm tofu, which you need to handle with care. Some brands are firmer than others, but ultimately if it falls apart a little it doesn’t really matter once it is in the baguette.

There are a few ingredients that you really need to get hold of before making a banh mi:

  • daikon (also known as mooli or white radish) – it looks similar to horseradish but has a lot milder flavour. I pick mine up from my local Indian grocer.
  • carrots
  • rice wine vinegar
  • a crunchy baguette
  • maggi seasoning sauce – according to Andrea Nguyen for a ‘first class banh mi, drizzle on some maggi sauce; it will boost each bite with an umami hit’ – she goes on to explain that ‘it is practically synonymous with banh mi’. I picked mine up from my local Asian supermarket but you can also order it from Ocado here
  • chillies to give the heat injection
  • fresh coriander
  • cucumber to add texture and crunch
  • mayonnaise (vegan if you want to keep the whole meal vegan)
  • sriracha sauce
  • 1 litre jar for the pickle

 

So to begin with you need to prepare the pickle. Trust me it is quick and easy to make.

 

Carrot and Daikon Pickle

500g daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks *

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (as above)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp caster sugar

100g caster sugar

300ml rice wine vinegar

250ml warm water

1 litre storage jar (can be slightly bigger but no smaller)

  1. After peeling, cut the carrot and daikon up into equal size matches and place them in a bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt and the teaspoons of sugar over the carrots and daikon and gently massage them gently for a few minutes using your hands. This will make them become softer and more bendy.
  3. Wash and drain them thoroughly under some cold water before placing them into your jar.
  4. In a separate jug mix the rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and warm water so that the sugar dissolves and then pour into the jar with the carrots and daikon. Discard any left over brine. If you need a little extra brine to cover the carrots and daikon simply add a little more warm water.
  5. Refrigerate for up to a month.

*the exact size of the matchsticks is irrelevant, obviously not too big, but do make sure that the carrot and daikon matchsticks are of similar size if possible.  I have seen them super skinny and slightly wider like mine below. Both ways taste delicious. 

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Matchstick daikon and carrots above and with salt and sugar ready to be massaged below.

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Once your carrot and daikon pickle is resting it’s now time to make the marinade for your tofu. I slice my block of tofu gently into about about 9slices. You don’t want to cut them too thin or they will easily break.

Place them gently in a bowl and add the marinade, which consists of: tamari (or soy sauce), 1/2 lime and zest, 1 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger and cracked pepper. Coat evenly and then leave to marinade for around 20 minutes. Heat some groundnut (or sunflower) oil in a pan and then let the tofu  cook gently on each side for around 3-5 minutes before turning over. It wants to be nicely bronzed.

Tofu Marinade

349g firm tofu (or similar size pack), sliced

2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

1/2 lime, juice and zest

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

liberal amount of cracked pepper

1 tsp groundnut/sunflower oil

  1. Slice the tofu gently into approximately 9 pieces and then place in a bowl and cover with the marinade ingredients.
  2. Leave to marinade for 20 minutes.
  3. Heat  the pan with oil and gently space out the marinated sliced tofu. On a medium low heat, leave the tofu for around 3 minutes to see if it is nicely bronzing. If it is then carefully turn it over for a further 3 minutes. Leave a little longer if it requires more time to bronze.
  4. Remove from pan and leave to cool whilst you prepare the rest of the sandwich.

If you are using pork or chicken make sure to slice the the meat thinly and leave to cook for longer on both sides. 

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The next part is easy. You simply mix a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or shop bought) and add sriracha to taste. I usually find that around 1/2 tbsp works really well.

 

Sriracha Mayo

2 tbsp mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or regular shop bought)

1/2 tbsp sriracha, or to taste

  1. Mix the two ingredients together to form a salmon pink sauce. Taste and add more sriracha if necessary.

The next part is the assembling. First you need to slice the baguette, but not all the way through.  Take out some of the white bread part within – this allows more space for the fillings. Now follow the instructions below.

Assembling the Bahn Mi

few drops of maggi seasoning sauce

1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced

handful of fresh coriander

2 red chillies, chopped – optional

  1. Spread out the sriracha mayo evenly along the baguette followed by a few drops of maggi seasoning sauce.
  2. Next add the cucumber, tofu followed by some of the pickled carrot and daikon. You can also add some thinly spiced fresh red chillies for extra heat if necessary or omit this part and just add the fresh coriander.

It sounds terribly long winded but I assure you that it really doesn’t take that long at all. The pickle will last for ages and is pretty quick to make in the first place. The marinading is straightforward and the sriracha mayo takes seconds. So give it a whirl. Trust me you’ll become as addicted as me about banh mi.

 


Vietnamese Beef Stew – Bo Kho

As those who have been following my blog for some time will know, I ADORE Vietnamese food. It is fragrant, spiced but not hot spicy like Thai food. It is also very versatile and is equally loved by young and old alike. As such, my Bo Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew – is a great meal to serve the whole family.

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It reminds me of the stew my grandmother made the whole time when I was a child, albeit without the spices and fresh herbs, although she may have added fresh thyme. The potatoes and carrots in the stew make it satisfyingly filling and I love the taste of the fresh herbs and crunchy beansprouts. Texture, taste and zing.

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It’s comforting and equally enjoyable on a hot summers eve or a chilly autumn day or, in the case of us Brits, a rather chilly June day (come on sunshine you can come back now!). My girls love it as well as adult guests. I often choose to eat mine with flat rice noodles – medium or thick, but it would work equally well with steamed rice.

Vietnamese Beef Stew – Bo Kho

serves 4-6

2 tbsp ground nut oil

1 large white onion, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

1.2kg stewing/braising beef, cut into 1.5 inch cubes

1 can of chopped tomatoes/400g fresh tomatoes chopped

1.5 tsp Chinese five spice powder

3 tbsp fish sauce

1.5 tsp brown sugar

3 star anise

1/2 tsp paprika

2 tbsp ginger paste/minced fresh ginger

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 bay leaf

2 lemongrass, halved and stalks removed, gently bashed

300ml coconut water (not cream or milk)

100ml beef stock

2 large carrots, cut into into 1 inch pieces on the diagonal

2 medium/large sized potatoes, cut into 4/6 pieces

300g medium or thick rice noodles

large handful of fresh mint leaves

large handful of fresh coriander leaves

large handful of fresh Thai basil leaves

100g beansprouts

2 fresh limes, quartered

 large handful of fried shallots

1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced – optional

  1. In a large cast-iron pan gently heat the oil and when it is hot, but on a low heat, add the onion and salt and allow the onion to soften for 5 minutes.
  2. In batches, brown the beef and then add the tinned or fresh tomatoes and gently simmer for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add star anise, Chinese five spice, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, paprika, fish sauce, bay leaf, brown sugar and move around the pan before adding the coconut water and beef stock. Gently simmer for 45 minutes on a low heat.
  4. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook gently for a further 30-45 minutes, until soft but not falling apart.
  5. In a separate pan heat some water and when boiling add the rice noodles and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and then run under cold water until ready to use.
  6. If you are making the fried shallots, thinly slice a couple of banana shallots and allow to crisp up in vegetable oil. They take a few minutes and will burn easily so do not walk away from the pan when crisping them.

To serve:

In deep bowls add a handful of rice noodles to each bowl. If the noodles are stuck together run them under some water to loosen them up. Add the beef and a couple of ladles of the gravy to each bowl. Add the fresh herbs, beansprouts, quartered lime, crispy shallots, fresh chilli (if using) and serve immediately. Equally you could let guests add their own fresh herbs, beansprouts and shallots by placing them in the centre of the table to help themselves.

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The Little Viet Kitchen – Islington

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For those who have a weakness for seriously tasty Vietnamese food, as I do, you need to pay a visit to Chapel Market, a stone’s throw away from Angel tube station. As you stroll through the market, past the famous Pie & Mash and Eels restaurant M.Manze you come across a shining beckon of shabby chic cool with a mint, grey and wooden exterior. The name ‘The Little Viet Kitchen’ is etched above the door. Once you enter a wave of calm serenity washes over you. This is a place to lunch and take your time.

The first thing that hits you is how charming and well thought through the restaurant is. From the stunning chandeliers, to the beautiful vases of fresh flowers on each table, to the wooden ceilings, the bar stools and the lights above the bar.

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Everything oozes with considered cool. It’s a place that immediately puts you at ease. There is no frenetic lunching here.

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The restaurant is the brainchild of Thuy Pham-Kelly, who launched the restaurant last year, having previously run a successful Vietnamese supper club. She still continues with her supper clubs each month where dinners arrive at 6pm and are treated to a surprise Vietnamese banquet that changes each month. Her passion and love of Vietnamese food is clearly evident both in the cooking but also the way that she has injected so much of her own personality into the restaurant. She wants diners to feel they are dining in her own home.

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We started our Vietnamese feast with non-alcohol cocktails. For me a ‘Lemongrass Ginger Sherbet Colada’ and for my partner in crime ‘Cucumber Mojito’. I had never tried anything like my sherbet colada before, but I must say it was addictively good. It reminded me vaguely of those wonderful sherbet fountains I used to eat as a child. You know the ones that you dip a liquorice stick in.

We then opted for today’s special starters (they change daily), which were king prawns and a spider crab each on a Vietnamese salad bursting with flavour. It was a great taster of what was to come.

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As a side note I wanted to mention the stunning, tactile crockery that the food was served in. Not only did the bowls and plates have weight they also kept the food hotter for longer, owing to the fact that they were made of clay. Sourced from Japan, they complement the food perfectly.

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One of the statement dishes (the other being Pho, but I shall have that on my return visit) is Banh Xeo – Vietnamese Pancakes – which was larger than life as you can see. We opted for the one filled with pork belly and prawn. It’s a great dish to share and allows you to get really stuck in as you need to eat it with your fingers. After cutting a bite sized portion of the pancake you wrap it in a lettuce leaf and add some fresh herbs – mint and coriander. You then roll it up slightly before dipping it in the nuoc cham sauce. If you want to know how to cook them yourself, albeit a lot smaller ones than the one I ate, take a look at my recipe here.

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Next up was the ‘Coconut Poussin Curry’ that packed a delicate chilli punch. All the meat sourced is organic  and consequently has flavour and tastes good. The coconut infused broth was deliciously creamy and nicely spiced. Nothing bland about the cooking here.  The dish does require quite a bit of concentration to eat as there is a generous portion of noodles sitting in the bowl. Transferring noodles to mouth without any contact with one’s pristine top/blouse/shirt (delete as appropriate) is quite a skill. I think I just about managed it!

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We were then treated to Thuy’s special ‘Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls’ that were filled with pork, water chestnut and glass noodles. They were utterly delicious and I liked the fact that they had water chestnuts in them, a first for me.

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Needing to digest we drank cups of lemongrass and green tea, the perfect beverage to finish off a very filling and delicious lunch. Will I be returning? Most definitely YES and I plan to entice more of my south London friends to join me. The northern line really does make it very easy.

 

The Little Viet Kitchen

2 Chapel Market, Angel Islington

London, N1 9EZ

Tel: 0207 837 9779

Monday             Closed

Tuesday             12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 22:00

Wednesday       12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 22:00

Thursday           12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 23:00

Friday                 12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 23:00

Saturday            12:00 to 23:00

 

 


Vietnamese Summer Rolls – healthy and utterly delicious

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Vietnamese summer rolls, also known as Gỏi cuốn in Vietnam, are THE perfect lunch time meal, starter or snack when the sun is shining and you want something light, tasty and flavoursome. They are great fun to make and you can get creative on what to fill them with. The original Vietnamese ones often have pork loin and prawn wrapped inside them, however, I have always omitted the pork and simply added prawns, but its up to you. If you do include pork loin boil it in water for around 20 minutes and then thinly slice the pork loin when it has cooled.

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Fresh herbs are key and you ideally need: coriander, garden mint and Thai basil, although regular basil will suffice if you can’t lay your hands on the former. If you happen to live near or pass by an Asian grocers pick up some perilla/shiso leaves to add a more authentic flavour. A little lettuce – cos works well – is also good to include (I didn’t have any in my fridge so for the ones above I have not included this). Rice noodles, carrot and cucumber batons are also needed.

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So to wrap you need to follow the photos above:

  1. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  2. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  3. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns (if they are large slice them in two) and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  4. Continue to roll tightly until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to one side.

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I like to use my nuoc cham dipping sauce – recipe here. Equally they are also tasty if you dip them into a combined sauce of crunchy peanut butter with hoisin sauce.

 

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

makes around 16

A packet of Vietnamese rice paper – size 22cm

300g prawns (if you do not eat prawns you could add tofu)

packet of thin rice noodles

2 large carrots, sliced into thin batons

half a cucumber, slice into thin batons

cos lettuce

large handful of fresh coriander

large handful of fresh garden mint

large handful of thai basil (or regular basil if cannot find thai)

large handful of perilla/shiso leaves – optional

  1. Soak the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for around 7 minutes with a plate covering the bowl to keep in the heat. Check to taste they are cooked and then drain under cold water. Place to one side.
  2. Prepare all the ingredients and place them on a plate ready to use. If you are using giant chunky prawns it is best to slice them in two.
  3. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  4. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  5. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  6. Continue to tightly roll until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to once side and repeat.

They can be made ahead of time and then covered and placed in the fridge until ready to use. Bring out of the fridge 30 minutes before eating.

I often use my nuoc cham dipping sauce which you can see here. If you like this recipe you might also like some of my other Vietnamese ones such as:

Vietnamese pancakes – bahn xeo

Vietnamese chicken herb salad

Vietnamese fish with turmeric, ginger and dill

Vietnamese chicken rissoles with shallots, lemongrass and garlic

Vietnamese inspired salmon, cucumber, red onion and grapefruit salad

Bun cha

Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup

Vietnamese iced coffee


Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

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Savoury food for breakfast has always been my kind of thing. Other than the pain au chocolat craving I had when I was pregnant with my first, savoury food has always been my go to breakfast choice. As such Asian food in general is my idea of heaven. Curry for breakfast, a bowl of hot steaming Vietnamese pho or Vietnamese Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), and I am in culinary nirvana. These kind of foods I could eat all day so I am not necessarily suggesting you start cooking Vietnamese pancakes before the school/office run but having the recipe in mind when you want to try something new at any time of day.

 

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Banh Xeo (pronounced Ban say-oh – see video below if you want to sound like a pro) are thin crisp pancakes made with rice flour, coconut milk (or beer in fact), turmeric, and water. Traditionally they are filled with both pork (thinly cut pork belly strips) and prawns, but for mine I have omitted the pork and used just prawns. If you are vegetarian you could equally use some fried tofu, which would taste really good. Xeo actually means ‘sizzling’ in Vietnamese and it is this sound that you want to hear when the pancakes are crisping up. They are also known as ‘happy pancakes’ and you’ll see why after you have tasted your first mouthful.

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I pick up my rice flour from my local Asian supermarket or you can easily buy it online, it’s also only a matter of time before the bigger supermarkets will start stocking it too. I rather love the packaging of the one that I use – it’s got happy flour written all over it!

 

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The turmeric gives the lovely bright yellow hue to the pancakes and I also put in coconut milk. Some central parts of Vietnam do not use coconut milk and instead opt for beer to give the pancakes an extra crispiness, but I personally love the coconut taste to the pancakes.

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Now eating the crispy pancakes can be done in a couple of ways. You can either simply use a knife and fork and eat it like that, or in Vietnam you are often provided with a spoon and large lettuce leaves along with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint. You break off a little of the pancake …..like so

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and then place it on the lettuce leaf, along with the herbs …..

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and then roll it so you are able to pick it up and dip it in your nuoc cham dipping sauce. Easy hey. I cannot stress how delicious this is, so much so that I am craving more of these writing this post. Seriously seek out rice flour and give these a shot – I promise you you won’t regret it.

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Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

Serves 4

Pancake batter

175g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

pinch of salt

250ml coconut milk

150ml cold water

*******

1 tsp coconut/groundnut oil (to go into the pan for each pancake made)

 for the filling

200g king prawns, shelled and deveined

4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

125g beansprouts

a handful (per person) of mixed herbs: coriander, mint, thai sweet basil

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

5 tbsp fish sauce

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp caster sugar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200ml cold water

1 lime, juice only (optional)

1. First you want to make the batter. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk so that the mixture is smooth and not too thick in consistency. You want to make it a similar consistency as if you were cooking regular European pancakes. Place to one side to rest ideally for at least 30 minutes.

2. To prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce place the garlic and chilli in a bowl followed by the water, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and lime (if using). Stir well so that the sugar dissolves. Place to one side.

3. Next prepare the filling. Place a small amount of coconut oil in a pan and cook the prawns on a medium low heat for 3 minutes, turning and stirring as you do so. Once they have become pinker in colour, transfer them to a plate.

4. Heat a large non stick skillet or frying pan and when it is hot add 1 tsp of coconut oil (or ground nut oil) and then ladle in one spoonful of the pancake mixture. Move it around the pan immediately so that it is completely covered. Lower the heat and let it cook for 3 minutes.

5. Place some beansprouts over one half of the pancake, along with some spring onions and place a lid on the pan for a further 2 minutes.

6. Now remove the lid and place the prawns on top of the beansprouts and spring onions. Cook for one more minute checking to see that the underside of the pancake is beginning to bronze slightly and crisp up. Place some fresh coriander, mint, Thai basil on top of the prawns and then fold one half of the pancake over the other. Leave to cook for 20 more seconds and then place on a serving plate with more fresh herbs and some lettuce.

To Serve:

Serve immediately when it is hot. Cut a bit sized portion off the pancake and place on a lettuce leaf. Add a few more herbs and then roll so that you can pick it up and dip it into the nuoc cham dipping sauce.

The video below shows you how to eat it.


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.


Vietnamese inspired Salmon, Cucumber, Red Onion and Grapefruit Salad

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Up in my old neck of the woods there is a fantastic restaurant that I love to visit whilst catching up with friends. It goes by the name of Granger & Co, owned by the Australian chef Bill Granger. Bizarrely I have never purchased or been given any of Bill’s cookbook (sorry Bill – take note friends and family ;o) but if any of the dishes at his restaurant are to go by I really ought to get my hands on some copies. The restaurant is always heaving and it’s important to note that they don’t take reservations, so it is always best to go with plenty of time in hand as there may be a wait – max I have ever waited was 20 mins.

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The other day my lunch companion and I were seated to a table immediately – we were in luck – and then cast our eyes over the menu, which quite frankly has all the types of dishes that I would like to eat in a restaurant. Delicate, fresh, exotic, great flavour combinations and healthy, the menu appeals to anyone with a love of food and flavours.  I actually found it hard to make a decision as there were so many things that appealed. I opted for a Vietnamese inspired salmon salad – mainly for two reasons: firstly I have a bit of a ‘thing’ going on for Vietnamese cuisine at the moment which you’ve probably noticed and secondly I was curious to see how the dished compared to those I actually ate in Vietnam recently. It was also light and healthy, which was a bonus!

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It is no exaggeration but every mouthful was an utter delight. Making a mental note of what I was eating I was determind to replicate a similar dish at home and share it with you. I don’t know exactly what Bill used in the dressing but I have made my own twist on the dish. I have cooked it many times since and the response has been really positive. Aside from the red grapefruit, even my seven year old  really loves the dish. As alternative you could always replace the red grapefruit with fresh mango.

Vietnamese inspired Salmon, Cucumber, Red Onion and Grapefruit Salad

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp sesame oil

*****

2 cucumber, sliced at diagonal angles (see photos)

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 red grapefruit, chopped into bite sized pieces

200g trimmed fine green beans

1 large handful of fresh coriander

*****

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 limes, juice only

1. In a bowl place the salmon fillets and add the soy sauce and runny honey and using your hands coat the salmon pieces and leave to marinade in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees.

3. In a frying pan heat the sesame oil and when hot add the salmon skin side down to begin with. Literally allow to bronze slightly for a minute and then turn over gently and leave for another minute. You want to have it so the outside is delicated bronzed but not cooked all the way through. It can begin to turn a lighter pink but you want the remainder of the cooking to take place in an oven gently.

4. Spread out a large piece of  tin foil and place the salmon pieces in the centre, making sure not to break them up. Add the remaining marinade from the bowl over the salmon.  Now you need to create a Papillote effect. It’s very straightforward – all you need to do is create a salmon parcel making sure all the foil edges are closed up so that no air can escape and there is some space above the salmon so don’t enclose it too tightly.

5. Place the salmon parcel in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, by which stage it will have be cooked through and ready to crumble gently on the salad.

6. Whilst the salmon is cooking steam the green beans for a minute or two. You want to make sure they continue to have a good crunch but that the bite is taken off a little with the steaming. Equally you could boil them for a minute and then drain under cold water.

7. Add the green beens to the cucumber, red onion, red grapefruit, fresh coriander and place a good helping on eat plate.

9. Add the mirin, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and lime juice to create the marinade. Taste to check you have the right balance for you.

8. When the salmon is ready remove from the oven. Gently remove the skin, which will come away easily and place a salmon fillet on the top of each salad, allowing it to crumble slightly. Pour a little of the marinade over the fish and salad and serve immediately. Place the remaining marinade in a small jug for guests to add more should they wish.


Bun Cha – Vietnam’s culinary jewel

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On a recent trip to Vietnam Mr B, Big A and Little Z (husband and two daughters) stopped off in Hanoi for a couple of days before heading south to Hoi An and it was during this stay I discovered a dish known as Bun Cha (pronounced Boon Cha – even the name of it appeals) that will stay with me forever. There have been certain times in my life that I have, often unexpectedly, had a meal that was off the delicious charts and consequently imprinted on my memory. This was one of them.

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We had booked ourselves onto a guided tour of ‘real’ Hanoi with Hanoi Kids – which I cannot recommend more highly if you are planning a visit. The personal tours are conducted by local university students who show you their beloved Hanoi. The hope is that the students can improve their English and you enjoy an original type of tour. The tours are free so it’s a win win for everyone, although it’s only polite to pay for their lunch and drinks and leave a tip at the end (although there is no pressure to leave one).

Van and Nhung (our designated Hanoi Kids for the day) collected us from our hotel in Old Hanoi and after a few minutes discussion on what kind of things we enjoy doing they whisked us off to a few places they thought we should see, both on the tourist trail and the more hidden places.

Despite the tourists who flock to ‘The Temple of Literature’, the site of Vietnam’s first university, the place was breathtakingly calm and serene as recently graduated students wafted around in their stunning ‘ao dai’ – the national dress for Vietnamese women.

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The temple is a place for them to take cherished photographs of themselves in all their finery having completed their studies; their graduation photographs if you will.

IMG_4799We wandered around the large complex taking in our surroundings before heading back to the cool of our transportation and on to the next destination.

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After a morning of soaking up the some of Hanoi’s sites Van and Nhung promised to take us to one of their favourite Bun Cha establishments. New to Bun Cha we were open to their suggestion. Our driver dropped us off by the pavement where we found a collection of little tables with miniature blue stools where local Vietnamese were feasting on Bun Cha.

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We were shown to a table and waited briefly for our meal to arrive. A large tin platter was placed on the small table, which we were huddled around and upon it were six bowls of broth filled with BBQ pork slices and patties. In the middle of the platter where mountainous piles of noodles, fresh herbs, lettuce and bamboo shoots.

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The simplicity of the spread did not reveal the resplendent flavours that came to the fore after the first mouthful. Without exception we were all in culinary nirvana; even Little Z who has not such a developed palate – being 3 yrs old – devoured every mouthful. The atmosphere of eating in a local eatery with traffic and bikes whizzing by only added to the charm. All the tables were filled with locals, not a tourist in sight (apart from us that is).

At £2 a head it is without doubt the best cheapest meal I have ever eaten. If you are in Hanoi do check it out you won’t be disappointed. The address is : Bún Chả 34 Hàng Than, 34 Hàng Than, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi.

The afternoon was spent on foot touring the streets of Old Hanoi,which is no easy feet I tell you. Crossing a road in Hanoi is a tricky business, but with our guides on hand we managed to stay alive to tell the tale.

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Some like to take a more leisured approach to daily life!!

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We ambled around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is the heart of Hanoi. Within the frenetic metropolis the lake offers peaceful walks in the relative shade of the tree lined walkways. We visited the temple in the lake and heard about the legend of the giant tortoise and the sword.

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The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering down the laberinth of narrow roads that make up Old hanoi, stopping off at temples and markets and of course sampling the famous egg coffee at Cafe Giang, a coffeehouse that’s been around for decades. (39 Nguyen Huu Haan) and is delightfully charming hidden down a dark little alleyway (we would never have found it without Hanoi Kids), over two floors scatted with it’s miniature tables and wooden stools, much to Mr B’s chagrin, as he is a good six foot tall. The girls loved it however as the seating arrangements in Hanoi were perfect for them.

So for those who have no immediate trips to Hanoi planned, fear not, here is the simple but truly delicious Bun Cha recipe that you can make at home. Don’t be put off by the length of ingredients, it is far more straightforward than it may appear and if you don’t have all the herbs just use one or two of those listed. Equally if you find green papaya too hard to source just add carrot. Ideally marinate the pork mince and slices and leave in the fridge overnight if you have time/remember. Failing that a couple of hours marinating will also be sufficient.

Bun Cha

Serves 4

Pork Patties and Slices

300g pork shoulder

300g pork mince

6 shallots, minced

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 spring onions, very finely chopped

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp fish sauce

2 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tsp salt

2 tsp honey

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

1 handful of mint leaves

1 handful of coriander leaves

1 handful of Thai Basil

1 large handful of bean sprouts

1 large handful of lettuce leaves

500g rice vermicelli noodles, cooked

Side of Pickles

quarter of a green papaya, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, sliced into carrot flowers (or simply sliced)

2 tsp salt

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

250 ml water

1 chilli, sliced thinly

2 garlic cloves, diced finely

juice of half a lime

1. In a mixing bowl combine the pork mince with HALF of all the ingredients in the ‘Pork Patties and Slices’ section. Thinly slice the pork shoulder to around 1/2 cm depth, 5cm length x 4cm width approximately. Place in a separate bowl with the other HALF of the remaining ingredients.  Cover both bowls and leave in the fridge to marinate overnight or for a couple of hours.

2. Next prepare the side of pickles by slicing the carrots, or if you are feeling ambitious make little carrot flowers. Simply peel the carrots and then make V cuts lengthways, without going all the way through the carrot. This way when you slice the carrot horizontally little carrot flowers have been formed. Peel and slice the green papaya and then put both the vegetables into a bowl with the salt. Set aside for 10 minutes before rinsing off the salt in water. Drain thoroughly and then place in a new bowl with the sugar and the rice vinegar. Leave to rest for an hour. This will allow the vegetables to absorb the sugary vinegar flavour.

3. Prepare the dipping sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. Leave to one side.

4. Cook the rice vermicelli according to the packet – few minutes normally in boiling water. Drain under cold water and leave to one side.

5. After marinating the pork, make small patties using your hands, similar to how you would make meatballs. It is easiest to form the balls if your hands have a little oil on them. Once you have formed a ball, gently flatten the pattie so that it is easier to handle when cooking.

6. If you want to be really authentic then you could BBQ the meats but as it is not always BBQ weather here in the UK, I find the oven grill works equally well. Preheat the oven grill to 180 degrees (I use fan oven). Place the slices and patties on the grill rack and grill for just under 10 minutes (or until nicely turned brown) before turning and grilling for a further 10 minutes.

To serve: 

It’s a great dish for people to help themselves so place the herbs/lettuce/bean sprouts, dipping sauce, side of pickles and noodles in separate bowls. To heat up the noodles simple pour boiling water over them and drain them thoroughly! Then place the meat on a separate plate. Ideally serve in small little round bowls like those served in Hanoi (see photo above). My bowls are a little too large really so aim for a small bowl if possible. Guests pour a little dipping sauce in their bowl followed by a couple of slices of pork and a couple of pork patties and  pickles. Then you dip a bit of vermicelli and fresh herbs/lettuce/bean sprouts into the bowl and then eat. The flavours and textures will sing to you and you will be finishing off bowls of the dish before you know it. If you run out of dipping sauce it is easy to prepare a fresh batch. Both my hosts in Hanoi did not finish off the sauce as it is sweet, although I couldn’t resist finishing off every last mouthful.