Sticky Dumplings in Ginger Syrup (Che Troi Nuoc)

Lunar New Year is just around the corner! For those of you who don’t celebrate, the lunar new year (called Tet in Vietnamese) falls on Friday, January 31st, 2014.

I won’t go into all the details about the celebration just yet, but I will give you a sneak-peek recipe – there are always plenty of great dishes to share around New Year, and desserts are no exception!

This Vietnamese dessert is a “sweet soup”, called Che. These desserts are a play on texture – there is always great focus on providing various crunchy or chewy elements. The best part is, there are different types of “chewy”, too. Some are snappy-chewy, like palm fruits, for example – other times, they are soft-chewy, like sticky (glutinous) rice flour balls.

Che can either be cold and served over ice, or served hot or warm. Often, it’s finished with a bit of coconut milk for added richness and body. This particular Che is served warm. It’s very soothing, great on a cold day, and has a wonderful spicy kick from ginger, beautifully contrasting textures from the glutinous rice flour and mung bean paste, and will make your whole body warm.


Ginger Syrup
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 hand of ginger, cut into thin slices (normally I don’t peel)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar or equivalent of rock sugar

Add the ginger and water to a small pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat, and cover  for 20 to 30 minutes (if you don’t want it as intensely gingery, simmer for less).

Once 20-30 minutes have elapsed, add in the sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain the syrup if you don’t want the ginger chunks, but they won’t do any harm.
Sticky Rice Ball Dough
  • 1 bag glutinuous rice flour (6 oz.)
  • 1 3/4 cups water
Put 1 bag of 6 oz. glutinous rice flour (SEE NOTE) into a mixing bowl. Slowly add in between 1 2/3 and 1 ¾ cup of water. Mix with your hands thoroughly as you add the water! Alternately you can do this in a food processor or electric/stand mixer. Knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes, until it forms a smooth, shiny ball, and cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let it rest.


Mung Bean Filling
  • 2 cups of yellow, shelled, split mung beans
  • water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (white or brown)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak the mung beans overnight (or at least 2 hours) in a covered bowl. Drain, rinse, and put them in a small sauce pan or a pot, with just enough water  to cover the beans. Turn the heat to high and let it come to a boil. After about 10 to 15 minutes, test to see if they are soft enough to mush between your fingers. If they are still firm, test them every additional five minutes.

Set the mung beans aside. In a large mixing bowl, add in the sugar and salt, and stir until the mixture is a smooth paste. Put the mixture aside for a bit, until it is cool enough to handle (but still warm!). Form the paste into little round balls, about 2 cm in diameter.
Put it all together!
  • Dough
  • Mung Bean Filling
  • Ginger Syrup
  • Pot of boiling water
  • Bowl of ice water
  • Thinly sliced ginger (optional)
  • Toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • coconut milk or cream (optional)
Uncover the dough and form it into balls about twice the size as the mung bean paste balls. Flatten the balls into disks, using your fingers to thin it out. Place the filling in the center of the dough, fold over one edge and pinch together, make sure the dough cover the filling completely. Gently roll until the dough seals, and forms a smooth ball. Be gentle when rolling to make sure you don’t mash the filling with the dough. If you’d like, you can save some dough at the end to form little tiny sticky rice flour balls without filling, for added variety of texture. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Fill a separate bowl with cold water.
Drop the balls into the boiling water until they floats to the top. Once they float, let them boil for about two minutes, then scoop them out and drop into the bowl of cold water for a few seconds. Then take the balls out and place them in the ginger syrup. Repeat the process in batches.
To serve, top it with coconut milk, toasted sesame seeds, or thinly sliced ginger. An Ngon!

Note: I use this brand of glutinous (sticky) rice flour: 

Vietnamese “Grilled” Fish Salad Bowls

fishbowlOne of my mom’s favorite dishes is Vietnamese grilled fish. Typically rolled with fresh herbs, rice noodles (bún), julienned raw vegetables, rice paper (banh trang), and dipping fish sauce (nuoc mam cham), it’s a great meal to enjoy around a big table, chattering amongst friends and family in the sweltering humidity.

While there are many ways to prepare fish, her favorite is with lemongrass and fresh herbs. The lemongrass, crushed, goes into a sweet and salty marinade on the fish before it is broiled or grilled. Chopped fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, flat-leaf parsley, thai basil) garnish when the fish is done.

However, seeing as it is winter, the grill is covered, it’s a Sunday night, and there’s work to be done before dreaded Monday rolls around, it isn’t ideal to be lounging around meticulously assembling dinner. So, my mom and I have discovered a way to still enjoy all the flavors and textures of her favorite meal all in a bowl.

These “bowls” are becoming popular, too, regardless if they are traditional preparations or new spins on old recipes – bibimbap, burrito bowls, deconstructed falafel bowls, vermicelli rice bowls (bún).

So the recipe comes in two parts: the fish, the sauce. The assembly in a bowl is really up to you. Have fun with it!

grilledfishsideVietnamese Lemongrass Fish

  • 4 Tilapia fillets (or other white fish), thawed if frozen
  • 2 Tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder, any mild one will do (I used trader joe’s generic)
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (or agave)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used olive)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • Chopped cilantro, thai basil, mint, flat-leaf parsley, or any herbs of choice for garnish

Stir together the lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, oil, and green onion in a small bowl.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spread with vegetable oil. Preheat the oven 450 degrees.

Lay the fillets on the tray, about an inch apart. Ladle marinade onto each fillet with a flat spoon (or alternately brush). Make sure to get both sides! Cover the fish and let sit for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, turn the broiler of your oven on (or if you don’t have a broiler, leave it on the highest setting). Hopefully your oven won’t explode when you turn the broiler on because you preheated it!

Put the tray in the oven on the top rack. Check the fillets after 5 minutes – they are finished when the meat is no longer opaque and the ends become charred. Flip each fillet and repeat on the other side, just until browned.

When the fish are done, garnish with chopped herbs.

Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)

This is the dipping sauce served alongside many vietnamese dishes: bún, certain types of spring rolls, etc. Basically, you stir all the ingredients together in the proportions that you like. Warning, I can never perfectly measure these ratios! Sometimes the fish sauce is too salty, other times I use vinegar instead of lemon juice… blah blah. It’s difficult to get it right, but when you find the perfect mix, it’s worth it! I’ve found the best way for me to get the perfect consistency (without heating it up to melt the sugar) is to use agave. The sweetener is fairly neutral in taste, so it doesn’t affect the nuoc mam. My mixture this time (approximately):

  • 1 part agave nectar
  • 1 part fish sauce
  • 1/2 part white vinegar
  • 2 parts water (to dilute)

Mix, taste, mix, taste. Adjust to your liking! Some people also like to add minced chili or garlic.


To assemble: In a bowl, place a base of noodles, lettuce, chopped greens, or rice. Add blanched broccoli, shredded carrots, bok choy, or another steamed vegetable. Add the fillet of fish on top, garnish with chopped herbs, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, and finally dress with about a tablespoon of nuoc mam cham. Mix to combine, and enjoy! This is a very filling lunch or dinner, great for exotic vietnamese flavors without much time! No skill required to make these into rolls, either, haha.




Healthy Ferrero Rochers

trufflecloseupNote: This recipe is courtesy of my sister. She doesn’t typically cook (I am the one teaching her!), but she loves to experiment with nut butters. Recently she has made hazelnut truffles; while I cannot taste them as I am allergic to tree nuts, this recipe has been a big hit with the rest of the family. 

My grandmother used to keep a stock of truffles and cookies, tucked away under the draping floral tablecloth on the dining room table, for the kids to snack on. She was truly the sweetest; instead of the Chips Ahoy, Hershey’s Kisses, or whatever American kids were nibbling on, she had loads of foreign goodies: LU butter cookies, Quadratini chocolate wafers, and little gold-foil wrapped Ferrero Rochers. Today, those brands automatically trigger memories of her home, full of family and food for everyone to share.

Since she passed away, I haven’t seen Ferrero Rochers since. I couldn’t eat them anyway, but my sister has sorely missed them. So she composed this less-processed, healthy version of Ferrero Rochers to reminisce about our childhood days.

Bonus, they are refined sugar free!


Healthy Ferrero Rochers

  • 1 cup dry roasted, unsalted hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs (Buy them here)
  • honey (amount as needed, can sub vegan alternative)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 block dark chocolate (I used 70% dark chocolate)
  • additional nibs, to sprinkle on the top

In a food processor, add the cacao nibs and hazelnuts. Run the machine for about 5 minutes, until a coarse, crumbly mixture is made. Drizzle in about 1/4 cup honey, add the cocoa powder, and run the food processor again. When the mixture becomes thick, firm, and rollable into balls, it is finished. Add more honey if the mixture is still too dry. If the mixture becomes too wet, add more cocoa powder at 1 tablespoon at a time. When the mixture is rollable, put the food processor cup in the fridge, covered.

Meanwhile, cut the dark chocolate into chunks. Fill a deep skillet with about 1 inch of water and put it on the stove until it comes to a simmer. Add the chocolate to another bowl, and place the bowl into the water. Stir until the mixture is fully melted. Set aside. (See Notes if you want to learn about how to melt chocolate)

Take the nut mixture out of the fridge and form them into ping-pong size balls, about 2 cm in diameter. Make sure your hands are clean! If you don’t want to hand them too much, you can alternately use two spoons. Form all the mixture into balls and place on a parchment lined tray. Now, spoon melted chocolate over each truffle. You may need to melt more chocolate if you are a little generous. Sprinkle cacao nibs over each truffle, too.

Finished! Store in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer indefinitely (just make sure you thaw them first, so you don’t break a tooth). Give as gifts, or keep them to yourself to cure a sweets craving the healthy way!


New Ingredient: Finger Limes

What are these things?

According to wikipedia, (and the little package they came in), these are finger limes. Appropriately named for their size and shape, this citrus australasica grows mainly in Queensland, Australia. They have a distinctly strong zest, and inside, the pulp is round and bright green. The juice inside each piece of pulp is sour, but not unpalatable like that of a true lime. Almost comparable to fish roe or caviar, the little beads of citrus burst in your mouth!

I have yet to use these lovely little finger limes in my cooking, but the lime that I had by itself was a refreshing little treat! I imagine the zest would be great to add in a ceviche, fruit salad, baked fish or grilled chicken, pork, added to cheesecakes or sorbets, or wherever a little burst of citrus and texture is needed!

If you ever see these, you have to try them! They are amazing and just show the unique and beautiful nature is.


The Sound of Taste

Ever feel that rush when you add the spices to the pan? They become aromatic, dancing around in the pot, releasing their beautiful fragrances, and forming a base for your dish. Suddenly, the house smells like a trip to the spice markets of India, or is even reminiscent of a visit to Grandma’s house.

This video beautifully captures that moment. Turn your sound on!

Clear the fridge & freezer with a veggie sauté


Sometimes it’s best to go back to what’s basic.

I know there are so many things you can add to make things taste better. Fish sauce. Bacon. Cheese. Miso Paste. Balsamic Vinegar. The list goes on.

But sometimes, when your mouth’s on fire from the crazy thai food you had earlier, or your tongue is crying for mercy after a big bag of salty popcorn, it’s nice to give yourself a break from all those flavor enhancers. I’m not saying they’re bad, no, I love adding little things to take a dish all the way. However, sometimes it’s best to remember what the vegetable taste like in itself.

So for today, I have a lightly sauteed vegetable medley. Wilted just until tender, seasoned with only salt and freshly ground black pepper, this sauté is great to enjoy the vegetable’s sweetness, earthiness, grassiness. Andbest of all, it’s endlessly customizable! I pretty much emptied out my old vegetables, the leftover can of olives from last night’s Tagine, and the little bags of frozen peas/corn sitting at the bottom of my freezer, so feel free to add whatever you’d like. Have some broccoli florets? Throw ’em in! Roasted red bell peppers? Go for it! Leftover garbanzo beans? Yes!

This sauté is also entirely vegetarian AND vegan! It turns out that peas actually contain a decent amount (8g/cup) amount of protein in them, so you’ll get a bit of a protein kick, but to make this a more substantial meal feel free to add in any beans. Image

Vegetable Sauté

  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup black olives, pitted and chopped into quarters
  • 1 sliced bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup fresh baby spinach
  • pinch salt & pepper, to taste

Add olive oil or any vegetable oil to a skillet on medium heat. Add the thinly sliced bell pepper for about 1 minute (until slightly sweated), then add the frozen corn and peas for another minute. Next, add the sliced olives, spinach, and a pinch each salt and pepper. Stir for about 1 minute until spinach is wilted, taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve as a side dish, like a salad, or add beans, meat, or a grain to make it a meal. Enjoy!


The forgotten vegetable



Children cringe; memories of warm coleslaw, briny sauerkraut, and diet soup quickly turn this vegetable boring.

However, cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables. While lately, other cruciferous vegetables, (brussels sprouts and cauliflower, anyone?) have been revived, lonesome cabbage still sits there, just waiting to be a star.

There are a few tricks with cabbage to make it more, palatable, though. First, you never want to overcook it. As with all crucifers, the sulfurous, yucky smell will release as the vegetable breaks down, noses will be turned… it’s just not appetizing. Secondly, cabbage is a great blank slate. As in kimchi and sauerkraut, cabbage nearly always benefits from a meaty highlight. Whether it be with bulgogi or corned beef, both elements help round out the overall flavor profile. If you’re vegetarian? Peanuts  make a great pairing, as do whole spices (mustard seeds, peppercorns).

One of my new favorite ways to cook cabbage is with Lap Xuong (Chinese: Lap Cheong), a Vietnamese/Chinese cured sweet pork sausage. Beautifully dotted with pork fat, a gorgeously warm red flavor – it’s the candy bacon of Asia.


Now, Lap Xuong is by no means healthy for you, the trick is to use it to season the cabbage. Just a little bit will do – I only used 1/2 a whole sausage for a whole cabbage! I also found a pork and chicken mixed Lap Xuong sausage, so it has less saturated fat. Please enjoy the recipe that follows for lunar new year, as a side dish, or a healthy meal alongside a bowl of brown rice.

Stir Fried Cabbage with Lap Xuong

1 Medium head cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 medium carrot, cut in rings or strips

1/2 Lap Xuong sausage (find it at your local Asian store), cubed very small

1 Tbs fish sauce (can sub salt or soy sauce, to taste)

Black Pepper

  1. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the cubed lap xuong and sliced carrots. No need to oil here! The Lap Xuong will render its fat to oil for you.
  3. Let the lap xuong and carrots brown for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced cabbage, and toss to combine. Allow to cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Do not overcook!
  5. Season with fish sauce and pepper.
  6. Turn off the heat, toss again, and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve hot with a bowl of rice, by itself, or as a side dish. Enjoy!

carrotlapxuongRendering the fat. 

IMG_0033_FotorĂn Ngon! (That means Bon Appetit in Vietnamese)