Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

Not my photo! I didn't get one of mine because I ate it too fast ;)

Not my photo! I didn’t get one of mine because I ate it too fast 😉

So I’ve been meaning to post this recipe – I first made it when I got my mandolin slicer for Christmas (!!). But with summer just around the corner, weather in the 90’s forecasted this week, and lots of available, fresh produce, I decided that now would be the perfect time to share such a refreshing recipe.

 

Green papaya (unripened papaya) is shredded, and tossed with a salty-sweet dressing, and topped with fried shallots, beef jerky, and crushed peanuts. This dish comes originally from Laos, but I’ve been familiarized with it through my Vietnamese mother.

 

It’s helpful to have a mandolin to shred the papaya quickly. Also, any beef jerky will work (I prefer spicy), and you can find green papaya at your nearby asian grocer. Most western grocery stores DO carry papaya, but sometimes even though it looks underripe, it’s not. It’s best to go to an asian grocery to eliminate any doubts.

 

in the making...

in the making…

Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

  • shredded green papaya
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar OR agave nectar (or any neutral, dissolvable sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup beef jerky, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup thai basil (or regular basil), sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts, or more to garnish
  • sliced serrano or jalapeno peppers (optional)

Shred the green papaya with a mandolin or knife into fine strips. Place in a colander and toss with a pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to remove sliminess and some of the excess water. Rinse, and pat dry. In a seperate bowl, mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, water, and sugar until all are dissolved.

Toss the papaya, dressing, basil, half the beef jerky and half the peanuts in a large bowl just before serving. Put onto a large plate, garnish with the remaining peanuts, beef jerky, and optional peppers. Serve immediately!

 

Vietnamese “Grilled” Fish Salad Bowls

fishbowlOne of my mom’s favorite dishes is Vietnamese grilled fish. Typically rolled with fresh herbs, rice noodles (bĂșn), 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 (bĂșn).

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: bĂșn, 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.

fishbowl

 

 

The forgotten vegetable

Cabbage.

plantbehind

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.

lapxuong

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)

Soup-er

Fall is settling in and the weather’s getting cooler. Salads no longer satisfy, and in my house, we turn to soup as a staple. Whether for a light meal or a nourishing one to revitalize amidst flu season, soups are always comforting. Some can be whipped up in an instant; some prepared over a few hours, or even overnight. Regardless, soups offer an endless variety and are flexible enough to never become a bore. 

Soup basics: 

  • Use stock (store-bought or homemade) in place of bouillon. 
  • Make sure your vegetables are cooked, but not overcooked. 
  • Plan the day before if you want to add dried beans to your soup. 
  • Follow directions carefully if you are making a soup from scratch with bones.
  • Fish Sauce, Soy sauce, Miso paste, or Doenjang are excellent sources of salt that add a great depth of flavor. Choose one that fits the soup you’re making!
  • Shredded leftover meat makes a great addition to a vegetable soup. 
  • For italian soups, add some cheese rinds to enrich the flavor. 
  • Don’t be afraid of acidity! Sometimes a squeeze of lemon will complete the flavor profile. 
  • Go crazy with  vegetables! Soup is the best way to retain all the vitamins in vegetables, too, and it’s a good way to use up those wilted greens or mushy tomatoes. 
  • Pre-roast vegetables for extra-oomph, but if you’re short on time, you can buy canned roasted tomatoes, bell peppers, and even corn!

For more tips, check out thekitchn’s tips here.
Soups are amazing ways to experiment with building complexity. Have fun with them!