Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce


Beautiful plates of food. Gorgeous posts on instagram. Delicious restaurant meals. Inspirational healthy recipes. You’re motivated; you want to cook, and you’re ready to embark on a journey into the culinary world, and then you open the fridge, and you’re missing the key ingredient.

The eggs. The cilantro. The canned tomatoes. The jalapeno. Suddenly your epicurean aspirations fall apart, and you’re back on the couch with a takeout menu in hand. I get it.

Yes, it is difficult getting started cooking. You have to have the recipe laid out; every ingredient has to be present; you have to make sure all your equipment is up to par. It might seem like missing one thing is the end of the world when you’ve got one thing in mind, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from cooking (and the TV show Chopped) is improvisation!

For example, today I was so ready to make spring rolls. I had my carrots and jicama sautéed, my vietnamese ham all fried up, sauce ready, herbs washed, and then I realized: I was out of rice paper. Duh! Luckily iceberg lettuce came to my rescue and I made lettuce wraps instead. In the future I think I’ll use this as a lazy spring roll version (as opposed to salad-ifying spring rolls) if I’m in the mood to dip.



If you’ve never heard of vietnamese ham (or vietnamese baloney), called Cha Lua in Vietnamese, do not be put off by the name! It’s such a sad english translation. It’s basically like a huge cylindrical steamed meatball, like the kind you’d find in asian soups, but wrapped in banana leaf. It’s often available at Vietnamese sandwich shops and grocery stores. Try it in a Vietnamese sandwich first (Banh Mi Cha Lua) and once you’re hooked, you can buy the full ham to slice at home!


Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

  • 1 jicama, julienned
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled & julienned OR 1 bag shredded carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fried shallots
  • fish sauce & pepper to taste
  • 1 roll vietnamese ham, julienned
  • 1 cup fresh mint, washed
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup plum sauce
  • 1 tsp sriracha

Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and add the fried shallots over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the julienned jicama, stir. Let cook down a bit, for about 2 minutes, before adding the carrots. Stir fry all together until the carrots and jicama are softened and the jicama is slightly translucent. Season the jicama-carrot mixture with pepper and fish sauce to taste. Set vegetables aside.

In the same skillet, toss julienned vietnamese ham and let brown, stirring every minute or so until the small bits are crispy. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix hoisin, plum sauce, and sriracha. Thin out a bit with some water if your plum sauce is too thick.

On a cutting board, slice the iceberg lettuce in half down the stem. Carefully remove the leaves so they do not lose shape.

Layer a leaf with jicama carrot mixture, then vietnamese ham, then the mint leaves. Continue making lettuce “rolls” until all ingredients are finished. Enjoy by dipping the rolls in the hoisin-plum sauce.

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!


Revamp the Classics: Peanut Butter & Jelly with an Asian Twist

As part of theKitchn‘s cooking cure, I’ve been trying a load of new recipes for lunch. One idea that I will definitely be adding to my regular lunch rotations is an amazing spin on an old childhood classic: Peanut butter and Jelly! 

Instead of the sweet route, this sandwich goes savory & southeast asian, with crunchy peanut butter, chili jelly, a drizzle of sriracha, and some fresh herbs on top. To lighten it up, I’ve decided to go open faced. Plus, the sandwich is SO much prettier that way!

Feel free to use any peanut butter/bread/jam you have on hand. I’ll go ahead and give you the recipe for what I used, though. Image

Open-Faced Peanut Butter + Chilli Jelly

  • 1 slice of seeded whole wheat bread (any will work, preferably not a very sweet loaf)
  • 1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter (I used Jif)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet chilli jelly or orange marmalade (I have used both and they are equally delicious)
  • 1 drizzle of sriracha
  • A handful of cilantro, mint, torn into small pieces

Layer peanut butter, then jelly/marmalade, then sriracha, then cilantro/mint. Enjoy! 

New Ingredient: Basil Seeds


These are NOT chia seeds!

Yeah, they look a lot like them, don’t they? However, these are basil seeds. Commonly an ingredient in cold Asian drinks, they swell up in liquid and have a jelly-like, chewy texture. This is characteristic of the seeds of several varieties of basil species (sweet basil, thai basil, italian basil…). The seeds are about the size of a sesame seed.

While basil seeds do not have the same healthy fat benefits as the recently-popularized chia seed, they are still just as fun to play with in drinks! And bonus: they’re much cheaper! A bag of basil seeds typically costs me about $2, while I’ve seen chia seeds at health stores for about $8.


But don’t be weirded out! They are amazing little seeds to add to a sweet drink. Often they are components in faluda,  and I like to add them to Sam Bo Luong (or Ching Bo Leung).



Sam Bo Luong/Ching bo Leung

Sam Bo Luong/Ching bo Leung

Unfamiliar with these names? All of them are refreshing, sweet drinks from South Asia that are eaten with a spoon. They all contain many types of jellies of differing textures, so it’s a lot of fun to eat! Faluda is creamy, while Sam Bo Luong is tea-like.

IMG_0071How do you use basil seeds? Simply soak them in a liquid for 1-2 hours, and they will expand and become gelatinous. 1 tablespoon is probably enough to add to a drink.


They have pretty much no flavor; it’s all about the texture! I bet they’d also be cool to add to raspberry-flavored jello 🙂

If you’re feeling adventurous, you have to try these! They are fun ingredients that are often sold in bags (the one I bought was in a shaker though, how convenient) at most Southeast Asian groceries. They are awesome!

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.




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)