Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mom's Recipes: Chả Cá (White Fish with Dill and Green Onion)

I have been meaning to participate in the food blogging event, Weekend Herb Blogging, that features weekly posts on herbs. I've also had a very specific Vietnamese recipe in mind, chả cá, a North Vietnamese fish dish prominently featuring dill. The opportunity came for me to write a post about it while visiting my mom.

I am submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging, run by Cook almost Anything at least once. The host this month is Scott from The Real Epicurean.

I have mentioned that my mom is from Central Vietnam. Therefore, she did not grow up eating this dish. In fact, the first time she had this dish was in Canada when she befriended some Vietnamese people from the North. So please forgive us if this recipe has taken some central liberties...

Chả cá
is typically cooked as you go using a tabletop hot pot pan/burner. It consists of white fish that is a trademark yellow from the use of turmeric, green onion and dill, cooked in a large amount of oil. I remember cooking it this way but along the way, my mom tweaked the recipe to make it more healthy. She now broils it with significantly less oil. You can check out posts on chả cá when The Gastronomer ate this dish in the North and South and see how this compares.

I like this recipe because it is fairly easy to make and is relatively healthy if you do not use too much oil. The thìa là (dill), a more common ingredient in the North of Vietnam, adds a dimension to this dish that is quite unique. I also like the firm pieces of well-seasoned fish in nước chấm.

Chả Cá (Fish with Dill) - Serves 4
Use white fish like sole or bassa that will not break too much once it is cooked. This dish is typically served with bún (rice vermicelli) and fresh ingredients. There is also usually roasted peanuts that we forgot this time. The sauce can be nước chấm (diluted fish sauce) or the more potent mắm tôm (fermented shrimp paste).

* 1 lb white fish, cut into 1-2” pieces
* ½ tsp ground pepper
* ¾ tsp salt
* ½ tbsp garlic powder
* 1-½ tbsp turmeric
* galangal powder, or fresh - sliced into pieces
* 4 tbsp vegetable oil
* 1 bunch dill
* 1 bunch green onions

Season the fish with garlic powder, salt, pepper, turmeric, galangal and 2 tbsp of oil.
Mix and let it sit for half an hour.
Slice dill and green onion into 1-2” pieces.
Cook the dill slightly (it will be cooking in the oven also) in 1 tablespoon of oil.
Cover a baking dish with the dill.
Place the pieces of fish on top.
Cook the green onion in another tablespoon of oil.
Place on top of the fish and drizzle the remaining oil.
Broil on high (if you’re keeping an eye on it!) for 12 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.

Cutting the bassa into large pieces.

The turmeric makes the fish a nice yellow colour.

Chopping the dill in section made the whole kitchen smell good!

Do the same with the green onion.

Lightly cooked dill lines a baking dish.

Pieces of fish on a bed of dill.

Topped with green onion.

I like the green onion well cooked but they may be a bit burnt here!

Serve with
* lettuce, washed and torn
* cucumber, sliced
* bún (rice vermicelli), cooked
* rice paper
* nước chấm (or mắm tôm)

rice vermicelli in a bowl.
Top with cooked fish, dill, green onion and fresh ingredients.
Add nước chấm.

I opt for nước chấm but my mom likes eating this with mắm tôm.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

La Taqueria Mex

4306 St Laurent
Montréal, Québec

After shopping with my sister L on Saint-Denis St., we were ready for some lunch. My sister suggested having empanadas at Sandwichmania on Saint-Laurent. Unfortunately, it seemed that the restaurant had closed or moved. However, we did find La Taqueria Mex nearby; L had always meant to try this place out and so we decided to go for it.

The interior is just as colourful as the exterior!

I wasn't overly hungry and so decided to go for a chicken taco, served with corn chips. My sister decided to go for the taco & quesadilla combo; she picked the steak taco and the quesadilla is vegetarian. We ordered and paid at the counter. We were told where to get our own utensils and salsa's. The dishes were brought out for us.

The salsa bar provided a few selections of salsa's. We tried each. I don't love coriander so didn't really dig the salsa verde. My sister loved it! I liked the spicy salsa while a mixture of the mild and spicy salsa's was my sister's preference. She's a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat!

3 types of salsa at the salsa bar.

Salsa verde and a choice of vegetables.

My sister picked a tamarind Mexican drink while I went for the guava nectar juice.

When my sister's dish came, they had mistakenly served her combo with a salad instead of corn chips. However, my sister thought the salad looked appetizing and decided to keep it. Tacos are so difficult to eat that although we had initially decided to share, we ended up just trying each other's meat. We thought both the steak and chicken was very well seasoned. Each taco came with two soft shell tortillas stuck together with cheese in the middle, and then the meat on top! I really enjoyed the creamy avocado in my taco. I will have to start putting avocado in my tacos!

Chicken Taco, $4.95.

Steak Taco & Quesadilla, $8.95.

4 Salsas to dip in.

My sister's combo also came with a quesadilla. It was filled with cheese and guacamole. You could add chicken for a nominal fee. I like the grill marks on them. I only had a piece because I was too full but it was pretty good.

Vegetarian quesadilla.

As L and I were eating and complaining about being full, we were also eyeing the churros. We just can't resist churros so we decided to split one and bring one home for her boyfriend D. Our preference was a plain churro with sugar and cinnamon. These were stuffed with dulce de leche. Since these were not made on the spot, but rather reheated, I think the dulce de leche helped mask any potential for dried out churros!

Churro filled with dulce de leche, $1.90.

I am no connaisseur of Mexican food but I thought the tacos were pretty good at affordable prices. (One warning though, we realized afterwards that something was very garlicky.) Aside from tacos, the restaurant also offered a selection of burritos and quite a few vegetarian items. They also serve daiquiris, margaritas and pina coladas.

Taqueria Mex-I on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mom's Recipes: Nem Nướng & Ram Tôm Cuốn (Pork Meatballs & Shrimp Spring Rolls)

Cuốn ram nem (pork meatballs rolled with shrimp spring rolls) is one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes and not just because it's particular to the region my mom comes from! I love, love nem nướng (pork meatballs) and love even more rolling it with ram tôm (shrimp spring rolls).

While nem nướng (pork meatballs) is eaten across Vietnam, this combination with ram tôm (shrimp spring rolls) is particular to Quảng Ngãi, where my mom comes from, and really to the south-central region - I learnt this from Wandering Chopsticks. We actually simply call this dish nem nướng and it is insinuated that we roll it with ram tôm.

Alternatively, nem nướng is served with bún (rice vermicelli) and nước chấm. When I was in Vietnam, there was a restaurant near my place with the best nem nướng. The owner would grill the pork meatballs right on the street and I wouldn't be able to resist buying some!

This recipe has two major steps, nem nướng (pork meatballs) and ram tôm (fried shrimp spring rolls), but it is totally worth the effort. It's not that hard anyway. It's also quite an effort to write a post with multiple steps, but I want to share this because it is SO good! So hopefully, my three readers appreciate this!

Nem Nướng (Grilled Pork Meatballs)
One of the key ingredients for nem nướng is garlic, but you can substitute it with garlic powder if you prefer. For best results, these meatballs should be grilled on charcoal as it is traditionally done. Since November in Canada is not conducive to grilling, you can also broil it! If you do grill, make sure the meatballs are slightly oiled so they do not stick to the grill.

* 6 cloves garlic, minced very well
* 1 kg ground pork, about 2 parts lean and 1 part medium lean
* 1-½ tsp salt
* 4 tbsp sugar
* 1 tbsp cornstarch
* bamboo skewers
* oil

Mix all the ingredients until thoroughly mixed.
Wet your hands with cold water so the meat doesn’t stick to your hands.
Shape about a tablespoon of the ground pork mixture into meatballs.
Skewer the meatballs onto the bamboo skewers. (Although my mom never follows this step, you can soak the bamboo skewers so they don't burn.)
Drizzle a bit of oil over the meatballs.
Broil on HIGH for about 10 minutes on each side or until golden - or BBQ them outside in the summer.

Ground pork mixture.

Pork meatballs.

Skewered meatballs.

Don't these look tasty? I could go for more now...

Ram Tôm (Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls)
In Vietnam, they use small shrimps that have thinner skins and they are used whole. My mom is a bit economical and slices the shrimps in two. However, you can use whole shrimps.

* 1 package egg roll
* 24 large shrimps, sliced lengthwise
* oil for deep frying, enough to submerge the spring roll

Place one egg roll wrapper, with one corner folded.
Line two shrimp halves
Roll the wrapper to cover the shrimp.
Fold in each side.
Continue rolling.
Heat up oil. You can test it by adding a spring roll - the oil is hot enough when little bubbles form around.
Deep fry each spring rolls.

Shrimp on top of the egg roll wrapper.

Folding each side in.

Completed shrimp spring roll.

Shrimp spring roll ready to be fried.

Crispy shrimp spring rolls.

Tương Nem Nướng - Sauce for Nem Nướng
My sister enjoys this peanut based sauce for nem nướng. I am happy just dipping it in Thai chili sauce.

* ⅙ cup gạo nếp (sticky rice)
* ⅙ cup đậu xanh (mung bean)
* 2 cups water
* ¼ cup peanut butter
* ½ tsp salt or to taste
* 1 tbsp sugar or to taste

Cook sticky rice and mung beans in water.
Bring to a boil.
Cook for about half an hour until the rice and beans are cooked.
Remove any foam.
Process the mixture with peanut butter.
Season with salt and sugar to taste.

Sticky rice and mung bean mixture.

Peanut sauce with added chili sauce.

Cuốn Ram Nem (Pork Meatballs & Shrimp Spring Rolls)
This is the combination that is particular to the south-central region of Vietnam, rolling everything in rice paper. Wandering Chopsticks also has a version of this dish. The fresh ingredients are the same that are used with bánh xèo (Vietnamese crepes). Again because of the richess of the pork meatballs and shrimp spring rolls, we like to roll with a sour ingredients; ideally, it would be green mango or starfruit but we've substituted with green apple.

* rice paper
* lettuce
* cucumber sticks
* a tart fruit, like green apples, mangoes or starfruit
* herbs, such as mint
* nem nướng, sliced in half lengthwise
* ram tôm

Dip rice paper in warm water and place on a flat plate.
Line nem nướng and ram tôm on top of the wet rice paper at one end.
Add ingredients as you like - the lettuce, cucumber and herbs add freshness, a tart ingredient adds contrast.
Fold the rice paper over the ingredients, then the edges.
Continue rolling.
Dip in sauce.

The fresh ingredients.

Line up your ingredient on a moist rice paper.

Top with more ingredients.

Rice paper filled with yuminess.

Each bite includes pork meatball, shrimp spring roll and fresh vegetables!

Dip your roll in the sauce and enjoy!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mom's Recipes: Bánh Giò

After my trip to Banff, I went to stay in Montréal with my mother. As usual, she asked me what I wanted to eat and I had been craving bánh giò. Bánh giò is a Vietnamese breakfast food; the best analogy I can think of is a Vietnamese version of tamales (some Latin American countries wrap them in banana leaves rather than corn husk). In Vietnam, it seemed to be an afternoon snack, being sold around 4-5 pm by mobile vendors.

It is actually a Northern Vietnamese dish that my mom only discovered when she studied in Saigon (it was still Saigon then!). She did not have them growing up in Quảng Ngãi. Although it seems common to use corn starch here in North America, my mom thinks they might have used rice flour in Vietnam. I really like these little meat packages covered in banana leaves. The banana leaves gives it such a great aroma and I love the very easy-to-make filling.

Bánh giò, purchased on the street in Vietnam would also have a quail egg inside.

Bánh Giò (makes 24)
My pal The Gastronomer has a quick microwave version. However, I think the extra effort of wrapping them in banana leaves does pay dividends!

The filling is the same that would be used for bánh cuốn. It's basically onion, ground pork, wood ear mushrooms and seasoning. Very easy to make. If you have someone like me around, you might want to make extra because I like to "taste" it...

* oil
* 1 onion, small diced
* ½ cup nấm mèo (wood ear mushroom), soaked, drained and chopped finely
* 500 g ground pork
* 1-½ tsp salt
* 1-½ tsp sugar
* 1-½ tsp pepper, or to taste – we like a lot of pepper

Heat up oil.
Stir fry onion.
Add ground pork and break into pieces.
Add wood ear mushrooms.
Add salt, sugar and pepper and mix.
Adjust seasoning to taste - it can be slightly over-seasoned because the dough is more bland.

Blurry pictures of wood ear mushrooms.

Cooking the ground pork.

Ground pork mixture. Don't you just want to dig in?

With some of the leftover pork mixture, my mom mixed it with some leftover rice. So good!

Exterior "dough"
Use a ratio of 1:3 of cornstarch to liquid. You can use water or any type of broth instead of the chicken broth below but you should add salt for a bit more flavour. You can also add a tablespoon of oil if you want it richer.

* 3 cups cornstarch
* 9 cups chicken broth (or water with a bit of salt and oil)

Heat half of the chicken broth and turn down to a low simmer.
Mix the cornstarch in the other half of the broth.
Add the cornstarch mixture into the heated broth slowly.
Turn the heat off and continue mixing.

The dough should be pretty thick.

To assemble and cook
Bánh giò can be wrapped in any way, but this is the easiest way my mom figured out. She used two pieces of banana leaves to make sure the bánh is fully covered. More banana leaves would be used in Vietnam since they are readily available - we're a bit more economical.

* 1 package banana leaves, cut into about 9”x9”, cleaned and dried
* pork filling
* dough

a few spoons of the batter on a banana leaf in a slightly elongated shape.
Add a spoonful of the filling in the middle.
Pull together the two sides so the dough wraps around the filling.
Simply roll the banana leaf around the bánh.
Place the roll on another banana leaf.
Roll the banana leaf around the package again.
Fold the corners on each side and tuck them under.
The package should sit on the folds so you don’t have to tie them.
Steam for about 15 minutes.

Cleaned and dried banana leaves.

Placing the cornstarch mixture on the banana leaf.

Placing the pork mixture on top.

Closing the package to surround the filling.

Simply roll the banana leaf around the bánh.

Roll the package again in another banana leaf.

Folding the corners on each side.

Tucking each corner under.

After steaming for about 15 minutes.

Ready to break into! When cooked the dough becomes more translucent.

Hmmm! I like the filling and how the smell of the banana leaf infuses the bánh giò!