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Developing My Vietnamese Kitchen

January 12, 2010


So one of my New Year’s Resolution was to start cooking Vietnamese. I’ve been hounding my family for recipes for many, many years. My mom cannot cook, so she’s one I don’t pester. My dad & his side of the family are insistent that “it easier for you to buy in Chicago . . . too hard for you to learn.” Bah. In the past year, I’ve made attempts at certain dishes and know that I can make eggrolls, many different kinds of canh (soup that complements every rice meal), spring rolls and a few other things. And of course, there have been failures (which I’ve been smart about keeping from my family). But one day I expect to achieve making all the dishes I know and love, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve made the first step and picked up In the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. Wow, what a cookbook. I would say about 80% of her book has the foods that I had in mind. I even showed my dad the book, and to my surprise, it started a discussion (“Try this way” or “You could do that, or maybe this way . . .”). Andrea Nguyen has unexpectedly given me access into my own family’s kitchen. Thank you, Andrea!

Since I constantly try recipes on The Boy (who, by the way, has quite an appreciation for Vietnamese cuisine), I figured that since my friends Sharon and Todd were coming over with their 6-month old daughter Sarah that I’d use them for one meal to get another perspective. And they thought they were just coming over to meet Giada.

Except for the beginning when Sarah freaked out with Giada sniffing her feet, the meeting was pretty successful!

I told them to come hungry. I didn’t tell them I was going to use them as guinea pigs, which was probably an okay thing to do since this was the first time I’ve ever cooked for them. I don’t think they knew what to expect. (Todd, by the way, is an excellent cook. The Boy & I typically go to them for food, not the other way around.)

First, eggrolls with some Thai sweet and sour sauce (okay, that is not Vietnamese but so what? It’s good stuff!). They looked like they liked it. And each went for 2nds . . . then 3rds . . . we were off to a good start. (I’ll include the eggroll recipe in a future post.)

When we sat down to eat, I presented them with brown rice (er, again not authentic but trying to incorporate some nutritional value much to The Boy’s dislike – he is not a fan of brown rice), cucumbers, lemongrass beef skewers with peanut dipping sauce (my sauce recipe is below) and grilled chicken. (The lime dipping sauce that Andrea suggests with the chicken really doesn’t do anything to the chicken. I usually use the lime-salt-pepper mix as a seafood dip, so I wasn’t feeling it with the chicken so much. In my humble opinion, the chicken stands by itself just fine.)

Beef skewers with Peanut-Hoison sauce in bowl; grilled chicken

I saw nothing but approval in everyone’s eyes. Andrea Nguyen – you are a genius.

Todd, being the Kitchen Master that he is (and anyone would be privileged to be invited to a Todd-Made Dinner) asked question after question with interest. I sent him  home a stalk of lemongrass as I was certain he would look up a recipe for it. But he might not get to use it. Like her father, Sarah seems to be intrigued with new ingredients. The lemongrass was no different.

The Boy’s Reaction to the menu –

  • On the eggrolls: [with a look of horror] “You’re giving all the leftovers to Sharon and Todd?”
  • On the beef skewers: “Why didn’t you make more?”
  • On the peanut sauce: “Good! I know you looooooooooove this stuff!” [I really do!]
  • On the chicken: “Flavorful! Like a Thanksgiving chicken!” [He snuck one in 2 hours later, eating it like it was a slice of pizza.]
  • On the lime dip: “I thought we only use this on seafood?”

The Boy scarfing down leftover chicken.

And I continue my quest in Vietnamese cooking!

Peanut-Hoison Sauce Recipe:

1 tablespoons sesame or canola oil (I typically use sesame but decided to try Andrea’s suggestion of canola – works beautifully!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter (it’s easier to work with!*)
1 cup of water
6 tablespoons of hoison sauce
1 tablespoon of chopped peanuts
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds

Heat oil. Once hot, add garlic and red chili flakes. When garlic is a golden color, add peanut butter and water. Stir together until smooth. Remove from heat. Add hoison sauce. Let cool. Before serving, add chopped peanuts & sesame seeds as garnish.

OMG, good. Don’t ever let this stuff go to waste. If you have leftovers, eat with rice, toss with stir fry . . . you can do so much with this!

*Once upon a time, when I was trying to eat healthier, I purchased natural peanut butter for The Boy. He grudgingly ate it and then b*tched and moaned about it. One day, when I was making spring rolls, I came across the natural peanut butter and realized that because its consistency it works best for cooking. So now I buy it for cooking and not for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, much to The Boy’s delight.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 6:20 pm

    congrats for your successful foray into Vietnamese cooking! We always had a similar problem–although mom cooks alot, she never wrote down recipes and when we ask, it’s always a bit of this and bit of that so it’s hard to really get going until you just start cooking it yourself. here’s to more success in the future!

  2. January 15, 2010 8:50 pm

    I can’t wait to try this! love Andrea’s book too 🙂 I haven’t cooked vietnamese in a looong time and i think it’s time to bring it back into my kitchen! last time i made bun cha hanoi 🙂

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