Bun Cha Hanoi

Bun Cha Hanoi has got to be one of the best dishes originating from Northern Vietnam… seriously.  Try to pronounce it in Vietnamese – boon ja ha noy, or not and say the American mouthful, ”I-don’t-want-to-bother-twisting-my-tongue” version - Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork Patties.  My go-to restaurant for bun cha is Hanoi Restaurant in Little Saigon… but forget you guys now!  I’ve mastered the recipe!  Dare I even claim that mine is better?! *Doing the Carlton dance*
I think the key here is to allow time for the meat to absorb the marinade.  The flavors in this dish are found in the meat and in the sauce so nurture them like your babies!  People eat this in different ways.  You can either combine all the yummy elements in a bowl of nuoc mam or wrap the vermicelli, meat, and herbs into a lettuce and dip into the sauce.  (Recipe below)

Ingredients / Preparation Instructions
Sides:
  • 1 package of vermicelli
  • 4 cups of nuoc mam cham
  • Fresh herbs: Mint (rau thom), Perilla (tia to), Vietnamese Balm (kinh gioi).
Boil the vermicelli, drain and set aside. Prepare the fresh veggies and set aside. Make the nuoc mam cham (dipping sauce) and set aside.
Sliced Pork:
  • 1 lb pork butt or shoulder, thinly sliced about 1/8 to 1/4 inch or
    Stay away from lean cuts of pork as it will become dry.
  • 1/8 cup minced Lemongrass (xa bam). Many Asian markets will sell minced lemongrass in the freezer section – I used fresh Lemongrass… the smell is amazing once you start chopping
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp ground pepper
  • 10-15 cloves garlic, minced (don’t be shy!)
  • 2-3 shallots, minced
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 6 tbsp thick soy sauce (make sure you use thick soy sauce and not the regular kind… if you can’t find it, use regular and add browning sugar or molasses)
Slice the pork into thin slices roughly 2-3 inch strips with about ¼ inch thick. Grill the meat outdoor for a better taste… we did ours over charcoal… yum!
For the marinade, combine in large mixing bow:l the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, pepper, dark soy sauce, sesame oil. Add pork and mix well and marinade for at least 2 hrs or overnight is even better.
Pork Patties:

  • 1 lb of ground pork (I got the pork butt/shoulder and had the butcher ground it for me)
  • 15-20 cloves of garlic (yup… keep ‘em comin’!) – minced
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • ½ tbsp of kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp of pepper
  • 6 tbsp of thick soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp of molasses
Combine all the ingredients above except for the pork into a bowl.  Add mixture to the ground pork.  Work your hands into it and mix well.
Refrigerate the pork for about 1/2 hr to let it set and easier to handle when forming patties. Keep a bowl of water or oil handy to keep your hands from sticking to the meat.  Form little patties and set aside for at least 2 hours before grilling.
To cook, spread the slices of pork (thit nuong) alongside the patties onto an outdoor grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred.
When both thit nuong and cha (patties) are done, place in a serving bowl containing the nuoc mam cham and pickled vegetables. The juices of the meat will darken and meld with the fish sauce. Allow to soak for at least 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with the vermicelli and herbs family style with extra nuoc mam for dipping.  Mmmmm… so delicious!

Vietnamese Mini Savory Pancakes – Banh Khot

These yummy little savory Vietnamese pancakes are traditionally called “banh khot”… or “little circle fried shrimp flour” as shown on the bag of cake mix… heeee.  They’re very simple to make and are delicious with nuoc mam cham.  This dish is a specialty of the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.  If you ask most Vietnamese, however, they’re more familiar with the neighborhoods of Ho Chi Minh City, where they have many stalls selling these savory cakes.

I didn’t entirely stick to the traditional recipe or mung beans and dried shrimp.  I married the recipe with its Laotian counterpart adding a bit of coconut milk.  These are a little softer and chewier than what you would normally get in Vietnamese restaurants.  They’re best served warm, fresh off the pan and dunked in nuoc mam.  Mmm – mmm!!

Ingredients:

1 bag of banh khot flour
1 can coconut juice
4 cups of water

Filling:
16 large shrimps (peeled)
1/2 cup peeled mung bean (although I didn’t use all of it)
2 stalks of green onion chopped

Coconut milk for topping: (optional)

Fish Sauce or nuoc cham pha (detailed instructions here):
1 part lime juice
½ part minced garlic
1-2 chopped thai chili
1 part fish sauce
1 part sugar
2 parts water

Preparation Instructions:

1. In a bowl mix flour, water, coconut juice together.
2. Wash mung bean and cook until tender. Remove excess water and mash mung bean into paste. Add in a dash of salt and sugar for taste.
3. Chop shrimps into small pieces. In pan heat some oil and add in shrimps. When shrimps are half cooked, add in the chopped green onions and some salt, sugar, ground pepper, and mung bean.
4. Heat the banh khot pan (I used my Ebelskiver pan) and brush with oil. Stir the batter and fill each mini cup to 3/4 high. Add in some mung bean and shrimps mixture. Brush on some more oil on the side of the cakes.  Scoop a little bit of coconut milk on top and add just a sprinkle of sliced green onions.  Cover for 2-4 minutes. Check to see if it’s cook or not. If not then brush on more oil and cover to cook again.
5. For the fish sauce, mix everything together and taste.
6. Serve banh khot with fish sauce.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce – Nuoc Cham

Nuoc cham in Vietnamese means a general dipping sauce, however, in this case we’re speaking of nuoc mam pha or “mixed fish sauce” which is the most widely common used sauce.  If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food, you’ll find that nuoc mam pha is served with the majority of our dishes in different variations.  The flavor varies depending on the preparer’s individual preference but the main ingredients are generally the same.  Some people substitute lime/lemon for vinegar and vice versa.  I personally prefer the fresh tanginess of lime in my nuoc mam pha.  Here’s the basic recipe and you can always add more of a particular ingredient according to your taste.

  • 1 part lime/lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/2 part minced garlic
  • 1-2 chopped thai chili
  • 1 part fish sauce
  • 1 part sugar
  • 2 parts water

Some people prepare the sauce on a hot stove to dissolve the sugar more quickly, then leave to cool before adding the rest of the ingredients.  The flavor is pungent, sweet yet sour, and sometimes hot… my favorite!

 

I combine the garlic and chili together in a mortar and pound into a smooth paste – add a little sugar to keep it from splattering.Transfer to a bowl and add fish sauce, water, lime and sugar. 

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Two words… puff pastry.  That’s all you gotta say to hook me with a recipe.  You can seriously just throw a sheet in the oven and have it crips and warm with some butter and orange marmalade and call it comfort food.  What I love more is that you can just buy them at the market instead of making them from scratch.  You’ll always find an extra pack or two in my freezer… just in case!  When I saw this recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, I was giddy for an excuse to make them.  I asked the Matador “did you want to invite anyone over for dinner tonight?”  and it was over!

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Ingredients

  • 1-2 packages (17.3 ounces/2-4 sheets) puff pastry, defrosted
  • Good olive oil
  • 4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (2 large onions)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 4 ounces garlic-and-herb goat cheese
  • 2 large Roma tomatoes, cut into thin (1/4-inch-thick) slices
  • 3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

Preparation Instructions

  1. Unfold a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11 by 11-inch square. Using a 4-inch wide round cutter, cut circles from the rolled puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second pastry sheet. Place the pastry circles on 2 greased sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  3. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil (I used butter instead) in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions. Saute for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Remove from the heat.
  4. Using a sharp paring knife or round end of the cutter, score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.
  5. Place onion on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart.  Sprinkle tomato with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, place a sliver of Parmesan on each tart.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The bottom sheet pan may need an extra few minutes in the oven. Serve hot or warm.

Tomato and Basil Tilapia with Couscous

I love cooking Tilapia… it’s the easiest fish to prepare.  It’s good fried, grilled, baked, breaded… you just can’t go wrong.  Here’s a good and simple dish requiring few ingredients.  This was served with instant Israeli couscous.
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