Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chuc Mung Nam Moi - Happy Lunar New Year!

Growing up, the Lunar New Year was always a time when my entire extended family got together, ate until we could eat no longer, and gambled until the same came up. And this year was no exception. My mom was cooking for days both the traditional fare we grew up with and some additional vegan dishes for my grandparents. Here are just a few photos from the party.

Here is Banh Trung (also called Banh Tet a/k/a Lunar New Year Cake). It the middle is pork and mung beans surrounded by sticky rice. The entire thing is then wrapped in banana leaves. The legend behind the cake goes kindove like this...

A long time ago, a king ruled Vietnam who was loved by his people. One day, he realiezd that he was getting old and could not rule the country forever. However, he had three sons and did not know which one to pass the throne to. He called his three sons together and declared: "My sons, all of you are wise and good. However, only one of you can be king. To determine which son will be king, I have devised a contest. Go out and make me a dish of food. You will present me this dish on the last day of the Lunar New Year. The son with the best dish shall become king."

The eldest son immediately went to South China Sea and caught the most rare fish. The middle son trekked up the Khmer Mountains in seach of the most tender boar meat. The youngest son went back home and pondered his father's challenge.

On the last day of the new year, all three sons returned to their father's court. The eldest son presented to his father a beautiful porcelain dish of flying fish dressed in sweet chili sauce and accompanied by expensive lotus seeds. The second brother came forward and presented a copper pot with a wild boar roast and wild mushrooms. Finally, the youngest brother came before his father and showed him a basket with a flat rice cake.

The king looked perplexed and asked his youngest son, why do you bring me such a plain dish? The son answered: rice is the most precious and valuable of all food found in this Kingdom, yet it is also the most abundant. I have prepared a dish that represents my love for you and our beautiful Vietnam. I have shaped in a round to represent the sky. I called it Banh Day. I have stuffed another with cooked bean paste and meat in the middle. I have shaped this one in a square. This symbolies the earth we live on.

The father and the other brothers instantly knew that the youngest brother was more wise than all of them and that he would be king. And that is why every Lunar New Year (a/k/a Tet), we eat Banh Day and Banh Trung!

In the back of this photo are Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon) and in the front are slices of Banh Trung. Anyways, since this is food blog and I really should post some recipes (it's been awhile), here's the recipe for Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls). We don't make the Banh Trung; I just buy it. =)


Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls a/k/a Rice Paper Rolls)
Makes 8 rolls; serves 4

2 ounces thin rice vermicelli
8 raw medium shrimp
12 ounces pork belly or boneless pork loin, in one piece
8 rounds of rice paper (banh trang)
4 large lettuce leaves, thick stem ends removed and cut in half
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Get all of the different components ready:
  • Boil the shrimp for 3 minutes. Refresh under cold water. Shell, de-vein, and cut lengthwise in half. Set aside.
  • Cook the pork belly in boiling salted water for 20 minutes. Thinly slice.
  • Have a basin or bowl or warm water ready to moisten the rice papers.

2. Work with 1 sheet of rice paper at a time. Immerse each sheet individually into the warm water. Quickly remove and spread out onto a plate or dry towel. The rice paper will become pliable within seconds. NOTE: it is very important that you do NOT leave the rice paper in the water for very long. Literally moisten it and get it out.

3. Lay one piece of lettuce over the bottom third of the rice paper.

4. On the lettuce, place about 1 tablespoon of noodles, a few pieces of pork, mint leaves, and cilantro sprigs (if desired).

5. Roll up the paper halfway into a log. Fold both sides of the paper over the filling. lay 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, along the crease. Keep rolling the paper into a log to seal.

6. Serve with peanut sauce (see recipe below), this is getting to be a very long post...

Peanut Sauce
Yields about 3/4 cup

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth or water, hot
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 fresh red chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients into a small bowl. Stir well to blend.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Year of the Ox!

A few weeks ago, Henry and I made a million potstickers.


With the help of a food processor, it’s not hard to make the filling for a million potstickers fairly quickly.


What’s hard is rolling out each. individual. wrapper. (me.) And then wrapping each potsticker. (Henry.)

rolling out the dough for wrappers


Here’s the story of the million potstickers.

We started with this excellent recipe from Jen Yu of (highly recommended blog – more of her recipes to come). We made approximately a double batch of filling and a double batch of wrappers.

mixed ingredients

The wrappers lasted us through about half of the filling. Half! I don’t think we were rolling them very thick or anything. Seemed quite thin to me. So anyway, then we made another single batch of the dough. (I’m not sure why that seemed like a sensible idea to me, given that a double batch only got us HALFway through the filling.) When those ran out we gave up, threw everything in the fridge, and collapsed. The next day we bought pre-made wrappers and finished off most of the filling. (The bit of filling that was left at that point got pitched into the garbage and good riddance.) Result of this experiment: we couldn’t taste the difference between the homemade and the storebought wrappers. Buy them!

hand mixing

But truly, even with the homemade wrappers, these potstickers were a lot of fun to make, and delicious to eat! The recipe for a tasty dipping sauce is also included below. Henry and I ate these potstickers at 4 or 5 meals over the course of 4 days, and we also served them as an appetizer when his co-clerks came over for dinner. So yummy! I’m craving them now!



Potstickers, adapted from Chinese Dumplings and Potstickers on
(This is the doubled version of the recipe, which made a million (aka about 100) potstickers)

2 lbs ground pork
8 cabbage leaves (I’m sure napa cabbage is best, we just had normal old cabbage)
6 green onions
12 shitake mushrooms
¼ cup ginger, minced
4 eggs
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sesame oil
¼ cup cornstarch
about a palmful of salt (to taste)
fresh ground pepper

Use a food processor to chop the following ingredients, separately: cabbage, green onions, mushrooms, and ginger. Put these chopped ingredients in a large bowl, add ground pork, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, salt, and eggs. Use spoons or your hands to mix everything together until all is uniformly distributed.

(After you’ve wrapped a couple of potstickers, cook them up and taste. You may want to add more salt or soy sauce. If the filling is not sticking together well, add more egg.)

Dipping sauce:
1 green onion
2 cloves garlic
a small chunk of ginger
soy sauce
sesame oil
garlic chili sauce or chili oil (optional)

Finely chop the green onion, garlic, and ginger. In a small dish, combine with soy sauce, plus a splash of sesame oil. This just gets better over time, as the flavors mix. For a little kick, add a bit of chili sauce/oil.

Wrappers, how to wrap, and how to pan-fry:
See recipe and instructions on The recipe/instructions are way down at the end of the post, but then you’ll want to scroll back up to see pictures of how to roll and wrap the potstickers. For this part, the only adjustment we suggest is that you BUY 100 PRE-MADE WRAPPERS. But if you decide to make them at home, follow the userealbutter recipe, except quadruple it and mix a few pinches of salt in with the flour before you start adding water. We have only tried dough Method 2, and that worked great.

Other important notes:
After wrapping, be sure to dredge the bottom of the potsticker in flour. Otherwise, even if it doesn’t seem sticky now, it will become sticky later and you will have a hard time getting it off the plate and into the pan (especially if you store the plate in the fridge for any length of time). Also, don’t let the sides of the potstickers touch each other while uncooked, unless you also flour the sides.

We continued eating potstickers over several days, as I mentioned, and we just kept the uncooked ones in the fridge for those days. If you’re going to store them longer, freeze on the plate (well floured and carefully separated!) and then dump into a bag to store in the freezer.

(Thanks for the pictures, Henry!)