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.


Karen said...

Van, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing the story and recipe! This is what you made for my parents that they still talk about, right? :)

vanlikethecar said...

I actually made your parents something else. I think I just made them noodles which in all honestly were far from my best performance. I'll have to try again another time. =)