One of our favorite summer desserts, blending the coolness of yogurt with the refreshing tropical taste of citrus. I usually cook this yummy pastry filling pie in its simple form, without the syrup and confit addition, which is something you should definitely try. This time, I chose tangelo (a grapefruit tangerine hybrid) for a confit to give it a more decadent taste. But you can definitely taste your first yogurt filo in its simple form and it is certain you will feel like tasting it again, in many experimental ones.
Ingredients (for a standard 40x30 cm oven baking pan)
400g filo sheets (1 package)
For the confit
2 medium tangelo fruits (or other citrus like orange, tangerine, grapefruit, pomelo)
For the yogurt filling
250ml sour cream
8 tbsp. sugar
150g golden or mixed raisins (a hand of raisins)
1 vanilla bean (I used black Bourbon vanilla)
First and foremost, for this recipe you need genuine filo sheets (which are made of just water and flour by the way, and a touch of vinegar and/or oil), not margarine pastry dough sheets, but the simple filo sheets used for baklava, for instance. You can find them fresh or frozen in most supermarkets.
Start by making the confit. Use a non-sticky pot to add the juice of one tangelo to the sugar. Remove the skins of both fruits and cut them into stripes. Tangelo doesn't have a thick skin, so there is no need to remove the "whites" as we often do with orange, for the confit to not be excessively bitter. Add the water and boil at low heat until it forms a foam and until by testing the syrup (pour a little on a small plate and see if it caramelizes) you can see it is ready. Since the citrus skin is a little tougher, and we need those orange wonders to be soft and turned into sweets, you can add more water in the process until not just the syrup is ready, but also the fruit skins are soft and cooked. It should take about 45 min for this confit quantity to be ready and in the meantime, you go on and almost finish the pastry.
Turn the oven on, for preheating. While the confit is cooking, separate the eggs as egg yolks vs. egg whites. This part is not compulsory, you can actually mix the whole egg in the filling, but I prefer to whisk the whites separately, it makes the filling puffier. You can use any yogurt of your liking, the experience with this recipe shows it is best to use a more sour yogurt, this way the final dessert is more intense in contrast. This time, I used a delicious mixed yogurt, made of cow, sheep and buffalo milk. Add the sour cream too, and the sugar. Remove the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the mix and then just mix, mix, mix, vigorously (you can use a mixer, if you prefer), until smooth and homogenous.
Put aside and start preparing the sheets. Melt the butter in a small pan, on low heat, until liquid. Use the butter parchment to grease the pan and lay only half of the sheets this way: 2-3 sheets, grease them with the melted butter (either by using a cooking brush, or why not? a goose feather :D All right, all right, you can actually use a simple spoon), another 2-3 sheets, more greasing, until you added the entire half of sheets in the pan.
Time to wake up the egg whites: beat them with the mixer until peaking. Gently incorporate the egg whites into the filling, and when ready, pour it in the pan, over the greased sheets. Sprinkle the raisins all over. Repeat the process above, by adding 2-3 sheets, greasing them, adding more, until the other half of the sheets is on top, buttered.
Put it in the oven for about 45 minutes at 210°C. It turns crispy and golden on top, when ready, and when trying it with a toothpick, the filling is curdled.
The confit should be ready by now (you don't want a real caramel there, make sure to keep it as a syrupy confit). Remove the pan from the oven and while still hot, pour a part of the syrup on the dessert and spread evenly with a spoon or spatula. Cover with a napkin and let cool.
Cut pieces in different sizes of your liking and add more syrup and the confit on top, when serving. You can serve it in many ways, either by cutting the confit stripes in smaller pieces, or leaving them as they are, no matter your choice, it is sure to be a treat. All you need now is to sit as close to the pan as possible.
It would be a great crime to forgo a salad in summer. Especially when it’s hot, too hot that you don’t want to eat anything that is fatty, buttery or starchy. You crave a fresh, crunchy, herbal bowl of food and that’s where a salad comes in to save the day (and by the day I mean you precisely).
Vietnamese salads are meant to be served as an entrée, not as a whole meal dish. You’ll meet these salads when you explore street food in Vietnam (have you ever heard of seafood salads? We have a plenty), also when you attend celebrations such as weddings or memorial days. There will always be a salad there amid the feast because Vietnamese believe that a sweet and sour dish is great to pave the way for main dishes to come. If you attend Vietnamese celebrations you will understand why. The dishes in and of themselves aren’t always heavy BUT there are so many of them that they will end up being a storm in your stomach, not to mention the side dishes and desserts. In far Southern Vietnam, mostly in countryside, the whole village can come to a wedding and eat for 3 days straight. Didn’t I say it’s a feast? So during those occasions, salads are a great choice: fresh, light, sweet and sour, easy to eat and smell great too. Of course this is only occasionally, you’ll survive the cooking storm, we did.
By now I need to clarify what Vietnamese salads are.
I was talking to Blessia the other day and she called the Vietnamese rice vermicelli dish a salad. I was surprised. I googled it and in fact many people call dishes where we mix vermicelli and herbs and sauce salads. Ask Vietnamese and you will discover they won’t call these salads at all. I think the difference comes from languages and translation. It seems everything mixed will be called salad on Western term, so the name salad comes from a way of eating. On the other hand, in Vietnamese a salad means one special kind of dish: vegetables/herbs + meat + sweet and sour dressing. We call it “goi” in Southern language and “nom” in Northern one. There is no vermicelli or rice in “goi”.
There are dozens kinds of “goi” made from different vegetables, sometimes fruits like mango or pomelos, different meat like chicken, pork, beef, shrimp/seafood, herbs and 9 times out of 10 sweet and sour fish sauce (the one time exception is a vegan “goi” in which they forgo meat and create an imitation of fish sauce). The fish sauce to make Vietnamese salads is not like the dipping fish sauce that I presented here. Salad’s fish sauce must be thicker in order to not make the vegetables become a soggy mess. It’s the antagonist of any “goi” story, the chorister for our salad concert. I have never come across anyone who doesn’t like Vietnamese salads. In fact I made a salad for the linguistic meet-up in Bordeaux and everyone loved it. For that event I made chicken cabbage salad but let’s change the recipe this time with pork and shrimp and carrot salad. You will need:
- 7 shrimps
- 100gr pork (the shoulder part)
- 2 medium carrots, cut or grate into stripes
- 1 small onion, cut into thin slices
- 2 celery stems, sliced diagonally (normally we use Vietnamese mint and coriander for garnish but I chose celery over them for this dish)
- A handful of roasted peanuts, crushed
For the dressing:
- Fish sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 red chili pepper, deseeded and minced (I’d say this is optional but a Vietnamese fish sauce is never complete without red chili so you can try adding red chili to this sauce and see if you can stand the heat. Because we remove the seeds of the chili, the fish sauce won’t be too hot anyway)
- Salt, pepper, sugar
I always prepare the onion first. I like to mix the onion before making salads because I don’t like its raw smell. Although it seems extra work, mixing the onion before the salad also elevates the sweet and sour taste of our dish. You’re not obliged to prepare the onion beforehand and can just cut it and set aside like the celery but I promise you this is worth the time and effort.
To mix the onion: Mix salt and sugar and lemon juice in a ratio of 1:3:2 and a dash of grounded pepper (black or white). Mix the onion slices in this mixture and let’s wait for 20 minutes at least. The onion will give up its raw smell along with water while still preserve its crunchiness.
Now for the shrimps: Steam them, remove the shells and black lines and set aside.
Boil the pork chunk with salt and submerge it in cold water to prevent it from darkening. After 10 minutes, take out the pork chunk and slice it thinly, set aside.
You can prepare the carrot and chop celery while waiting for the pork to be cooked and cooled. After cutting the carrot into stripes, put them into a bowl and sprinkle with salt, mix well and set aside. This step is to remove water from the carrot and reduce water in the salad. Remember to turn the onion and carrot from time to time for them to be coated evenly. After 10 minutes, the carrot is ready for use.
And now for the dressing:
The perfect ratio of sugar, fish sauce and lemon juice for salad dressing, to my taste that is, is 2:1:3/4. In a sauce pan pour in sugar and enough water to cover it. Then add several drops of lemon juice to prevent the sugar from being crystallized. Put the pan on medium heat and stir constantly to prevent the sugar from burning at the bottom of the pan. When the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and keep stirring. When the sugar dissolves completely, take the pan off the heat. Pour this mixture in a bowl and let it cool down a bit. Next start adding in fish sauce, minced garlic, minced red chili and lemon juice in that order.
15 minutes before serving you can begin to mix the salad. First take the carrot and squeeze the water out. Do the same for the onion too. Put them in a big bowl intended for the mixing step. Add the pork and shrimps that we prepared earlier, also chopped celery (keep a bit of it for garnish). Pour in the fish sauce mixture and mix everything by hand: this is when you should give them a loving good massage. When everything is combined with the dressing put in the crushed roasted peanuts and toss them with the salad. Yup, there are lots of tossing and mixing for this dish.
Serve the salad fresh, garnish with chopped and whole celery leaves and crushed peanuts. The salad is great to eat with prawn chips/crackers. Bon appétit!
We live in the city, and only now and then we get hold of fresh, all-natural dairy products from the farm, so it has become a tradition to "baptize" them (more like ourselves) with a good portion of ad hoc pancakes.
Romanian pancakes are actually a form of French crêpes, they are meant to be thin and rolled around delicious homemade jams and sweets, or sometimes fresh cottage cheese with nuts or raisins. This time, I tried a thicker pancake, to fit the bio dairy products making the pancake dough fluffy and moist.
You can try this recipe with your favorite milk and butter, but it wouldn't be bad if you were able to try and taste them with fresh organic dairy and eggs. Something has been waiting on the shelves for this traditional moment: my freshly made golden mirabelles jam. I picked them out myself, from our own tree. You can find the recipe here (for red mirabelles), with the exception of experimenting with my wok (yes! for the jam) for the golden ones, in an attempt to provide a surrounding heat for the caramelization process (which can also be achieved by finishing the jam in the oven). It came out beautifully, preserving the tangy taste yet acquiring a caramel "effect".
So here it goes: I had at my disposal completely natural, untreated cow milk ( it came fresh after milking, and we boiled it here) and a magnificent foam of a butter from the same milk, farm chicken eggs and some golden sweetness in a jar.
I was looking for the perfect missing ingredient to make them dance together, the one that compliments all. My reverie took my eyes wandering towards the light and they stumbled on my fresh herbs window curtain...
...and there he was, my savior, my beauty: my Indian basil I had grown from seeds. He will compliment and wed the fresh buttery pancakes with this particular jam. He will bring out the freshness in milky way + eggs, and also make the tarty sweet stand out.
Time to get to work. Ingredients for 4 servings (8 pancakes):
800 ml fresh milk
a small bunch of fresh basil leaves
a pinch of salt
Make a nest for the eggs in the flour and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Mix the batter and gradually add the milk. I use a whisker for the entire process. In the end, you should have a batter that is quite liquid, like a thicker milk or similar to liquid cream. Having enough liquid in the pancakes is important for their final fluffiness, and the best way to test a good pancake batter is to actually make one crepe, if it is too tough, you add more milk, or if you feel it is running, you add a little bit more flour by rapidly whisking it in the batter. But remember the best way to cook a pancake is to keep the batter liquid (it will come out melting in your mouth) and to flip it (in order to avoid breaking this delicate baby), which is exactly what I did for this recipe, since I wanted them as delicate as possible.
In the end, add the basil leaves, after mincing them by hand.
Use a bain-marie pot or simply heat water in a pot and put a large plate on top, with a lid. Once the water boils, you can turn off the heat; this is where you will put the pancakes when ready, to keep them warm and moist.
Heat your favorite crêpe pan (a non-sticky one) and add a teaspoon of butter, and when it begins to change color, use a ladle to pour the pancake batter, distribute evenly and when the margins begin to stick out, it's time to flip the pancake, baby! Be daring, and you might catch it back in the pan!
One of the delights of eating pancakes is the rush of rolling them, fingers burning, so that they melt their hotness in your mouth. Here they are, a family tradition that I hope you will enjoy!
They have chicken soup for the soul, and here we have one for our stomach.
This soup is best served when the weather is a bit cold. I don’t know how the weather is where you are but here in Bordeaux I can’t believe summer has arrived. It has been hot and cold for the last several days, one day people wear shorts and dresses and the next day coats and boots.
So I was thinking about making this cozy comforting soup made from chicken and sweet corn, especially when it’s corn season right now. This soup stands out for its clear broth, the sweetness of corn and delicate taste of chicken and the fragrance of shitake mushrooms.
1 chicken breast
3 dried shitake mushrooms, washed and soaked in warm water at least 10 minutes before cooking
2 egg whites, whisked well
3 spring onions/scallions
1 clove of garlic, minced
Half of an onion (optional)
Salt, fish sauce, black pepper, vegetable oil.
First we need to make the broth with the chicken breast. We will begin lightly: boil the chicken breast in the soup pot with only water and salt for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
While waiting for the chicken, we can prepare the corn and shitake mushrooms. In my older posts I cooked the corn with its cover and silk but this time we need to discard them in order to strip the corn meat from its core. Use a small knife for this and be careful as this may quickly become messy: Everything nearby will become dotted with yellow corn juice. You should keep the core for this soup. As for the corn silk, don’t throw it away. Instead, make it into tea to give your kidney and liver a boost. Set the corn aside for later.
Next come the shitake mushrooms. They are the star of this dish, along with corn. I don’t know if you’re familiar with these mushrooms, they are very delicious, fragrant and flavorful.
Back to our mushrooms which have been soaked in warm water for at least 10 minutes. When the mushrooms are softened, wash them again. You need to wash them thoroughly and squeeze out the excess water because we will cut them into thin slices and soggy shitake mushrooms will make a mess on your cut board. To prepare the mushrooms, cut out their chewy trunk then cut the rest into thin slices and set aside.
The chicken is now cooked, take it out and let it cool down. (To prevent it to darken, you can place it in a bowl of ice water). Then put corn and its core into the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Let the soup simmer for 15 minutes.
While waiting for the corn to be cooked, we will prepare the spring onions and egg whites. Separate the heads of the spring onion (the white bulbs) from their green parts. Mince the spring onion bulbs along with garlic and set aside. Chop the green onion for garnish and whisk the egg whites. Tear the chicken breast into thin stripes. And we’re ready to assemble the dish!
In a sauce pan, heat a bit of vegetable oil and sautee the minced garlic spring onion heads for 1 minute. Your kitchen will smell a tad wonderful. Then add shitake mushrooms and sautee for 3 minutes. If you see the garlic start to burn, add a dash of water. Last but not least, add the chicken stripes and fish sauce or salt to your taste, I just love fish sauce for this soup. Pour the chicken sauteed into the pot soup and wait for the soup to boil. This is the time to taste your soup and adjust it to your liking. You can add salt or fish sauce if you want, but if you add the fish sauce, don’t add it when the soup is boiling or the fish sauce smell with stick to your whole kitchen, and that include you too.
When the soup is boiling, slowly pour in the battered egg white while stirring with a fork. The stirring action and boiling water will make the eggs white become thin stripes.
Traditionally this soup has a thick texture from corn starch. But from my experiences, not many like this version of soup, so proceed with care. If you choose to add the corn starch, stir 1 tablespoon of corn starch in a cup of water and pour it in the pot soup while the water is boiling, keep stirring the soup to distribute the starch evenly.
Serve this soup hot with spring onion and black pepper.
If you love corn and would like to discover another Vietnamese corn dish, find it here. It's a drink made with corn and milk. I got feedback from my fellow blogger that it is quite addictive, so make sure to give it a try.
This can only be the beginning of a culinary journey through the great Athina, a few suggestions for a first trip to Athens, immersing you in some of the essential tastes of this hot, white, vibrant, legendary cradle-heart-city, pumping with love, sun, history and flavors.
Either you come by sailing, flying or driving, it is likely you will be hungry as soon as you arrive, through the air alone: nothing in the world smells like Greece, a mixture of olive trees, olive oil, pines and cypresses, honey, sea, sky, marble, oregano, salt, flowers, figs and citrus, fire and wind. Through the grace of our host, we started our food itinerary with the delicious street food, a traditional pita wrap (this one was particularly yummy, not only because of our hunger, but also because of the fluffy dough of the pita and the very fresh ingredients) with skewered meat (souvla "skewer"), fries, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and tzatziki sauce. It goes perfectly with the amazing cold water you are served with every meal in all Greek tavernas. In fact, Greece is where you will fall in love with water again :)
Yiaourti Me Meli (Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts)
Easy to make for yourself, healthy to eat, cooling and refreshing for our first evening in Athens.
Accompanied by the first Frappé (milk-foamed ice coffee), another must-try, together with other specific coffee-based cold drinks such as Freddoccino (a mixture of milk ice cubes, cocoa, chocolate and fresh coffee) or cold Cappuccino. Perfect as a boost for roaming the streets in center Athens, leading us to the enjoyment of the first sunset over the Library of Hadrian.
Morning takes us to the godly nest, one of my favorite places in the world, the Acropolis of Athens. If gods exist, they most certainly live up there, whispering under the sun, hair in the winds. Before climbing, we stop for breakfast at the beloved Cafe Crescendo (where they serve a variety of hot and cold breakfast pastries, sandwiches and drinks, all fresh and delicious) to begin the tasting of the many fruit juices, salads and assortments (either locally produced, such as Amita, or freshly squeezed and prepared), one of Athens's many delights.
Seafood by the coast
Starting from Piraeus, Athens has a long coast of beaches where you can try the best flavor of fish and seafood in the lovely Athenian tavernas by the Aegean sea. We spent two days at the coastal beaches, in Glyfada and Varkiza, two of the more popular beaches among Athenians, where they go to relax after work or during the weekends. Best way to taste seafood is along this coast, by the sea. This is where we enjoyed the best traditional Greek salad at the Psarotaverna, along with fried fresh anchovies (in Glyfada) and the famous grilled fresh sardines (one of Athens's specialties) and fresh fried calamari in Varkiza, at the popular windsurf club and tavern, NAOBB. Don't forget to drown the seafood in Mythos, the popular Greek beer.
Choose one of the many rooftop terraces in Athens (another specialty of the city) for a work (this was also a working trip for us) or relaxation pause, before re-immersing in the city's nightlife. We opted for Couleur Locale, a famed rooftop cafe where we had the pleasant surprise to enjoy two of the best salads we ever ate, anywhere, along with the view and atmosphere. They came out this way because it was felt each ingredient, each little piece had been carefully selected and cooked, with love.
On this street connecting Syntagma Square (the central square in Athens) with the old town neighborhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki you can find many good restaurants, not only Greek, but also well-known good places if you want to taste international cuisine in Athens. We chose yet another Greek taverna with a touch of fine dining, Ergon, which is also a deli where you can buy homemade and traditional delicacies to take away. Here we tried an interesting version of Shrimp Saganaki (another must-try Greek recipe) with unshelled grilled prawns in the traditional homemade tomato sauce with garlic and feta cheese, and a selection of cold and hot meze, among which stood out the cheese pies with touloumotiri and the feta-filled sweet and spicy peppers, along with the house wine (which you should try in most Athenian taverns).
We loved this taverna and took our breakfast to go, Melitzanosalata (the famous eggplant dip) cooked with garlic, walnuts, onion and baked pepper, and an assortment of pepper cheese.
The hearty breakfast was accompanied by the best apple pie in the Universe :) (and trust me, I have tasted and cooked many apple pies in my life) from Moyses in Monastiraki (where you can enjoy traditional live music) and just before our trip to Agora, it was completed by a Greek coffee.
Our host made a great recommendation to visit the smaller island near Athens, after Aegina, and this is how we got to one of the most charming places near Athens: Agistri. We "flew" there with the Flying Dolphins of Athens and found an oasis of vibrant colors and tastes, in a relaxed, quiet atmosphere, first enjoying breakfast by the Church (Greek breakfast - eggs, ham, sausage, honey, butter, jam, fresh juice, coffee and fresh homemade waffles), before swimming in an embracing blue sea.
You can find great seafood in all the lovely white and blue tavernas near Skala, by the sea, and all along the coast, but we tried what is said to be the best restaurant in Agistri, Alkyoni, where they experiment an original take on local food. Great place, great view, great food!
Frozen Greek yogurt
After the long, hot hours of visiting the many sites of Athens, there is nothing more delicious and refreshing than the frozen Greek Yogurt with the fresh fruits, nuts, seeds and dried fruits of your choice from Yogolicious in Monastiraki - a must-try!
One of the most beautiful museums in the world must have a fitting restaurant, and it does. Enjoy the art and history with a glorious sunset, jazz and fine dining.
Breakfast is no Greek breakfast without the amazing bougatsa, a Macedonian delight, a special morning pie of filled phyllo layers. We ate ours at our favorite breakfast spot, at Crescendo, by the Acropolis, and it was filled with semolina custard and puffed with lots of sugar, like an aristocratic morning makeup. Accompanied by salted pastries like spinach pie, fresh pizza, salami and cheese sandwiches and the best cold coffee drinks, right before visiting the almighty Zeus at his temple. We continued our journey to the National Garden where we drank the best no-sugar lemonade at the park cafe.
Athenians serve good food and they serve it well. I must say everywhere we ate during the trip, we weren't disappointed, but for this itinerary we chose two restaurants to recommend above all, one touristic, one for the more initiated foodies.
The more touristic spot is Cave of Acropolis, tucked behind a quiet portion of Plaka stairs, just at the foot of the ancient site, with a great night view of Acropolis, friendly staff, live bard music and traditional Greek cuisine. This would be a good place to try the tirosalata ( a must-try traditional spread of spicy cheese) along with traditional cooked dishes for second course.
The second one is already famous for no-compromise cuisine: one of the best restaurants in Athens, Kallipateira, with an interesting story behind its name, a small tavern right next to the flea market where you can enjoy real homemade food and a great reception. Time to taste bouyourdi, another Macedonian classic, one of my favorite Greek dishes, an appetizer of feta, spicy peppers and tomatoes cooked in a clay pot, in lots of olive oil and served with grilled oregano bread. Kallipateira's was indeed very very good, with baked hot and sweet peppers and homemade tomato juice. Moussaka was divine, like a godly foam, yet you could taste each ingredient (the meat sauce, the baked potatoes and eggplant slices and the delicious bechamel). The house wine was served in tavern glasses (what a pleasure!) and it went well with the liver cooked in more wine, with garlic and spices. For dessert, don't avoid the hot chocolate cake with cream.
Fresh and sweet
Do not leave Athens without visiting a local market where you can buy fresh vegetables and fruits, they are unparalleled, drunk with sun and sea and the spicy land. Try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes with olive oil (we served it with homemade olive oil from our host's olive trees in the country), with or without feta, peaches and fresh figs (that we also ate on the Athenian roads, straight from the tree).
And last (far from least), if you want to leave with the perfect foodie memory from Athens, don't leave without tasting the kourabiedes (walnut butter cookies) and the perfumed Greek delight.
Today we get back to basic. Salt is the most used spice for any cuisine. It is incorporated in almost everyday meal, and it is not just for meal only. In fact, the uses for salt are limitless.
In this article I will cover the traditional Vietnamese uses for salt as in cultural tidbits so I may babble quite a bit about it. Bear with me will you? :D
Vietnam’s relationship with salt comes from its geography
The first use, of course, is the one in the kitchen, to taste. Salt is one of the most ancient spices that human uses, maybe because the vegetables seem tasteless after a meal of meat that is naturally salty. Vietnamese people use lots of salt in their dishes. And the level of saltiness in their cuisine is geographical. Vietnam is an S-shaped country with more than 3 000 km of coastline so its relationship with salt, especially sea salt, is as old as the country itself.
In the North the weather is hard and cruel, the winter is so cold and the summer so hot. Northerners have to work hard in this adverse climate which is not fit for growing lots of herbs and spices, and that means they have to eat lots of food to have energy and yet they have to save ingredients for when the weather turns bitterly hard and vegetables are scarce. So how do they balance those conflicting needs? They put in lots of salt in their dishes, mostly deep-fried food and braised/stew. It is believed that lots of salt keeps the body warm, and salty dishes mean you can’t eat a lot of food.
In the Centre, the weather is less bitter, and yet it’s where all the natural disasters happen: violent flood, raging storm, tornado, etc, every year, one after the other. The Centre is the narrowest territory with the sea at one side and mountains at the other. As a result, they can’t grow lots of vegetables and have to go to the sea to search for food: their dishes are mostly seafood. But how about when disasters happen? Living in adverse weather means you have to think for the days ahead. To solve parts of this dilemma, the people would marinate the seasonal seafood they can find with lots of salt and dry them beneath the sun. After days in the sun, the seafood become dried seafood that can be stored for months. And also, because living on ships for days is hard work, they also eat salty food to keep their body warm.
There is a difference between Northern saltiness and Centre saltiness though: unlike Northerners who eat salt in the form of flakes, Centre people eat the salt in seafood more than the spice itself: fish sauce, shrimp sauce/paste, small shrimp sauce, etc. Here is where they make the best fish sauce in Vietnam. Sadly the fish sauce I can find in France can’t even begin to cover the greatness of Vietnamese fish sauce. If you happen to visit Vietnam one day, do try and buy a bottle of fish sauce from the Centre because the taste is divine, the smell is equally so. But I digress, let’s get back to salt.
In the South, the weather is sweet, not at all adverse. There is only two seasons: the season of the sun :D and a rainy one. Here you’ll see many rivers, lakes, ponds from the great Mekong river, and so the soil is rich and generous. It’s where they grow most of the best herbs and vegetables and fruits of the country. And because of the abundance of herbs and spices (and lots of coconuts) which makes better life condition, they don’t season their dishes too salty. Instead, their dishes are quite sweet, just like the weather. In the far South, the dishes are rich and heavy from all that coconut milk and juice with its natural sweetness. Southerners also make all kind of fish sauces from the fishes that they can find in all those rivers and lakes (do you know they have a fish sauce for each kind of fish? Well I did tell you that Vietnamese people are a creative lot). Due to the sweet palate of Southerners, the fish sauces will be watered down by other herbs and spices so that in the end they can eat salty/sweet fish sauce.
Salt in Vietnamese cuisine
Not only Vietnamese people use salt for their dishes, they also use it to balance the sweetness and saltiness in food. Where there is a sweet dish, salt is there too. This principle of using a taste to elevate another roots deeply in the Asian cuisine wisdom. It is said that salty elevates sweet dishes and sweet neutralizes salty dishes. And so for every sweet ingredient, Vietnamese people always add a dash of salt to bring out its natural sweetness (like I did for the corn posts here). The next time you drink coconut juice, just add a pinch of salt to it. Your coconut juice will become richer and lovelier as the sweetness is more profound. Just don’t add too much salt though or your coconut juice will become coconut broth. In almost every Vietnamese dessert, you will find that they always use salt.
… And in homemade remedies
Salt is a great sterilizer, so it is also used a lot for natural remedies. Have a sore throat? Deep rinse your mouth and throat with salt water (a portion of salt is added to water) by gurgling it 3 to 5 times a day. Have a purple and blue spot on your body from clumsily bumping into sharp objects? Make a salt paste, lots of salt and a bit of water, and pack the spot with it, it will go away quickly. Got something toxic in your eye? Blink in salt water. When I was little, I spent lots of time at my grand parents’ home that it was practically my elementary school. I would get to see my grand-father put his feet in a big aluminum pot with warm salt water. My grand-father had chronic pain in the joints and the mixture lessened his pain. Next time that you walk too much and have painful feet when you get home, make warm salt water, find a comfortable spot on your sofa and submerge your feet in the mixture. You’ll quickly feel better. Find someone willing (or bribe them if you need to) to give you a feet massage and your feet will be back to normal by tomorrow. Of course the better quality of salt, the more effective it is going to be.
How about Feng Shui?
Salt in Vietnamese culture is also believed to ward off bad energy/spirits. As a country being coveted by the Chinese dynasties and their many conquests for a thousand years, it’s no wonder that the Vietnamese culture is greatly influenced by Chinese practices, one of them is Feng Shui. It is believed that sea salt is so pure that it can absorb bad energy around the house. Until around 30 years ago, people used to put a bowl of salt water in the corners of the house to ward off bad energy. Although this practice is seldom seen these days, salt is still used occasionally in ceremonies and celebrations to ward off bad spirits. Salt is also believed to bring luck to the family. At the New Year’s occasion, people usually buy salt hoping to bring good fortune to their home. This custom also has another meaning, the people buying salt at the New Year hope for a positive, meaningful year. In Vietnamese we have a word ‘đậm đà’ which in cuisine means flavorful, in relations it means deep and meaningful. And so just like adding salt can make a dish more flavorful, buying salt is to hope for great relationships, be it for family, friendship or romance.
Salt in Vietnamese culture has lots of meanings and uses. I wanted to but can’t cover them all here in this short article. To me salt is tied to many childhood memories. One day I may cover all its meanings and uses in the posts about Vietnamese traditions. Yes maybe.
Grilled Feta Psiti (φετα ψητη)
The grilled version of Feta Psiti, a Greek inspiration barbecue delight.
For 4-6 servings:
1 kg. Greek feta
1 kg. ripe, juicy, organic summer tomatoes
a few hot chili or jalapeno peppers (depending on how hot they are, and how hot you are :D or, alternatively, how hot you can or want to be)
oregano (preferably Greek; I used dry Thassos oregano from Thassos mountains, the best)
Break with your hands app. 200g Feta cheese on aluminium foil (make sure to use two foil pieces for each pocket, one foil might be too thin and break easily when moved on and from the grill). Add pieces of tomatoes (about half tomato for each portion), a few cut pieces of chili (again, depending on how hot you want it to be - normally this is a spicy recipe), and finally season with lots of extra virgin olive oil (for a full Greek experience, with Greek olive oil) and oregano.
Close the foil around the ingredients and make a pocket, then place it on the hot grill and just leave it there. Depending on the fire, it should be ready in 15 to 20 min, but you might want to check it by taking one of the pockets off the grill, let it cool a little and open it. Be careful to not be burnt by the steam. It is ready when the tomatoes are cooked (Feta doesn't melt, but it will look and smell cooked, when ready). Close the pocket and put it back on the grill, if you feel it needs more steaming.
A chicken skewers recipe of Hawaiian inspiration (but you can experiment with other types of meat as well). I used chicken breasts, cut into pieces, and impaled along with pieces of fresh pineapple and green ball peppers.
Before making the kebabs, you need to marinate the pieces of chicken breasts in:
light soy sauce
coriander seeds (use a mortar and pestle to just break them before adding them to the marinade)
Use just a little of each (depending on the meat quantity) and massage the chicken pieces (don't drown them in marinade), then assemble the kebabs and leave them in the fridge, covered for 1-2h, before putting these babies on the grill.
I served them with a refreshing tomato mint summer salad, consisting of:
Hot Yellow Chick
This quick barbecue recipe goes very well with chicken thighs too, or turkey breasts, but I used chicken breasts this time.
It's all about the marinade:
For 500 g. chicken breasts:
150g thick yogurt
1 tbsp curry
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 crushed garlic head
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp mixed herbs of your liking (I used a mix of: dry basil, thyme, marjoram, cumin, parsley)
You know the drill: mix the ingredients, throw the meat in, massage, rest and cool (in the fridge, for 1 to 2h). Grill!
We finished the dinner with another version of one of my favorite homemade ice cream recipes (here): forest berries (instead of strawberries) and pineapple (instead of lime) ice cream. I garnished it with fresh fruits, and the pineapple took on the colors of the berries and it was delightful not just for the mouth, but for the eyes too.
This is the second article in a series about corn. Find the first here.
This time we will make corn milk, a delicious drink for summer. Children just love this drink. It’s sweet, buttery and smells lovely. I first tried this drink in Hochiminh city. They sell this drink along with street food, just like in Nha Trang where they sell Pho AND soy milk.
Before we delve into how to make corn milk, let’s talk a bit about corn.
Corn is really a sweetheart. Not only it contains lots of vitamins et minerals (Vitamin C, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, etc), the corn silk that seems like a random useless beard is also very beneficial (Vitamins K, A, B1, B6, Calcium, Kalium,…). In summer Vietnamese people drink corn silk tea to help regulate body temperature and keep the kidney and bladder healthy. Just a word of caution here: don’t abuse this tea or your bladder will work too much and as a consequence, you’ll lose too much water.
For this corn milk recipe, we will use the whole sweet corn: corn ears and corn silk, and get the benefits from them all.
First we need to choose good corn as it’s crucial for any corn recipe. How do we know which corn is good to use?
The corn cover should look fresh and new, the corn beard not too dry or too dark. The cut at the end of the corn should still have a white color and not brown. You should also spread the corn cover a bit to look at the corn inside, if it’s shiny, has no corn gap or any abnormal color and spot, it’s good. I suppose these days it’s harder to find bad corn than good corn, but this tip can come in handy from time to time. Choose the corn that has a delicate long shape rather than round, for the sweetness is distributed better with a long shape.
Alright now that we have good corn, let’s make the corn milk.
(I don't have a pot that is big enough so I cut the corn in half)
Put in whole ears of corn with their silk and cover in the pot along with 1 litre of water, add a dash of salt. The sweetness of corn needs a salty contrast to stand out. Boil the corn for 15 minutes then take off the heat. Put the ears of corn on a plate to cool down and keep the water. This corn tea is crucial for the success of corn milk so don’t throw it away.
When the corn is no longer too hot, discard the cover and silk, use a knife to trim the meat off the cores. This step can be messy as the corn is squishy with water now. There are versions that recommend you to do this step before boiling corn, feel free to choose the version that you like.
After this step, the cores can retire: we won’t need them anymore. Put the corn meat, the corn tea (its time to shine is here) in the mixer and mix it well.
Transfer the mixture to a pot using a strainer to separate the tiny corn meat, keep only the liquide to make corn millk. You don’t have to strain the corn meat if that’s what you want but I really recommend you to try and strain the meat off for the corn milk to look good.
Add the milk and sugar or condensed milk to the pot. You can add in water if the milk is too thick for you. Put it on medium heat, keep stirring until the mixture is simmering. And it’s done! It’s very easy, isn’t it?
This drink is yummy serving cold, so let the corn milk completely cool down and then store it in the fridge. It’s good up to 3 days.
Corn milk is not only beneficial but also a great delicious drink with the color of happy summer. It’s no wonder that it’s my favorite corn recipe. Do you like corn? Do let me know your favorite corn dish. I’d like to try out your recipe. Happy corn season!
Summer begins its descent into the Underworld, slowly, and we are hungry to bring its colors and flavors on the plate, we know we will miss it soon. This is not just a fruit plate, but also a game. You can turn this delicious breakfast or snack into a creative relaxation moment, similar to Ikebana or mandala drawing. A coloring page from your favorite coloring book that you get to eat, in the end :)) You can arrange the fruit slices and seeds of your choice and let your imagination run wild. Kids will be delighted to play this game, to arrange landscape, stories, little animals or geometric and abstract forms and it can become a creative trick to make them love and eat fruits and teach them fruit and seeds healthy properties and their journey from the ground, to the sun and onto the plate. This is one game I was playing with my middle sister when we were little, taking turns in preparing creative breakfast plates for each other. Siblings can surprise each other with dedications, learning generosity and the joy of making the loved ones happy.
Your guests would also be delighted to be welcomed with such fruit game plates or take part in the game themselves.
You can play with all fruits and seeds you like or are locally seasonal, naturally. Today I am proposing a seasonal fruit and seed plate from my region, and I chose strawberries, black grapes, green apple, peaches, nectarines, mango and lime. Make sure to combine sweet with tangy and play with different fruit textures (crunchy, soft, silky) for a surprising result.
It would be a good choice to mix the zesty sweetness of the fruits and honey with some salted seeds (they generally go well with conifer honey, for one thing), I used here:
Roasted salted pistachio - delicious, fatty nuts filled with mineral, protein, monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant and the highest "nutty" potasium amount.
Raw pumpkin seeds - Omega 3, Zinc, and antioxidants little warriors.
Roasted salted sunflower seeds - a sunny, tasty source of Vitamin E, more fatty acids, magnesium and selenium.
To my fruit game plate, I added goji berries (potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant), dried cranberries (for a Vitamin C and Vitamin A boost) and white raisins hydrated (or shall I say tipsy) in brandy.
The star of our recipe is the Thassos pine honey. Its properties (taste, color, perfume, health benefits) are unique, just like its story. Pine honey is harvested from honey bees originally living on the island, covered by conifer forests, and it comes as the result of a special symbiosis between the forest honey bee and Marchalina hellenica, which alchemically transforms the sap of pine trees into crystallized honeydew for the bees, making Thassos a haven where no insecticide is used (not even for mosquitoes).
If you ever get to Thassos or Chalkidiki, don't forget (all) the honey there. :)
Until you get it on your tongue, drizzle your masterpiece with a conifer honey (or experiment with other honey types). After you feast your eyes and take it all in, your colorful creation, through your eyes first, when you are ready, mix it all with a spoon and enjoy a corner of paradise. I promise!
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!