Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanța Ion
Here we begin a new journey, a new year, a new era at Nomades Gourmandes, and what better way to do it, as far as Romanian cuisine goes, than to inaugurate the ciorba on our blog. An essential dish and experience, festival of flavors, heat and health. When you think "ciorba", you think hot, sweet, salty and sour, a luscious garden, herbs and the flowing river of water. This is why I thought and mentioned health, this is what makes ciorba so healthy: the boil, the steam, the water. A giant teapot of vegetables, meat, herbs.
By Thao Uyen
Hi guys, how have you been? I have been running left and right to prepare for the biggest Vietnamese celebration of the year: TET. For those of you who don't know, TET is the Vietnamese lunar new year. In some Asian countries where the people still use the Lunar calendar (along with the Gregorian calendar), this occasion is celebrated with events enriched with traditions. Of course no two countries have the same traditions, but the principle of the Lunar new year is for families to be reunited, and also to pay respect to the elders in the family.
TET is fast approaching. In fact, it will begin next Saturday and will last at least for 1 week. Usually Vietnamese consider that TET lasts until the Lunar 10th of January. Last year I spoke about TET and its traditions (you can read about it here). This year I want to present to you a traditional TET dish that every household in Southern Vietnam has for this occasion: braised eggs and pork belly.
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanța Ion
I love the cold, the snow, the awakening air of winter!
But as it crawls in, we do feel this hunger for light, for vitamins, for strength. Maybe not yet, maybe winter is too young for us to long for the sun hidden in colors of fruits and vegetables, but this is one of the most important times of the year when we need to pack our cells with bricks of health and inner anticold furs helping us to be out there and enjoy snowball fighting until the birds come back, like the inherent kids we are.
Speaking about kids, you may have hated it when you were a little one, but spinach is an all-seasons favorite, a bundle of health, a superfood. In my country, we usually eat fresh spinach in spring, cooked with tomato and lemon juice, which makes it very refreshing and tasty, and ever since I was a kid myself, I have associated the taste of spinach with lemon and even find it funny to eat it without the citrus flavor. Lemongrass is an adulthood discovery (not being common as herb or ingredient in Romanian cuisine) and I had this idea it must compliment what I know and love about spinach very well, the way I've known it. l love the result and I hope you will enjoy it too.
Finally it gets hot! And that means I can show you all those fast and light dishes guaranteed to be perfect additions to your weight-loss diet. This one has to be my favorite because not only it is fast and easy to prepare, it’s also packed with nutrition and flavors using only 6 ingredients, and I already counted the olive oil. Another reason is because of the chayote.
For those of you who don’t know about this beloved vegetable of Vietnam, this is one of the magic 3 vegetables in Vietnamese cuisine, along with potato and carrot. They’re the magic 3 because they’re so versatile, can be found all year round and they don’t need lots of spices to be made into satisfactory meals. Chayote (also chayote squash or chayote fruit), in Vietnamese is called su su which is a French word (chouchou: beloved), is a plant in the gourd family. What we use in this recipe is the fruit of this plant. Vietnamese also eat the chayote young stems but that’s another story, let’s get back to our fruit. (At first you won’t find it look like a beloved fruit but wait till you taste it)
This fruit is rich in water, potassium, zinc, dietary fiber, vitamins B6 and C, all of those make it weight-loss diet friendly. When cooked, the taste of chayote is naturally sweet. Depends on how you cook it, chayote can be juicy and crunchy or buttery and sweet. I read that in some other countries, people eat the young chayote without removing the skin. In Vietnam we only eat big juicy chayote so if you know how young chayote tastes like, I’d love to hear about it. Big juicy chayotes (the ripe ones) mean you need to peel their skin in a certain way to avoid sticky-hands-disaster, but first let me share with you how to choose a good chayote.
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Spring was late this year. After the vernal equinox, a mighty snow storm has been visiting us for a few days. Before plunging into the greens of spring, the cold, dark days call for a yummy winterish warmer, a traditional French soup: Velouté de poireaux, leek soup. Quick and easy to make and as French would say, savoureux.
This recipe is for that time when you try to recover from a cold or flu. It’s that time when you lost all appetite and even the best steak look like a greasy heavy mess that you can’t even bring yourself to chew. Vietnamese believe porridge is the dish to go for, along with natural remedies, to recover from cold or flu.
Vietnamese porridge is made with ordinary rice being simmered in water for a long time until the grains of rice become mush. The result is like a thick broth which you don’t even need to chew. You can make porridge to feed babies and grandparents alike, just one dish.
You will need to chew this chicken porridge though, as there are different textures and flavors to savor. In this porridge you’ll find ginger and mung beans, a combination that is used for hundreds of years to neutralize poison. It can also neutralize medicine so if you’re sick and take medicine, I’d recommend you to leave out the mung bean. If you only take natural remedies like honey lemon tea, this recipe is a bonus to help you sweat out toxins.
To optimize the healing properties of this dish, you can add a small amount of black pepper, red chili pepper and fresh turmeric or turmeric powder. You can eat your way back to health, so let’s get to our recipe right away, shall we?
A Vietnamese take on the traditional Cantonese rice, this is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in Vietnam. This fragrant and delicious fried rice will slip right into your happy stomach.
If cooked rice has become monotonous for you and you want to make a party out of it, this one is for you.
Cantonese rice is a Chinese dish but it has been a part of Vietnamese cuisine for decades. The recipe I present to you today is a Vietnamese recipe, a simple version of the traditional Cantonese rice since the original recipe can include different nuts and a variety of oils and spices. You won’t find any nut in this Vietnamese recipe though and so it won’t have that crunchy texture. However, this one showcases a special Vietnamese technique and that is fried rice.
I call it special because now if I go to an Asian restaurant here in France and order Cantonese rice, I’ll get a dish of cooked rice mixed with oil, ham, fried egg, carrot and peas. Of course all the essential ingredients will be there but the mixed rice/oil is not the same as fried rice. Fried rice is made from cooked rice but unlike normal cooked rice, fried rice doesn’t stick, it shrinks a bit in size and becomes translucent with a chewy texture. It doesn’t absorb the flavors as readily as normal cooked rice but allows the flavors and spices to coat around each grain of rice. As a result, saucy fried rice ;) is tastier than cooked rice mixed with sauces.
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Fish roe tarama (fish eggs salad) is a traditional Romanian appetizer usually found on most holidays and festive tables. The traditional version, that we will prepare some other time, is made with carp or pike roe and lots of onion. Since I prefer ocean fish taste and a more delicate flavoring to the fish roe salad, allowing for a better excursion to the shores of imaginary seas, I often like to indulge in a twist of the traditional recipe by using herring eggs. Nutritious, fast and easy,. this appetizer will bring you a boost of necessary proteins and oils and makes for a quick and delicious addition to any festive table.
It takes only 10 minutes to prepare, so fasten your belts and mouth watering!
100g salted herring fish roe (or fish eggs of your liking)
1 slice of bread
5-6 tbs sunflower oil
1/2 medium lemon
7-8 pitted Kalamata olives (or other olives of your liking, cut in small chunks)
Make sure the salted fish roe is fresh: fresh fish roe are still crunchy and keep their shape and glow, while older fish roe tends to liquefy.
Put 1/3 of the fish eggs aside, we will add them in the end, to make sure the tarama salad keeps the crunchiness of the unprocessed eggs.
Put the slice bread in water and let it moist until soaked. Squeeze the water out of the bread, very well, until it becomes a ball of squishy bread dough.
In a mixing bowl, add the fish roe, the bread (break the moist bread with your fingers, in crumbs, to add it to the mix) and 1/2 of the half lemon juice. We will now make a fish roe "mayonnaise": use your mixer and mix the ingredients by gradually adding the vegetable oil. Add one tablespoon of sunflower oil at a time. It's quite quick, it should take just a few minutes to mix it all.
You know the tarama is ready when it is "stiff", just like mayonnaise.
Add the rest of the half lemon juice and mix.
Now it is time to put in the fish eggs we left aside and to mix them in, gently, with a (preferably wooden) spoon.
Cut the pitted olives into small chunks and add them in the tarama.
Serve with toast and garnish with minced chives.
The color and flavor of chives give me a surge of happiness, for we know spring is here! Have a green, joyful one!
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Dark, mysterious, cold days.
Cheeks pinched by burning winds.
Jingles and bells.
Frozen hands, feet and noses.
I already feel nostalgic for them, but they are almost gone. And spring must not find us like weaklings. Like grumpy bears stumbling off our bed of leaves. Let's fight the Ice Queen with a special, magical salad that will restore our strength and vitality for crossing another bridge of seasons. Packed with 13 miraculous immune boosters (a mystical number of rebirth), it will not be just science for you, but art as well: the colors and tastes of the February Queen will become a synesthetic feast. You will become happy while preparing, eating, absorbing and remembering it.
INGREDIENTS (serves 1-2)
60g smoked salmon
1-2 hard boiled eggs
50g goat cheese
1 small carrot
1 red pepper
Extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
3 tsp yogurt
½ tsp turmeric
Rucola (arugula, rocket salad)
Cleanse and replace. Due to its antioxidant properties, rucola is a powerful detox cruciferous, cleansing the residues of the stagnant processes in our body after a long, more sedentary, slow-metabolism winter, and giving a boost to our immune system with its high content of chlorophyll, Vitamin C, copper and zinc.
Orange Ninja. β-Carotene, our main source of Vitamin A, is one of the main stimulators of T-cells production, the bricks of our immune system.
The strength of the upstream fish. The salmon's life is an amazing story of survival, with the adult salmons traveling from the sea towards the very source of fresh water, upstream, as a perilous journey of more than 1600 km, where the successful female lays in her nest thousands of eggs for the male to fertilize, and then dies. After a few months, baby salmons, when strong enough, will make the same journey downstream, from one world to another, only to return again for the same cycle. We honor the salmon by understanding how precious its nutritious properties are for our immune system, with a rich content of Omega 3, protein, Vitamin E, D and calcium.
Complexity and essence. Apart from being a major source of protein, fatty acids and a veritable vitamin complex (B complex, E, A), eggs from free range hens are also a rare source of selenium and zinc, which are part of the armor of our immune system.
Noblesse oblige. Goat cheese is another important source of selenium, along with the probiotic value of noble cheese mold, which acts like a "trainer" of our immune system against bacterial infections.
Red bell pepper
Surprise! Bell peppers can contain a double quantity of Vitamin C compared to citrus fruits, while red bell peppers are at the same time another important source of β-Carotene.
Red killer. A most powerful antioxidant, pomegranate juice and seeds are also a killer anti-microbial, bacteria and fungal weapon, along with their anti-inflammatory properties. Do not spit the seeds! Together they make for a super food of the cold season, a red alert - first defense of our body, with their mix of antioxidants and Vitamin C, B, K complex.
Extra virgin olive oil
Liquid gold. An entire novel can be written about the history, uses and multiple properties of olive oil, with its multitude of benefits for our health. Among those, due to its powerhouse antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, extra virgin olive oil is also a classic immune booster and complex protector of our body on cellular, but also skin level.
Secrets of the seed. One of the amazing characteristics of grapeseed oil is its high content of Vitamin E, leading to an increased production of natural killer cells, T and B cells, our tiny immune warriors.
You know! The happy sour sun drop is pure Vitamin C, and packed with anti-microbial and antioxidant properties.
White medicine. A small quantity of live culture yogurt every day, through its probiotic qualities, insures the healthy bacterial balance of our intestinal tract and stimulates the increased production of leucocytes.
Wonder. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric has been recently found to be a a major productivity enhancer of the whole range of white cells, while it has been used traditionally to reduce fever for millenia.
Hot and cold. And finally, to spice it up, we will use this potent source of Vitamin C, antioxidants and β-Carotene, which contributes to building the mucus membrane protecting our body against bacteria and viruses.
Mix the grated carrot with whole rucola leaves, sliced red pepper, salmon and goat cheese and dress with a dash of lemon juice and zest, and olive (or grapeseed) oil. Or both.
Add the pomegranate seeds.
In a separate dressing bowl, mix the yogurt with the rest of the lemon juice, oil, salt, pepper, turmeric and chili flakes. Add the hard-boiled eggs in the salad and the dressing and mix, or, if you prefer, you can mix the dressing in and add the eggs afterwards. Spice up the eggs with a little more chili.
Oh and guess what? It is the 13th today.
May you bloom like spring!
Have you heard through the grapevine that the Lunar New Year is near? It will be on the 16 February this year, only one week from now. In Vietnam, this occasion is called Tet which is a celebration that lasts more than 2 weeks (1 week before the New Year and 10 days after it). These days whenever I call my parents in Vietnam, they’re always busy preparing for this big yearly event. People usually have to prepare for it one month in advance, sometimes even 2 months. Why all the fuss, you may ask? Well, imagine for 10 days straight, at least 10 guests, adults and children alike, will visit your house each day. Won’t you need to clean every corner of your house? Won’t you need to buy enough food (more food than your guests can eat, that is) to be a good host? And that’s just a part of the preparation. So 1 month may not be enough for you to do all the much needed work. I will write about this Vietnamese special occasion in my next article. Today I want to present to you a recipe, a Southern Vietnamese traditional food for the New Year: stuffing meatballs bitter melon soup.
The traditional dishes of Tet often have a special meaning. For bitter melon soup, the meaning lies in its name. The Southern Vietnamese name for bitter melon is ‘kho qua’ which sounds like ‘burden shall pass’. And so the dish represents a wish for last year’s difficulties to pass and hope for a new positive beginning. Furthermore, bitter melon soup happens to have a delicious yet light taste which will lift up our spirit after savoring other heavy Tet dishes. Meaning and taste asides, bitter melon soup is too healthy a dish to not incorporate it into the food fest.
About bitter melon: You may have heard about the many benefits of bitter melon (or bitter squash/gourd/cucumber). It is not a vegetable but a fruit actually. The ripper it is the more bitter the taste and the less crunchy the texture, thus people often eat bitter melon when it’s still young. Bitter melon is quite nutritious with lots of vitamin C (much more than cucumber), A, K and dietary fiber. Not to mention Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc and Manganese. It is anti-inflammatory (yoohoo!), antioxidant (yoohoo bis!) and antibacterial. Among the many benefits of bitter melon, it is best known to lower blood sugar level and thus is good to treat diabetes. It strengthens the liver, aids the body in releasing toxins. That of course leads to glowing, beautiful skin. Not only that, it is especially beneficial for people who have skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. The only caution when consuming bitter melon is for pregnant ladies: it can cause bleeding so consult with doctor first. Also, the laxative component in bitter melon can cause headache and diarrhea if you’re not used to it. I’ve never known anyone who suffered from these effects but everyone’s different, so if you try bitter melon for the first time, consume a small portion just to be sure then gradually grow the portion. Once you get used to it, you can consume 2 bitter melons a day without any problem.
Now that we know how beneficial bitter melon is, let’s incorporate it into our meals. It won’t be a chore, really, as bitter melon is quite delicious once you get used to it. How does it taste like? When eaten fresh, bitter melon is a bit bitter but also watery and crunchy. When cooked, the bitter taste is more highlighted and the texture turns soft, like squash, but not mushy. Bitter melon is the kind of food that grows on you. You may not like it at first, but over time you get addicted to it.
If you try bitter melon for the first time, I recommend you to make this stuffing meatballs bitter melon soup. This is a great way to get children to try bitter melon too. Here’s a way: The stuffing meatballs are just too delicious for children to turn away from, so when they are busy munching on those meatballs, just gobble down the bitter melon and tell them how delicious and nutritious it is. Make it really convincing. If they ask for a taste, give them a spoonful of meatball with a small chunk of bitter melon. Do you get the gist of it? Over time the taste will grow on you and your children. You may then want to try other recipes with bitter melon. It can be made into salad or it can be stir-fried. I once tried wild bitter melon pickled and it’s one of the best pickles I’ve ever tasted. I digressed a bit here but just so you know, bitter melon is not intimidating.
Back to the traditional soup, stuffed bitter melon soup has the sweetness from meatballs, the fresh and slightly bitter taste of bitter melon. Unlike other squash soup, this one really needs the garnish herbs which are spring onion and cilantro to be complete. The soup is meant to be eaten with rice and a main dish. Here is pork cutlets recipe and lemongrass chili chicken as ideas for your main dish. Now let’s get to the recipe, shall we?
Ingredients: (for 3 servings)
200 gr ground pork
1,2 l water or chicken stock
2 bitter melons of 250 gr (fresh or frozen)
50 gr Vietnamese glass noodle/vermicelli (soaked in warm water for 10 minutes then minced)
20 gr dried wood ear mushrooms (soaked in warm water for 10 minutes then minced)
2 tsps of salt
1 pinch of ground black pepper
4 spring onions (heads and green parts separated, heads are minced while the green parts are then sliced thinly)
1 shallot (minced)
10 gr or a handful of cilantro (sliced thinly)
For the bitter melons, if you use the frozen ones, they’re already well prepared so just defrost, wash and dry then cut them into portions of 3 cm long.
If you use fresh bitter melons, remove both ends then cut them into portions of 3 cm long. Next use a spoon to scoop out all the white parts along with the seeds. Keep only the green portions/cylinders.
To prepare the stuffing, mix the ground pork with minced wood ear mushrooms and vermicelli, minced spring onion heads, minced shallot, ½ tsp of salt, 1 pinch of ground black pepper. Mix them well by hand. When it’s done, stuff the bitter melon cylinders with this mixture. Push the stuffing tightly, make sure to leave no air in the stuffing. When you finish stuffing the bitter melons, you will still have stuffing left, make them into meatballs and set aside.
In a pot, pour in 1,2 l of water or chicken stock, add 1 1/2 tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Lightly drop the stuffed bitter melons into the boiling water, set the heat to medium-high. Cook for 10 minutes then drop the meatballs into the boiling soup and cook for another 10 minutes. During this cooking process, the nutrition from the stuffed melon is infused into the soup. The liquid soup will eventually turn a slight brown color too. You can then turn off the heat and add spring onion and cilantro garnish directly into the pot or put the soup into serving bowls and sprinkle garnish on top.
There are versions where people use whole bitter melon without cutting it into cylinders. The whole bitter melon looks great but you will of course need to cut it once served. I also see versions where people use fish sauce instead of salt to cook the soup. I don’t use fish sauce to cook this soup because then the bitter melons have a sour taste.
The point of making more stuffing than bitter melons is to make the soup sweeter and to prevent the case where children eat all the stuffing meatballs and you’re left with all the hollow bitter melons :D. When you make more stuffing than bitter melons, everyone gets their fill, yay!
To bring the soup to another level, serve it with dipping fish sauce. If you cook bitter melon soup with fish sauce, the bitter melon turns a bit sour but dipping fish sauce, on the other hand, elevates the dish. Nothing is as satisfying as dipping those meatballs into the sweet and sour fish sauce. So make the dipping fish sauce with the ratio of 1 fish sauce : 1 sugar : 4 water : ¾ lemon juice, add minced garlic and chili to your taste. Now enjoy the soup that is as healthy as it is delicious!
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!