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.
1 kg frozen (chopped) spinach
1 large onion
1 small (or half) leek
1 medium garlic head
1 small (or half) red pepper
a mixture of olive and vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp vinegar (I used spicy vinegar) or the juice of 1 small lemon
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp dried lemongrass
1 tsp curry
200 ml tomato purée
1 1/2 tbsp organic (dehydrated) vegetable powder mix
Serving it with a premium (melting) cheese.
1. Dice the veggies (onion, garlic, leek, pepper).
2. In a pot, heat the mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil (sunflower oil). For all processes, you will use medium to high heat.
3. When hot, toss in the diced veggies and stir every few minutes.
4. If you feel they brown too quickly (especially the onion), add about 100 ml of water.
5. Six minutes into cooking, add the spinach and mix well with the stir fried veggies.
6. Add 100 ml of warm water and mix it into the pot.
7. Now it is time to add the vinegar. Mix it well in the spinach.
8. A few more minutes and you can add the soy sauce, together with the lemongrass, curry, dried vegetables powder and tomato juice.
9. Let it cook for a few more minutes and taste it (cool it on a spoon first). It should taste good (no additional salt needed for this dish). But if you feel it's necessary, adjust the saltiness and sourness with a little bit more soy sauce and vinegar (or lemon juice).
10. Cover the pot with a lid and let it cook on medium to high heat for about 20 minutes, while stirring now and then.
Spinach is good with everything. Hot or cold. As independent, singular dish or as side dish, but also as spread on crackers or toast, for a healthy lunch or breakfast, or as the green part of your favorite sandwich combination.
I suggest you try this spinach dish with a quality matured cheese, as I did now with the fine Romanian Trascău cheese, a variety of mature melting cheese. Instead, you can use a Gruyère, raclette, parmesan, Brie, Gorgonzola, Cheddar or Gouda cheese, as an opportunity to turn this healthy dish into a cheese tasting feast. No one stops you from tasting more than one cheese. Cut the cheese into small slices or cubes and spread it on the spinach while still hot, so that it can melt a little.
Be strong this winter! Like Popeye the Sailor Man!
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.
How to choose good chayote – Choose ones that are firm, with shiny and even skin of light green color, avoid ones that have scratches or areas of different colors (bruises). I also recommend not to choose the ones with thorns near the chayote seam as that means they’re too ripe and are not appetizing (it’d feel like you’re chewing on something that you shouldn’t, like paper). Now that you choose the best chayote out there, take it home and do the next step or store it in the fridge.
How to peel chayote – You should always wear gloves for protection as peeled chayote releases a sticky glue that can stick up your skin for days. Use a peeler to remove all the skin. When it comes to the seam at the top of the chayote, cut diagonally to remove all the skin. Cut vertically the chayote in half and remove the seed or you can leave it on as the seed is edible. Wash off the sticky glue left from the chayote.
Now that we finished peeling chayote, let’s dive into our easy recipe!
Ingredients: (1 serving as main dish or 2 servings as side dish)
75 gr tender beef, no fat (thinly sliced)
1 medium chayote of about 250 gr (peeled and cut into stripes)
5 stems of Asian chive (cut into stripes of 5cm long)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
½ tsp salf
1 tbsp olive oil
Ready in 20 minutes
1. Put 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet on high heat. After 1 minute or until the oil is heated, add the sliced beef with 1 tbsp of oyster sauce, a pinch of salt and stir-fry quickly for 1 minute. The high heat prevent the beef to release water so all the flavors and juice will be preserved in each slice of beef. After 1 minute of stir-frying, you can put the beef in a bowl to add it at the last step.
2. In the same skillet and on high heat, there should be a bit of oil left or you can add more, add the chayote stripes and stir-fry constantly. The chayote at first is firm, but then will turn flexible and easy to manage. Add the rest of salt and keep stir-frying for 5 minutes if you want a crunchy texture or 8 minutes if you want a soft, buttery texture. Either ways the chayote still retains its natural sweetness.
3. Lastly add the stir-fried beef of the 1st step and Asian chive. Give a good mix then take off the heat.
Did I highlight how easy this recipe is? Serve it hot and dive right in.
Asian chive adds sweetness and different texture to the dish but if you don’t like it or if you can’t find it, you can substitute it with scallion/green onion. And while we’re talking about ingredients, you can also add grounded black pepper at the last step to enhance the flavor and use soy sauce to elevate the stir-fried beef.
Enjoy this Vietnamese recipe!
P/S: You may wonder where I disappeared to the last few weeks. Hey, it’s not a case of alien abduction, I got a trip to wonderland = Japan! Stay tuned for highlights of my trip there and tips for your next trip to Japan ;)
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.
Velouté means “velvety” and it originally referred to mother sauces that are thickened with butter, cream and egg yolks, currently extended to also describe soups turned creamy with butter or cream.
The French classic is potato leek soup - potage poireaux pommes de terres – or Potage Parmentier, a delicious and quick homemade soup that can be served hot or cold and by contemporary standards, what one might call a blender soup, for you can basically throw all the ingredients in your blender, for its preparation.
The recipe introduced today is a mélange of the grand-mère (grand-mother) recette and my personal touch. It is going to be our French Connection between winter and spring.
For 6 servings, you need a large leek (I had a very big and thick one and used only half of it) with green leaves as well. One medium potato and one large onion. I used red onion myself, for its particular taste. Four garlic cloves or as alternative, if you prefer, garlic powder. Roughly a cup, or 250 ml heavy cream. A teaspoon of Herbes de Provence and one teaspoon of cumin seeds. Et voilà, that’s about it for the basic formula.
Optionally, you can use vegetable stock powder (I used homemade, all-natural vegetable stock powder made of carrots, parsley roots, celery, onion, bell peppers) and season the soup with either more leek, or parsley or chives.
For a lighter recipe, I prefer to use olive oil instead of butter, and let the milky taste and texture come from the cream alone.
Cut the onion in large rings and caramelize it in a little bit of olive oil.
Cut the potato in cubes and the leek in rings and throw them in your blender. Add water or stock.
Add the garlic cloves, the caramelized onion, the Herbes de Provence and the cumin seeds.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add enough water for a light creamy texture and boil the mixture in your soup pot for 15 minutes, at medium heat. At this point, pour in the heavy cream and boil for another 12 minutes.
For a silkier result, you may want to reblend the hot soup, but it is not necessary.
A good portion of fibers, B vitamins and anti-oxidants in a French classic that will caress your body and soul.
Au revoir, winter!
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?
Ingredients: (for 2 servings)
- 2 chicken thighs with drumsticks (or half a chicken of 500gr), skinned if needed
- 80 gr short grain rice, washed and drained
- 80 gr glutinous rice, washed and drained
- 100 gr mung beans, washed
- 3 slices of ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
- ¼ medium onion, thinly sliced (as thin as possible)
- 2 stalks of spring onion, chopped
- 1 handful of Vietnamese mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- Salt, fish sauce, black pepper
- 1 handful of coriander (optional), roughly chopped
- ¼ lemon (optional)
How to cook:
Soak the mung beans in warm water while you cook the chicken.
Boil the chicken in 1,5 liter of water along with 3 slices of ginger for 30 to 35 minutes. You don’t need to boil the chicken on high heat. In fact the medium-high heat is best, as we want to obtain a delicious broth by letting the chicken flavor infuse in the water.
During this process, if you use the chicken skin, remember to skim off some of the fat floating on the surface. If not, you can skip this step.
When the chicken is cooked, take it out and leave it to cool down. As for the broth, keep it to make porridge.
In a small sauce pan add 1 tbsp of olive oil and stir fry the rice and glutinous rice with crushed garlic. Use medium heat as the rice can be burned quickly. Stir for 2 minutes until the rice is translucent then take it off the heat. If the rice sticks to the pan during this step, you can add a dash of water or two, just don’t let the rice be burned.
Come back to the chicken broth, add water to reach 1 liter of broth. Put in the stir-fried rice, glutinous rice and soaked mung beans. Bring this broth to a boil for 5 minutes and stir occasionally to prevent the rice to stick and burn at the bottom of the pot. After 5 minutes of boiling, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Let the pot seat on the stove for 1 hour and you can go do your things while you wait for the rice to be cooked on its own. When you do this, the rice and beans will continue to be cooked without you burning off gas or electricity. It’s a good way to economize energy, isn’t it? ;)
If you don’t have other things to do, just take care of the boiled chicken. With your hands, tear apart the chicken meat into small pieces. Throw out the bones or you can put them back in the broth pot. Mix the chicken pieces with salt (for 250 gr of chicken meat I add 1/2 tsp of salt) and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper, onion slices (you can keep some slices for garnish later) and Vietnamese mint. It’s basically a chicken salad. I also like to add grated lemon zest for citrus fragrance but this is optional. Set this salad aside to assemble the dish later.
You can also prepare the greens (wash and drain then chop them) at this stage because the waiting time is quite long.
After you wait for 1 hour, the rice will look like this
Now turn on the heat again and bring the porridge to a boil. By this time all rice grains should be soft, only the beans need to be cooked. Let the porridge simmer for 20 minutes while you add salt and/or fish sauce to the taste. I usually add 2 tbsp of fish sauce and 1 tsp of salt. Stir occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom of the pot.
After 20 minutes of simmering, the cooking part is done, you can take the pot off the heat.
To assemble the dish, put the porridge in a bowl then add the chicken salad on top. Garnish with slices of onion, spring onion and/or coriander. I like to squeeze a small portion of lemon on top for a zingy pop, and sometimes I add red chili pepper for added heat and colors.
The dish looks beautiful and it tastes wonderful, especially when you’re taken down by the cold or flu. If you really have no appetite, I recommend you to add water to make a thin porridge before the last boiling step so that it’s easier to swallow. You should also use skinless chicken and add more salt to the porridge as your palate can be dull by sickness. Lastly, eat the porridge when it’s still hot, it will help you sweating out toxins.
Spring is here so let’s stay healthy with this week's recipe :)
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.
To make fried rice, rice is cooked and cooled down completely before being fried on high heat with a small amount of oil until each grain of rice turns translucent and smoky. Because of the small amount of oil, the dish is not greasy. In fact, it is more like your stir-fried dishes. Aside from fried rice, any kind of ingredient can be added, like meat, seafood, egg, vegetables, sauces and spices. Usually it’s a mix of 2 to 3 of those ingredients. In my opinion, when it comes to Vietnamese fried rice, less is more. You don’t need fancy ingredients to make the dish shine because fried rice is already the star.
Now that we know that we can elevate cooked rice, let’s try to recreate this dish that you can find in 8 out of 10 restaurants in Vietnam: Cantonese fried rice.
Ingredients (for 2 servings):
2 Chinese sausages, cut into small cubes
150 gr or a medium carrot, cut into small cubes
30gr or ½ an average onion, cut into small cubes
100gr peas (frozen or fresh)
4 fresh shrimps, cleaned and cut into cubes
200 gr cooked rice, cooled in room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1 shallot, minced
1 tbspoon of oyster sauce
1 tbspoon of black soy sauce
1 tbspoon of vegetable oil
Grounded white pepper (optional)
For the serving sauce (optional):
2 tbspoons of soy sauce
½ green or red chili
How to cook:
First blanch the peas: put the peas in hot boiling water for 1 minute then transfer into a bowl filled with cold water for another 1 minute. We will stir-fry the peas with carrot later.
Put a frying pan on medium-high heat. Put the sausage cubes into the pan and stir for 2 minutes so that the fat in the sausages comes out. If the sausages give a lot of smoke, you can add a dash of water. Next put in the shrimps and stir for 2 more minutes then remove the pan from the heat, keep the stir-fried shrimps and sausages and throw away the oil. (Chinese sausages are salty so you don’t need to add salt for this step)
Next use the same pan to stir-fry carrot cubes and peas. There should be a thin film of oil left on the pan, this is enough for this step. On high heat, stir-fry the carrot and peas with 2 pinches of salt for 2 minutes then put the carrot and peas aside but keep the pan on the stove.
Now add a dash of oil into the pan along with onion cubes, a pinch of salt and minced shallot. Keep stir-frying so that the onion turns translucent then smoky (about 3 minutes on high heat).
Gather the smoky onion and shallot to one side of the pan. Next pour the beaten egg into the other side of the pan and swirl. Soon the egg will start to be cooked and double up in size, this is when you can add rice over the cooked egg along with oyster sauce and black soy sauce. Use your wooden spoon to fold the rice from the edges of the pan to the center and tap to flatten and spread it around the edges again. Keep repeating this step to mix the rice, egg and sauces together. When you do this, the cooked egg will be shredded into small pieces and mixed evenly with rice. This step takes about 4 minutes.
You can add more cooking oil if the rice absorbs oil too fast before it is fried properly. For 200 gr of cooked rice, I use 1 tbspoon of cooking oil. When the rice and egg are mixed, stir in the onion and shallot from the side of the pan and mix for 2 minutes. When making fried rice, you need to constantly stir, fold and tap the rice and ingredients to make sure each grain of rice is coated evenly.
Add the stir-fried carrot, peas, sausages and shrimps and continue to mix for 2 more minutes on high heat. You can now add grounded white pepper if you want, then take the pan off the heat.
Serve fried rice hot. You can serve it with spicy soy sauce by adding slices of chili pepper, and also thinly sliced cucumber which will add crunchy texture, but all of these are optional. Another serving option is sriracha, the spicy sweetness makes it one of my favorite dipping sauces.
Since there is water in vegetables, this fried rice can only be store in the fridge up to 2 days.
Do you like Cantonese rice or Cantonese fried rice? Do let me know if you give this recipe a try ;). Enjoy the week-end!
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!
by Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Hot and cheesy, Bouyourdi is a traditional Greek appetizer (meze), so perfect for the last cold winter days and a marvelous dish for tasting a fine quality olive oil. Fast and easy, it will make you discover a new comfort food that is likely to become a classic, allowing you to savor the very bricks of Greek cuisine: feta cheese, oregano and fresh tomatoes and peppers.
INGREDIENTS (for 2-4 servings)
1 medium red pepper
6-7 cherry tomatoes
1 chili pepper
100g melting cheese of your liking (or Kefalotyri)
extra virgin olive oil
grilled bread slices sprinkled with oregano and extra virgin olive oil
a few basil leaves for decoration (optional)
Traditionally, you need a clay cooking pot for this dish, with a lid, but you may use any ovenproof pot that you can cover.
All you need to do is to break the feta in pieces and slice the tomatoes, pepper and the chili and to form layers in the clay pot. Start with some olive oil, then add a layer of feta, then a layer of tomatoes, sliced pepper and chili, onto which you sprinkle black pepper, oregano and chili flakes, and another dash of olive oil. I like this dish hot, both ways (as temperature and spiciness) but you may adjust it to your taste by choosing a medium spicy chili or drop the chili flakes altogether.
Normally, you will have 2 layers of cheese and 2 layers of veggies, for this quantity, each one dressed with oregano and olive oil. The top layer is the melting cheese.
Cover the pot and cook at 220°C for 25-30 minutes, until the cheeses melt together with the sweet tomato and pepper juices.
Grill the bread and when hot, sprinkle it with delicious olive oil and more oregano.
To be served hot (careful with the fingers!) with the crispy, perfumed bread.
Too easy! :-) But extra delicious!
This recipe is inspired by my grandma’s purple yam dessert. I don’t often eat dessert, but if I must have one, this is always my go-to dish. I remember as a kid, whenever I came to visit my grandparents, my grandma always gave me purple yam dessert. Needless to say, it’s on top of my favorite desserts list (when it comes to food, I find it hard to just pick a favorite dish :D).
Purple yam dessert originates from Hue, ancient capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 under the Nguyen dynasty. You may by now notice that my last name is Nguyen but no I don’t come from a royal bloodline, much to my dreamy 8 year-old self’s disappointment. I always find the difference with last name between Western and Eastern cultures interesting. In Western culture, the last name is different from one family to another and if two people have the same last name, often time it’s because they’re related. Whereas in Eastern culture, lots of people have the same last name and they’re not related at all even if you try to trace back the family line to their ancestors. This widespread common last name phenomenal leads to some funny (and not funny) confusion about who is who as occasionally 2 or more persons can have the same last name, first and middle name. In France, I once had a colleague with the same last name as mine and at first meeting people always ask me: “Are you related?” which always leads to a fun discussion about how many Nguyen there are. So next time you meet two Vietnamese with the same last name, just assume they’re not related ;). Now, let’s get back to our sweet dessert.
As I was saying the purple yam dessert comes from Hue. My grandma was born and raised there, so no wonder she made such wonderful dessert. The purple yam dessert is one variation of che, a Vietnamese sweet dessert which is made from all kinds of vegetables, fruits, beans and even seeds. Depends on the ingredients, che can have the consistency of soup, honey or even pudding. The purple yam dessert has the thick consistency of pudding and takes the shape of the mold when it’s cooled down.
It’s the same for this purple sweet potato dessert. It may look like your pumpkin soup at first, albeit a bit thicker, but when it has time to cool down, it becomes creamy thick and goes so well with the coconut milk garnish.
The dessert is quite simple with few ingredients. There won’t be much cooking time either as the sweet potatoes don't take long to be cooked. The dish is built in layers: you get a thick layer of creamy seductive purple sweet potato and then condensed sweet and salty coconut milk as garnish. To finish off the dessert, you can sprinkle on roasted sesame seeds or just stir tapioca pearls in coconut milk before garnishing.
The sweet potato dessert has a creamy texture from sweet potato and coconut milk. Take advantage of the natural sweetness of purple sweet potato and you don’t even need to add sugar. The coconut milk has a consistency of ganache because of kudzu root starch (hello secret ingredient!). It should taste salty sweet. Have you ever had a dessert so sweet that the aftertaste just stuck to the root of your tongue and can’t be washed away with water? Avoid that by adding a little bit of salt when you make this coconut milk garnish. Coconut milk for che must not taste too sweet but a bit salty to provide contrast to the main component. This dessert can be enjoyed in winter as well as summer. I will explain how you can alter the taste just by adding 1 component. Now without any further delay, let’s get to our recipe!
Ingredients: (4 servings)
- 430 gr purple sweet potatoes
- 250 ml coconut milk
- 2 tblspoons of white sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tblspoon of kudzu root starch (or 1 ½ tblspoons of corn starch/tapioca powder)
Optional ingredients: roasted sesame seeds or tapioca pearls which you can find at Asian stores
Peel and wash the sweet potatoes then steam them for 15 minutes or until cooked through. You can steam the sweet potatoes and peel them after. I find it a bit messy so I prefer to peel them first. To test if the sweet potatoes are cooked, you can thrust a chopstick through them. If the chopstick comes through easily, it means they’re ready for the next step.
In a blender, pour in 100 ml coconut milk and add the cooked sweet potatoes. Blend well until you obtain a thick creamy mixture. Transfer it into a pot and stir constantly on medium – low heat for 5 minutes.
Pour the mixture into small serving bowls or molds. Leave them to cool down in room temperature then serve with coconut milk or keep them in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To make the coconut milk garnish, put the rest of it in a pot, add 150 ml of water, 1 pinch of salt and 2 tblspoons of sugar to stir on medium – high heat until boiling. When it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium and keep stirring until the sugar completely dissolves.
At the same time use 50 ml of water to dissolve 1 tblspoon of kudzu root starch or corn starch/tapioca powder. Gently pour this milky mixture into the coconut milk and stir. The heat will thicken the starch and that’s why you need to stir well to distribute the starch evenly. Now the work is done, take the coconut milk off the heat.
To serve the dessert in cold weather, garnish the warm coconut milk on top of the cooled down sweet potato purée, sprinkle on roasted sesame seeds and enjoy when it’s still warm. It is quite hearty and a small portion can keep you full for a long time.
In summer, you can still eat the sweet potatoes dessert with coconut milk. However we will make it fresher by keeping the small bowls/molds into the fridge to enjoy at leisure, you can keep the coconut milk in the fridge too or just make it before you need to serve the dish. When it’s time to serve, take the sweet potato purée out the bowl and put it in a big glass. Next add coconut milk then a generous amount of grated ice. You may want to substitute the roasted sesame seeds for tapioca pearls as sesame seeds are better served with warm desserts. To eat this layered dessert, use a spoon to mix all the components together and smash the thick purée until everything is well mixed. Your spoonful should contain all the tastes from sweet potato to coconut milk and fresh grated ice. In summer the dessert is made so that it’s less sweet but if you prefer a sweeter version, you can adjust the amount of water in the purée or add sugar to your taste.
Enjoy the week-end!
Cover photo: Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!