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!
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
We are inaugurating a new category of Quick and Easy recipes, that you can prepare in just a few minutes, for a quick meal or dashing solution to impress your surprise guests!
The grand opening comes with a memorable pasta recipe that you can enjoy whenever you have a quick and overwhelming sea craving, which is at the same time a safe bet for any party or home visit.
Put your pasta to boil, by sprinkling a little oil and salt in the water, to prevent the pasta from sticking together and for extra flavor.
In the meantime, in a sauce pan or wok heat some olive oil (or the vegetable oil of your liking) and toss in the seafood when hot. Stir fry for a 3 minutes and add the veggie mix, for more stir frying.
Add the crushed garlic or the garlic powder and the chili paste or powder. I used a delicious homemade chili jam.
Let the seafood and veggies stir for 3 more minutes and add enough cooking cream to cover them and to match the pasta quantity.
Let it simmer and thicken for 4 more minutes and 1 minute before the end, add about 2 tablespoons of white wine and some grated yellow cheese.
Mix in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and add the seafood sauce to it, mixing well.
Serve hot with more grated yellow cheese, chopped parsley, dill and green onion on top.
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 :)
Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
It is said that we should put on our skin only what we would eat. Let’s experiment with the concept! I am introducing to you 3 magical potions for your inner and outer nutrition, health and beauty. We will create a series of superfoods that keep the raw properties of high quality nutritious ingredients that you can either mix in your smoothies (or add to your desserts or snacks, as highly concentrated foods) but that you can use at the same time as simple, homemade, easy, quick and healthy all-complexion face masks.
All three recipes have an energizing, cleansing, rejuvenating effect in and out.
They teach us to incorporate in our food and beauty rituals carefully selected natural raw products which have a high enzymatic impact on our body. Perfect for meeting spring in full health and radiant beauty!
(valid for all three recipes)
As superfood: mix one tablespoon of the product in your daily smoothie or your freshly prepared dessert (such as fruit salad) or enjoy with whole grain crackers.
As face mask: gently rub the mask on your face and neck and leave for 15-20 minutes. Rinse with warm water or warm water and natural homemade face soap (I use goat milk soap after makeup removal). It is best however to not rinse excessively and to let the oils continue their absorption into the skin, after removing the mask.
Be careful for the turmeric mask can stain your clothes. You may need to use paper towels or makeup removal wipes to remove the excess turmeric color from your skin.
All face masks are highly rejuvenating and anti-wrinkle, so try to carefully apply the masks at eye corners, below the eyes and even below the eyebrows, gently, in very small dosage, and without touching the eye, for honey, coconut oil and turmeric can be irritants for the eye (they sting a little). If you don't feel skilled enough, avoid the area around the eyes.
You will notice the all the masks will leave your skin very very smooth and exceptionally glowy, clean, regenerated and healthy.
Raw chocolate coffee smoothie superfood and face mask
INGREDIENTS (version one)
1 tsp raw, high quality cocoa powder
1 tsp freshly ground coffee
1 tsp grated raw unprocessed cocoa butter
1 tbsp hot coffee from your daily coffee pot
Finely grate the cocoa butter and add it to cocoa powder and ground coffee in a small bowl. Add the hot coffee and mix with a teaspoon until smooth and having a yogurt-like texture. The hot liquid coffee will infuse the cocoa powder and the ground coffee.
COCOA POWDER: Lowering blood pressure. Fibers. Minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, potassium). Anti-depressant. Antioxidant. Low calories. Cholesterol balance. Anti-diabetes.
COCOA BUTTER: Immunity boost. Heart balance. Anti-constipation. Minerals and vitamins. Energizing. Anti-depressant. Dental health. Anti-obesity.
COFFEE: Energy. Vitamin B complex. Minerals. Neural boost and healer. Burns calories. Antioxidant.
COCOA POWDER: Exfoliant. Increase in oxygen saturation. Hydration. Minerals. Rejuvenating. Skin cells repair. Anti-wrinkle. Anti-age.
COCOA BUTTER: Rejuvenating. Moisturizer. General skin health. Anti-age and anti-wrinkle. Heals stretch marks, sores, rashes, sun burns. Soft lips.
COFFEE: Exfoliant. Rejuvenating. Anti-wrinkle and anti-age. Detoxifying. Toner. Lightener. Skin-repair. Antioxidant. Anti-inflammatory.
INGREDIENTS (version two)
Instead of the liquid hot coffee, use 1 tbsp of raw, unprocessed coconut oil.
This gives a firmer, richer mask that includes the repairing benefits of coconut oil (see below).
Carrot turmeric coconut oil acacia honey smoothie superfood and face mask
1 tsp freshly and finely grated carrot
1 tbsp raw and unprocessed coconut oil
1 tsp acacia honey
½ tsp high quality turmeric powder
Mix the honey, coconut oil and turmeric and add freshly grated carrot (use the finest grating degree).
CARROT. Beta caroten. Heals the heart and the brain. Vitamin C. Anti-free radicals. Anti-cancer. Essential for eyes and skin. Fibers. Immune booster. Controls diabetes. Oral health. Digestive. Anti-cholesterol.
COCONUT OIL: Good cholesterol. Weight loss. Anti-bacterial and anti-fungi. Memory and neural recovery. Hormonal balance. Heart, brain, pancreas help. Healthy digestion. Builds muscle. Heals joints. Oral health.
ACACIA HONEY: Anti-insomnia. Hormonal balance. Immune booster. Weight loss. Internal organs repair. Lowers blood sugar. Respiratory infections. Kidney repair. Analgesic. Minerals and vitamins. Anti-depressant.
TURMERIC: Anti-cancer, oxidant, inflammatory. General boost. Brain booster. Heart booster. Anti-Alzheimer and degenerative disease. Rejuvenating.
CARROT: Exfoliant. Bright, rejuvenated skin. Powerful anti-age and anti-wrinkle. Cleansing. Anti-acne and dark spots. Heals scars and blemishes. Sun protection. Repairs dry skin.
COCONUT OIL: Anti-age and wrinkles. Deep cleanser. Moisturizer. Lighter skin. Anti-bacterial. Fit for both dry skin and acne. Skin repair. Heals and prevents breakouts.
ACACIA HONEY: Intense repair of all scars, wrinkles, blemishes, burns. Nourishing and moisturizing effect.
TURMERIC: Anti-acne, bacterial and inflammatory. Cleans pores. Calms the skin. Rejuvenating. Treats chronic skin conditions. Sun burns. Corrects oily skin.
Berries yogurt honey smoothie superfood and face mask
This recipe is best processed in higher quantity, for example when you want to indulge in homemade fruity frozen yogurt, being more difficult to prepare a small quantity in your regular blender.
1 live culture yogurt (200g)
50-100g frozen or fresh berries (including seedy berries like raspberries, blackberries and strawberries). You can experiment here with different concentration of berries.
Honey to taste
Blend them all in your blender. It is important to keep in mind that berries will become juicier upon blending, so try to use a thicker yogurt, or to use a fruit or seeds processor for the berries and subsequently add the berry puree in the yogurt. If you are using fresh berries, it is easier to just puree them with a fork and then add the yogurt and honey. Mix it all to obtain a smooth cream.
YOGURT: Rich, whole food containing protein, vitamins and minerals (especially calcium, potassium and magnesium). Probiotics essential for the digestive system. Immune booster. Weight loss.
BERRIES: Fibers. Iron. Anti-oxidants. Vitamins. Healthy heart. Anti-cancer. Bone balance. Rejuvenating effect. Low blood pressure.
YOGURT: Exfoliant. Rejuvenates. Moisturizer. Nourishing. Anti-bacterial. Removal of dead skin. Skin cell repair. Calming effect. Prevents breakouts.
BERRIES: The tiny seeds will act as a marvelous exfoliant. Anti-oxidants. Increase of elastin and collagen levels. Face lift effect. Moisturizer. Re-mineralization. Soften dry skin.
You can keep your favorite superfoods for longer periods by freezing them in ice cube trays. When you need a boost for your tummy or face, you just remove one ice cube and use it over your face and neck or toss it in your blender to be mixed with your smoothie.
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
(click on the photos for the story)
Queen Mary's Palace and Botanical Gardens
Quiet Nest Palace
Verses: The Pilgrim, by Marie Queen of Romania
An outstanding foodie experience came on the way home, in Agigea, Romania: Pescăria lui Matei
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!
Some cultural tidbits to give you an insight into the celebration of Lunar New Year in Vietnam.
1. It's called Tet
The Lunar New Year in Vietnam is called Tet. Traditional Asian astronomy and astrology use the phases of the Moon to determine the month which has approximately 29 days. That is why the Lunar New Year doesn’t begin on the same day as the Gregorian January 1st. Usually the Lunar New Year falls between January and February of the solar calendar. Countries throughout East Asia that have used the lunar calendar in the past still celebrate this tradition. On this list we can count in China, Korea, Singapore, Laos, Vietnam (and that’s why we have this article). Japan doesn’t celebrate this tradition despite a history of using lunar calendar. And by not celebrate, I mean the Lunar New Year doesn’t make it into national holidays for the Japanese. However, a part of the population still hosting feasts and parties for this occasion, after work I mean.
In Vietnam, Tet is a period that last from the 1st to the 10th of the new year. Children and adults usually have a Tet holiday week which lasts from 7 to 10 days depends on whether the 7th day of the Lunar New Year falls on the beginning or the end of a week (big up if the 7th day falls on a Friday, we get to enjoy a bonus week-end :D). Although the celebration period doesn’t last long, the preparation for it takes 1 to 2 months to be completed. And that’s what makes this celebration so special and exciting. You should visit Vietnam in this preparation period to see and feel the festive atmosphere: everything is bright and new and there’s always smile, music and laughter on every corner of the streets.
2. Time for make over
The new year comes with new things: new look, new clothes, new house items, new decoration style… Everything should be bought and prepared before the New Year begins, it’s enough to keep you busy for weeks. More over, it renews your spirit too with the joy of shredding the old skin and be a brand new you, to forget about the obstacles of last year and be hopeful for a bright new beginning. The new year brings with it new hopes for good things to come, so you better be prepared for it right? You may be surprised by how a pair of new shoes or an artful figurine can alter your state of mind. Have you heard about the Kon Mari method of tidying? About how you should discard the old clothes that don’t bring you joy? It implies that used items carry with it essence of the owner and you should only keep the items of which you’re content. On the same note, a brand new item is like a bland page that you can write on with whatever hope you have for the new year. By now I should clarify that it doesn’t mean a whole new wardrobe. Usually people only buy several set of clothes to wear on the first days (1st to 4th) of Tet.
For the house, there should be a whole deep cleaning. Feng Shui principles believe that dusty old corners carry negative energy, and that’s a no-no for the New Year. So one week before the 1st, every corner of the house should be wiped clean, from the windows’ frames to kitchen props, the rule is simple: leave no stone unturned i.e. wash, clean and wipe until squeaky clean. Why just writing about this leaves me exhausted, I don’t even hope to understand, really. Every year my family would do this whole house cleaning, and it would always be a fun experience as we team up to do the tasks together. Although exhausting, there was always laughter and lovely snacks.
3. Plants and flowers symbolize abundance
House decoration needs live plants and flowers as they stand for luck and abundance that the new year will bring. So the more plants and flowers you have the better. There are 2 absolutely types of flowers that every house strives to have for the occasion: in Northern Vietnam it’s cherry blossoms and in the South it’s Vietnamese ochna. Branches full of blossoms come in all shapes and forms would be sold at Tet markets, waiting to be brought home to show the style and taste of the house’s owner. Desirably all the flower buds should blossom at the 1st day of the New Year. Since plants and flowers are of great demand at the New Year, growing and shaping these plants is an important business for Tet.
4. Tet markets
You can find at the usual markets all kinds of things for Tet from clothes, furniture, kitchen props to food. This is the time of the year where everything that is worth selling can disappear so quickly that their price just accelerates by sound’s speed. Because there is so much things to buy, people usually return to the markets several times before they can stock up everything they need. It is when a good relationship with sellers can make life so much easier ;).
When it comes to plants, there are exclusive Tet markets just for them. As explained above, plants and flowers are of high demand so the best, most beautiful will be on display 2 weeks before the 1st of the New Year. At these markets, you can find all kinds of plants from the small interior plants to big ones that measure 2 m (6ft5). On the night of New Year’s Eve, if there are unsold plants left, they will be sold at half-price or even at the cheapest price as vendors want to wrap up business and go home before the New Year begins at midnight.
5. New Year’s Eve is when the labor ends, well, sort of
All those times spent on preparation will end on New Year’s Eve, but only at midnight. Since most Vietnamese still follow the tradition of setting up altar for ancestors at New Year’s Eve, it becomes the last of before-Tet rituals. The set up altar has flowers, food and burning incense sticks. The food of New Year’s Eve is usually a whole boiled chicken, sticky or glutinous rice, some sweet treats like biscuits/cake and sweets. The altar is set up from 11pm or 11:30pm to midnight.
At midnight, Buddhist families sometimes will visit temples to pray and to bring home a branch of flowers or a cut of sugarcane sold on the streets as a symbol of luck. On New Year’s Eve, even after midnight, if people choose to go out instead of staying at home and preparing for sleep, there are still many go-see sites. Folks will be able to buy lucky sugarcane or street snacks, often plant-based. Only at around 3 am that people start to go home. Some choose to stay at home though, because there is an important tradition that they observe on the 1st day of Tet.
6. The first visit tradition
It is believed that the first person ever to set foot inside the home on the 1st day of Tet can bring extreme luck to the family. The tradition is called ‘xong dat’ which is an inauguration of the house on the new year. Usually the procedure is like this: First Feng Shui principles and Eastern astrology are applied to find the birth year (or years) that is most compatible with that of the breadwinner of the house. After this element is known, members of the family will consult their entourage to find a person who has this birth year and who is willing to visit their house on the 1st. Most people are happy to do this unless they’re requested elsewhere. This tradition is respected strictly by business folks.
The opposite of this tradition is observed as well, that is if your birth year isn’t compatible with the family, better not visiting their home before the inauguration can take place. Usually people avoid visiting their entourage in the early morning of the 1st . Planning a visit after 10am is ok or better yet, they consult with the owner.
7. Traditional dishes differ from North to South
Now we come to one of the best parts of Tet: the food. Tet dishes range from heavy, salty, rich to fresh, light and sweet. Usually there is a combination of both heavy and light dishes. Since no market, or supermarket for that matter, will open for the first 3 days of Tet, to have enough to entertain guests, large quantity of heavy and rich dishes are made because they are easily preserved. And since Vietnamese cuisine strives for balance in all things, fresh and light dishes are incorporated to provide anti-inflammatory relief. Among the traditional dishes, there is this meat jelly that is a must in Northern Test feast along with sticky rice.
For Southern feast, it’s caramelized pork and eggs and bitter melon soup. (Check out my recipe for this healthy bitter melon soup here). Another important Tet food is savory cake that is made from sticky rice, pork belly and mung beans wrapped in banana or arrowroot leaves. This cake has 2 variations. The original is the square shape cake called ‘Banh chung’ and originated from the North, in the South people make the same cake but in cylindrical form. That is ‘Banh tet’. Both are a must for the New Year and are often served with pickled veggies.
Sweet treats are candied veggies and fruits such as candied coconut, squash, tomato, tamarind, pineapple, etc. Toasted seeds and pickled or dried fruits are also favored as snacks. Apparently people eat and eat again at the New Year. Only after the 4th when visits die down that the meals return to normal.
8. The first days of Tet is for family
The 1st day is always time to visit parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. And since old Vietnamese families are big, it may take 3 whole days to visit all the family, to eat, drink, talk and sing karaoke. Vietnamese tradition values family and relationships between parents and children, and among siblings, so it’s of no wonder that family is a priority at the New Year. It’s a time to honor the beloved family members who have passed away and to reinforce family ties. Usually the 4th and 5th are devoted to friends and neighbors. The shops and stores start to open on the 4th too, so there are plenty of places to go chill with mates.
9. Giving and receiving a small sum of money is a tradition
It’s not about money but lucky money. It’s the giver’s wish for good things to come to the receiver. Usually children receive a small amount of money wrapped in red envelope accompanied by best wishes from adults. When the children reach adulthood at 18, or when they finish school and have a job, it’s their turn to give lucky money to their younger siblings and cousins and so on. This tradition is called ‘li xi’ and it is not limited to children either as old parents and grandparents also receive red envelope from their children and grandchildren. It’s about the red envelope, the symbol of luck ;).
10. Only the best wishes applied
Tet is also the time of giving and receiving best wishes. And it’s not just any best wishes, you really have to give wishes according to the age, profession and preference of the receiver. From good health, long life to success and happiness, the Vietnamese language is so rich that the wishes can be formed as simple, common phrases or they can be developed and rhymed into a sonnet. These sophisticated wishes are often engraved or written down on paintings to serve as gifts as well. At the new year when Vietnamese visit family and friends, they first wish them ‘chuc mung nam moi’ which means ‘happy new year’ and upon leaving, they will give their most sincere, heartfelt wishes. Giving New Year’s wishes has become an art, a savoir-faire that children are taught from a young age so as they grow up, they will continue to celebrate these traditions which add value to their life.
I hope you enjoy the article, although it’s too short to capture all traditions and cultural tidbits of the great Tet, it is a tad too long for a ‘10 things’ article. Let me finish it by wishing you all a new year filled with laughter, joy and strength to rise above any hurdle presents on your journey.
Chuc mung nam moi! <3
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!