Archive for the 'Main Course' Category

Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Beef & Lemon Grass Noodle Soup

Bun Bo Hue

With the help of Grandma and my aunts these past couple of years, I’ve learned how to prepare almost every noodle soup that I giddily slurped as a child and hungrily craved as an adult. Grandma taught me how to tame pho bo and bo kho from her home kitchen, while my aunts showed me the ins and outs of bun rieu and hu tieu through detailed emails and patient telephone calls.

I’ve amassed quite a repertoire of recipes on this site over the years, preserving a small piece of family history in the process and guaranteeing that all future cravings are swiftly satisfied.

Most recently, Grandma and I tackled bun bo Hue, a complex and heady beef noodle soup scented with lemongrass, packed with pork trotters, and littered with congealed pigs’ blood.

While the city of Hue is known for its spicy fare, Grandma’s version of the former imperial capital’s famous noodle soup is quite tame because she’s needed to refine and adjust it over time to placate the palates of her American-born, spice-averse grandchildren. What can I say? My cousins and I were weak when it came to heat when we were younger.

The most magical part of making bun bo Hue happens around hour three when the beef, pork, and lemongrass broth is transformed into the familiar fiery orange soup. Grandma uses a sizzling mixture of vegetable oil, scallions, fish sauce, and paprika to impart the broth with its characteristically bright hue and rich, umami flavor. Never in a million years would I have guessed that a jar of paprika resided in Grandma’s cupboard for this very recipe.

A heavy dose of fermented shrimp paste, along with a touch of sugar and salt, add the finishing touches to the broth. The soup is ready to be served when the slices of beef and the pigs’ feet are both perfectly tender, after approximately 4 hours total.

For broth

  • 2.5 pounds pigs’ feet, cut into chunks
  • 2.5 pounds beef shank
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons salt, separated
  • 9 stalks lemongrass
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fermented shrimp paste
  • 1 tablespoon monosodium glutamate, optional
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

For garnish and noodles

Bun Bo Hue

To prepare the broth, begin by cleaning the pigs’ feet under running water to remove any bits of bone debris that the butcher left behind. Don’t forget to run your fingers beneath the skin where unsightly debris may have gotten trapped.

Bun Bo Hue

Place the cleaned pigs’ feet and beef shank in a large stockpot filled with enough water to submerge them and bring to a boil. The shank and feet are full of impurities, so once the water comes to a boil, dump it out and collect the feet and shank in a colander.

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Sườn Nướng – Vietnamese Grilled Pork Ribs

Sườn Nướng - Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops/Ribs

One of the perks of having a mother who works for a meat distribution company are the random acts of kindness meatiness that occur from time to time. I love it when Mom surprises me with pounds of jumbo shrimp, bags of frozen chicken fingers, or most recently, racks of baby back ribs. With Memorial Day, the official start of the summer grilling season, around the corner, the timing could not have been any more perfect. These racks o’ ribs were destined to meet the heat, Vietnamese-style.

Sườn nướng was a mealtime staple growing up. Not only was it served often on weeknights for dinner, but it also made regular appearances at beachside family gatherings—La Jolla Shores, represent. The ease of prepping and cooking the ribs, as well as their intrinsic deliciousness, made them a standby for every occasion.

Comprised of just five ingredients—fish sauce, sugar, salt, black pepper, and shallots—this easy marinade treats pork to a sweet, salty, and wholly umami bath. Soaked overnight, then grilled over hot flames, the ribs’ exterior caramelizes beautifully, while the innards remain tender and flavorful.

The recipe below produces ribs that are savory enough to pair with a heap of rice, the Vietnamese way, but for those looking to eat their meat straight up, ease up some on the fish sauce and salt.

According to Mom, this is the best marinade ever. And she’s absolutely right.

  • 2 to 3 pounds pork ribs, separated
  • 2 large shallots, finely minced
  • 4 ounces fish sauce (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 1/3 cup)

Sườn Nướng - Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops/Ribs

To prepare the marinade, whisk together the shallots, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium-size bowl. Transfer the marinade to a gallon-size Ziploc bag, along with the ribs, and let the meat and marinade marry in the refrigerator overnight.

Sườn Nướng - Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops/Ribs

Let the ribs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling. Over medium-high flames, grill the ribs on both sides until slightly charred and fully cooked through, approximately 6 to 10 minutes per side. Optional: brush the ribs with leftover marinade.

Once the ribs are fully cooked, transfer to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes.

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Not Your Grandma’s Bánh Chưng

Banh Chung

Growing up, Tết was all about not screwing up. It was imperative that on the first day of the New Year, everything ran as smoothly as possible, which meant acing tests, being respectful to my elders, and not arguing with my brother. My mother made me believe that everything that happened on this day, both good and bad, would be repeated throughout the year. This superstitious notion scared me straight into action and, truth be told, continues to taunt me as a full grown adult.

These days, Tết has become less about “being good” and more about gathering with family, cleaning house, and of course, honoring food traditions. There are many dishes associated with the holiday including candied ginger and coconut, braised pork, and preserved pineapples, but the most iconic and essential of all is the square and squat bánh chưng and its cylindrical cousin bánh Tết.

Banh Chung

In honor of the upcoming New Year, which falls on February 10th, a group of friends and I gathered to tackle making bánh chưng from scratch. While we were all wholly enthusiastic about the task, none of us were very experienced, as evidenced by our poor, boiled-over mung beans early in the day.

Banh Chung

Leading the charge was Chef Diep Tran of Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park. Diep didn’t have a recipe (or YouTube tutorials) to guide us this afternoon, just vague memories from years ago of preparing bánh chưng with her grandmother.

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Thịt Bò Xào Hành Tây – Vietnamese Stir-Fried Beef with Onions

Thịt Bò Xào Hành Tây – Vietnamese Stir-Fried Beef with Onions

While The Astronomer desires nothing more than a hunk of grilled lemongrass pork atop his bún (vermicelli rice noodles), I’ve got a soft spot for stir-fried steak, a dinnertime staple at my house growing up. Pork is almost always my protein of choice, but beef gets a slight edge here for its intrinsic juiciness, ease of preparation, and sweet onion companions.  The way the meat’s drippings mingle with the marinade and the nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce) gets me every time. You bet your boots I pick up my bowl and slurp up every last drop.

To ensure that the beef is cooked through and the onions are caramelized evenly, I prefer to prepare this dish in smaller batches. The beef to onion ratio can be altered depending on personal preferences. My family tends to go heavy on the onions, about 1.5 onions for every 1 pound of meat. Any uncooked meat can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for a few months.

While I love thịt bò xào hành tây best served over vermicelli rice noodles with fresh herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, toasted peanuts, scallion oil, and ladles of nước chấm, it also tastes stupendous served simply over steamed jasmine rice.

  • 4 pounds flank steak, thinly sliced approximately 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 large shallots, finely minced
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 3/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
  • 3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus additional for stir frying
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus additional for stir frying
  • 3  tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for stir frying
  • 6 medium onions, sliced into “half moons” approximately 1/3 inch thick

Thịt Bò Xào Hành Tây – Vietnamese Stir-Fried Beef with Onions

Combine all ingredients from flank steak through vegetable oil in a large bowl. Using your hands, massage the mixture to make sure that the marinade is evenly distributed and coats every slice of meat. Allow the meat to soak in the marinade overnight or for up to 24 hours.

Thịt Bò Xào Hành Tây – Vietnamese Stir-Fried Beef with Onions

In a large wok or non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add onions along with a light sprinkling of salt, and saute until desired doneness is achieved, about 5 to 10 minutes. Some people may prefer onions with a little bite, but I like mine cooked through and lightly caramelized.

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