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Nem chua (Vietnamese cured beef) & lá chanh (lemon leaves)

Nem is one of my favorite snacks. Before a trip back to Viet Nam, I usually contacted my uncle ahead of time so he could buy nem that would be ready to eat by the time I land. It’s an incredibly addictive food, with its mix of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness and the blend of flavors with rau răm (Vietnamese coriander), garlic and chili pepper.

I have been making a lot of nem chua lately. It’s often made with pork, but I actually prefer making it with beef (and hence the title is beef instead of pork). In the latest batch, I wrapped a ball of just mixed meat in

1) half of a lemon leaf and

2) 1-2 plum leaf(ves)

before wrapping it in 7 layers of banana leaves to let the meat ferment over a couple of days.

A pleasant surprise finding was that lemon leaf went incredibly well with nem chua. It really enhanced nem flavors. Plum leaves were too subtle to make a difference, unfortunately.

nem chua

Anyway, just thought I should share this finding so you can add a little bit of lemon leaf (you don’t need a full or half a lemon leaf…a few thin strips will do) to your next bite of nem in addition to the usual rau răm, garlic and chili pepper.


Rau Om (Rice Paddy Herb) Soba Noodles

Up ’til now, most of our experiments revolved around applying new techniques and ingredients to Vietnamese cooking. Here’s a new twist on that: using a Vietnamese herb to flavor Japanese soba noodles. Bird had picked up the Nobu cookbook specifically for its instructions on how to make soba noodles (jalapeno and cilantro-flavored soba noodles). This past weekend we finally worked on that recipe, but substituting in namesake herb rau om (rice paddy herb, Limnophila aromatic).

Making noodles:

0.75oz rau om, ready to be pureed in 4oz water

7oz soba flour + 1.75oz wheat flour

(the recipe called for strong plain flour in addition to soba flour, but we didn’t know what strong plain flour was so we used wheat flour instead. Will try to find strong plain flour next time)

mixing flour and rau om water

form the dough into a ball

flatten the dough with a rolling pin

(we are supposed to use a very thin rolling pin, but we didn’t have such an equipment, so had to make do with our big, fat rolling pin)

rau om-flavored soba noodles

We definitely needed more practice making soba noodles: the dough sheet needed to be a lot thinner and we needed to cut the noodles into thinner strands. But it was fun and we can’t wait for more noodle-making. What we were most interested in, however, was to see if and how rau om flavor would stand up to soba noodles and dashi broth.

We paired our rau om soba noodles with the traditional soba broth of kombu dashi, bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. We were glad to see that lovely fragrance of rau om survived the noodle-making process. In addition, the floral scented noodles paired so well with the clean, sweet and refined soba broth, one might have thought rau om flavored soba were a native application of traditional ingredients. Our noodle making skills need more practice, but our minds are whirling at the possibilities rau om noodle has opened up.


Bánh Tét Sâu Bướm (Caterpillar Bánh Tét) at the All Hands Active Art Show March 26th

We’ll be offering up slices of our Bánh Tét Sâu Bướm (Caterpillar Bánh Tét) as donations fodder for the All Hands Active Art Show and Auction fundraiser. Pictures when we unwrap the banh.

All Hands Active is a makerspace/hackerspace in Ann Arbor that provides workshop space, tools, and classes for interested makers and tinkerers. The happening will uh happen at The Vault of Midnight comic shop on Saturday March 26th from 3pm to 7pm or so.

All Hands Active Art Show



Tofu-misozuke: update #3

Worried that the remainder of our first batch of tofu-misozuke wouldn’t be enough for us this weekend, I decided to check on my 2nd batch even though it has only been a little bit over 2 weeks (see update #2)…and I am glad I did.

The tofu-misozuke made from soft (silken) tofu was already creamy! And it has a nice, subtle soybean flavor in addition to the miso taste. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. Turned out a thin layer of miso was sufficient. The saltiness level seems to be about the same as the one from the first batch. Let’s hope Lamp’s batch will give us different results in terms of saltiness.

The tofu-misozuke made from medium firm tofu was soft and smooth, but not creamy yet. It also has a nice, subtle soybean flavor similar to the soft block described above.

The one made from firm tofu was still very tofu-like and crumbly.

The one made with lemongrass (firm tofu), of course was as crumbly as the plain one, but did have a hint of lemongrass, which was a nice complement to miso. I can’t wait until this block is ready to eat!


Towards a more noodle-like spaghetti squash

One of our little victories this past year was finally figuring out ways to use squash in our cooking. And a smaller victory within that campaign was discovering that egg-noodlelike strands of spaghetti squash remained at noodlelike lengths when the squash was sliced crosswise rather than lengthwise, since the strands were wrapped concentrically around the long axis of the squash. We went on a spree of serving noodle soup dishes with low-carb spaghetti squash over the holidays (future post topic) but there were refinements still to be made.

The Beginnings of Lẩu Vịt Nấu Chao

The Beginnings of Lẩu Vịt Nấu Chao (Hotpot with Duck Marinated in Fermented Tofu) - with spaghetti squash vermicelli.

We loved the flavor and especially the smokiness roasted spaghetti squash noodle imparted to our noodle soups. The crunchiness was also a novel and welcome addition to the noodle soup experience. Still, sometimes we missed the resilience of traditional noodles. And sometimes, we did not achieve smokiness before the squash strands turned mushy. When the always inspiring Cooking Issues blog did an article on the wonders of lime paste in Central American and Asian cuisine, we thought we might have a technique to help us with our quandaries.

Calcium hydroxide ( Ca(OH)2 ) in lime paste is a potent modulator of food texture. Specifically relevant to our case, Ca(OH)2 cross-links fruit pectins to produce crunchier, more resilient cooked fruits. The example in the Cooking Issues article was the Thai technique of soaking bananas in lime water before frying.

The first step was to make slaked lime. Ca(OH)2 is only weakly soluble in water, so lime powder + water tends to produce a saturated solution + a little less lime powder that needs to settle. Once the solution cleared, we had our slaked lime.


Tall refreshing glass of slaked lime (slaked lime not actually refreshing)

Spaghetti squash quarters were soaked for 0, 15, 30 (usual banana soaking time), and 45 minutes. They were then roasted at 375 degrees for half an hour. After an initial taste test, they were microwaved for another 2 minutes on high.

After roasting, the different squash quarters were not much different from each other texturally. The 30′ and 45′ soaked squash took on a slight hint of the minerally (cementy according to Cooking Issue) smell of Ca(OH)2. Surprisingly, this addition made the squash smell more like noodles. Or unsurprisingly as a great many noodles are made by alkaline modification of grains starch.


A bowl of spaghetti squash noodle

After microwaving, the untreated and 15′ squash quarters were mushy, so the two steps of cooking simulated a less than perfect day in the oven. Encouragingly, the 30′ and 45′ squash quarters remained crunchy with overcooking. Perhaps finer adjustments of soaking and cooking time would produce a crunchy outer layer and a soft core. However, the resilience of noodles was still missing. I wonder how we can achieve that.

In conclusion, Ca(OH)2 treatment of spaghetti squash produced a dose-dependent protection of crunchiness while adding a noodlelike aroma to spaghetti squash. Definitely worth pursuing further.