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Mar21

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.

Mar17

Gỏi khô bò (beef jerky salad) with green papaya or spaghetti squash

Yes, I know the proper name for the dish is gỏi đu đủ khô bò (green papaya salad with beef jerky). But it didn’t feel right to call it that after I played with the dish by using spaghetti squash instead of green papaya as the core ingredient.

Set up for making 2 variations of gỏi (salad):

ingredients for 2 types of beef jerky salad

Top row, from left: beef jerky soaked in lime juice, fresh basil leaves and julienned carrots. Bottom row, from left: spaghetti squash, green papaya

Green papaya was thinly julienned and soaked in water mixed with lime juice to avoid discoloration. Spaghetti squash was cut crosswise and boiled for ~20 minutes. The spaghetti strands were easily removed with a fork. I tried not to overcook the squash to preserve the crunchiness of the strands.

Dressing for salad: kecap manis, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar to taste. The dressing for this salad should be black and pretty viscous (hence the use of kecap manis and hoisin sauce instead of soy sauce, which has no viscosity). Like all Vietnamese gỏi, the dressing should be a little sour, a little sweet and a little salty.

Roughly chop basil leaves and mix them with green papaya (or spaghetti squash), beef jerky and carrot. Mix well with dressing.

Green papaya salad

green papaya salad with beef jerky

Spaghetti squash salad

spaghetti squash salad with beef jerky

Spaghetti squash salad was a lot crunchier than green papaya salad, which was nice. The squash was sweeter and soaked up more dressing than green papaya. The only thing I didn’t like about the squash salad was that the squash lost its golden color and became brown once the dressing was mixed in. I personally liked the squash version of the salad more (also because spaghetti squash came already julienned while it took some time to cut up enough green papaya). 2 friends who tasted those 2 salads were split on which one they prefer.

Substituting spaghetti squash when the recipe calls for julienned green papaya is actually a trick devised by early Vietnamese refugees who had to make do without Vietnamese ingredients. Like the canned anchovies mam nem, the squash substitution revealed new facets and possibilities in the traditional recipe and so established itself as a relevant and viable variant even when green papaya became readily available wherever enough Vietnamese-Americans congregate. We’re excited to uncover more of these immigrant chic recipes as they represent a very organic fusion cuisine and we hope to discover on our own new possibilities in Vietnamese cooking using ingredients that were not available to our forebears.