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Jun03

Towards an easier, more fragrant chè bưởi (pomelo pudding)

For us, chè bưởi (pomelo pudding or pomelo dessert soup) is a dish that always sounds so appealing, yet is perpetually disappointing (and we’re not alone). The name chè bưởi promises so much more than is actually delivered – the laborious process to produce palatable pomelo pith plunders away all of that lovely floral citrus scent. This loss is traditionally compensated for by adding essence of hoa bưởi (pomelo flowers) or hoa cau (areca nut palm flowers), but the results are not the same.

While researching candied peel for our gỏi bưởi / pomelo salad dish, we found a simpler way to process pomelo pith that also preserved its natural scent. The resulting chè bưởi was lovely all by its fragrant self, or further decorated with fresh lilacs:

Chè bưởi topped with coconut milk and lilacs

[Read more…]

May04

Gỏi bưởi (Pomelo salad) like you’ve never had

Gỏi bưởi (pomelo/grapefruit salad) is an unusual dish and is rarely featured on restaurant menus, but the first time we had it, we knew we wanted to do something fun with it. Traditional gỏi bưởi consists of broken pieces of supremed pomelo mixed with boiled shrimp and pork and served with a fish sauce based dressing and the usual Vietnamese salad garnish (rau răm/Vietnamese coriander, crushed roasted peanuts, fried shallots). The salad has a unique combination of the refreshing and clean sweet-tartness and fragrance of pomelo and herbs with savouriness of fish sauce, sweetness of shrimp and richness of pork belly. We wanted to start with that combination all in one bite of pomelo, then experiment with new flavors on top of that base. We had to learn several new techniques and technologies before we got the results below, which we were very happy with:

Gỏi bưởi - Pomelo salad: pomelo, pomelo peel and pith, shrimp roe, rau răm

How is gỏi bưởi possible without pieces of shrimp and pork belly??? Click here to find out

Feb01

Preparations for Tết: Bánh Tét, pt. 2

At 2am, our timer alarms went off and we dragged ourselves into the kitchen to take our first batch bánh tét out of the boiling water to drain and dry overnight. This is how they looked the following morning:

cooked bánh tét

And the moment of truth – cutting into our bánh tét:

Hooray!

Here’s a closer look, with bánh tét cut into a ready to eat slice and the banana leaves peeled away:

Bánh tét slice close up

Aesthetically, the center should be more centered (I must have forgotten to massage this roll to distribute the rice more evenly after forming the initial cylinder) but functionally everything looked good: The banana leaves imparted their flavor and color onto the rice. The pork belly were tender and delicious. The rice themselves expanded during the cooking process and formed a solid shell around the beans and meat inside.

This is important: bánh tét and bánh chưng are associated with Tết because of their long shelf life, due in part to this rice shell. The 6 hours of intense boiling achieved sterilization and the thick shell of rice formed a hermetic seal around the nutrient dense, easily spoiled, and delicious center. Many other food associated with Tết such as dưa món (pickled vegetables) and thịt kho tầu (caramelized braised pork and eggs) – are similarly known for their resistance to spoilage. So after an intense day or so of cooking, we had food that would last for weeks, leaving us free to pay visits to family and friends, all of whom are also doing same.

A Tết care package: Bánh tét, bưởi, & tương ớt

Bánh tét/bánh chưng are also favored gift items during Tết visits, probably to replenish the ones eaten by previous waves of guests. Another common gift are grapefruits for the fruit tray on the ancestors’ altar. Just a single grapefruit can sometimes infuse the whole house with a lovely fragrance during the holidays. With that in mind, we put together a care package for parents and grandparents whom we sadly could not visit this year : our homemade bánh tét, a pair of Melogold pomelos, and a jar of our homemade tương ớt (chilli sauce.) Why Melogold specifically? It’s our favorite variety of the enormous citrus family. Our first encounter with it was a Toucan Sam like hunt for the source of that lovely scent that wafted across the produce section. In subsequent seasons the scent had not been as strong but the sweet, flavorful taste were still consistent. Why tương ớt? Just because we made some and we thought it was good.

Happy New Year, everyone!