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Gỏi dưa hấu heo quay / Watermelon salad with roast pork belly

Summertime in North America is the season of heat, watermelon, and family gatherings, and the perfect time to make and enjoy this refreshing and festive salad. The recipe was an original creation of Fatty Crab‘s Zekary Pelaccio and was written up by The New York Times, where we found it. Sweet and fluffy watermelon cubes tossed in an aromatic ginger cilantro dressing and tangy pickled watermelon rinds were coolly delicious contrasts against juicy roast pork belly. Spicy scallion, rau răm / Vietnamese coriander, and Thai basil completed this unusual salad that in its own way provided all the textural and flavor elements of gỏi (Vietnamese salad). The original recipe combined elements of Southern United States cuisine with spices and techniques chef Pelaccio encountered in Malaysia. We substituted his crispy fried pork belly for a star anise marinated roast pork that was more reminiscent of heo quay (roast pork), an ingredient associated with celebrations in Vietnam. We had no idea how one would classify a dish in which so many lineages were mixed together, but we felt perfectly at home serving and enjoying this salad out in the backyard with the rest of our family.

Watermelon salad with roast pork belly

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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.


Nước chấm chay (Vegan dipping sauce)

Making good fish sauce dipping sauce (nước mắm pha) is a very important skill in a Vietnamese kitchen. My mom didn’t believe that Lamp could cook until she saw that he could make good nước mắm. Likewise, making nước mắm is a nerve-wracking experience for me when we visit his family.

That strong emphasis on good dipping sauce was a major deterrence for me to venture into making vegan dishes. It seemed quite difficult to replace the distinctive taste of fish sauce in the dipping sauce that I am so used to. I finally got the chance to challenge myself when a vegan friend suggested that we get together to make Vietnamese food. Instead of my usual vegan stew, I decided to make vegan chả giò (Vietnamese crispy spring rolls), which of course required a good dipping sauce.

I was quite happy with the way the dipping sauce turned out: the color looked just right and the taste is more complex than simple soy sauce-based dipping sauce

vegan dipping sauce

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