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Immigrant-chic bún riêu (paddy crab noodle soup) in London

We welcome our first guest post from our dear friend Xuân currently living in London. She showed us a sunny picture of her antidote to the gloomy British autumn weather and immediately made us both crave a piping hot bowl of bún riêu. We also love all the improvisations Xuân deployed to create a diasporic variant of a Vietnamese classic dish.

A yummy looking bowl of bún riêu

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Tofu misozuke update #5 – kelp variations

Now that we have a good recipe for tofu misozuke, it’s time to experiment! With the ecology of cheeses as inspiration and guide, we hope to drive the  speciation of our delicious creamy tofu to many unoccupied niches. One of our goals was to recreate a variant we only knew from written description: a pungent, Roquefort-like kombu-wrapped miso marinated tofu. We started a pilot experiment 2 months ago and we were excited enough about the results to pursue further.

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Tofu-misozuke: with kelp

tofu-misozuke wrapped in kelp

You must think we are going out of our minds. Why kelp? We actually have no idea how this will turn out, but we know what we want, at least we can imagine it:

We stumbled upon a story of Judith Thurman’s visit to the tofu masters of Japan in September 2005 of the New Yorker. We were particularly intrigued by the pairing of tofu-misozuke and Burgundy:

“But wine and bean curd, Kawashima’s twin passions, are more compatible than you might think. To prove the point, he served us a little amuse-gueule that he devised for wine tastings: a wedge of dense and pungent saffron-colored miso zuke dofu, which is a block of momengoshi steeped in fermented miso, wrapped in konbu (a form of kelp wtih a thick, ridged leaf which, in its dried form, resemvles a slice of rubber tire tread), and aged for months. At last, some tofu with bite: an alarming, even macho one, like that of a Roquefort at the limit of ripeness.” (emphasis ours)


We really couldn’t rest after reading that article. The idea of making a Roquefort-like tofu is too tempting to resist. We struggled to understand the description, however. Did she mean 1) the block of tofu is covered in miso and then wrapped in kombu to age, or 2) tofu-misozuke is done (or partially done, i.e. tofu has become creamy) and then wrapped in kombu for further aging?

The only way for us to find out is to give both possible interpretations a try. In this experiment, we covered the tofu blocks in the regular miso mix, then wrapped the whole thing in kelp. All the ingredients are laid out below:

ingredients for kelp-wrapped tofu-misozuke

Since the tofu package that we bought actually had 2 small blocks instead of 1, and we just happened to have 2 types of kombu at home, we decided to use both to see if there might be a difference between the types of kelp used. From the packaging, it looks like 1 kelp has 50% more sodium content than the other. We’ll see if and how this will affect the final product.

Keeping our fingers crossed!


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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Crystal clear broth, made easy

When we started learning how to cook the various Vietnamese noodle soups, one thing that was drilled into us pretty early on was the importance of getting crystal clear broth for the soups. The attention paid to this aspect of the soup borders on obsession.

It doesn’t matter if the stock is made from ox tails, pig’s bones or chicken and/or root vegetables, it is important to blanch them, bring to a quick boil, then cook for a long time at low to medium heat to avoid over boiling. Tending the broth requires constant skimming off all the solids and bubbles to make sure the broth is clear.

It’s a time consuming and laborious process. It’s very rewarding to get beautifully clear, sweet and tasty broth, but the process as a whole was intimidating. Being naturally lazy, we were overjoyed to learn about the Japanese method of making soup stock from kombu. Now kombu is a staple in our pantry and we hardly make stock the traditional Vietnamese way anymore.

Short description of the method: soak dry kombu in cold water (20g/l) overnight or at least 5 hrs. Heat the water until it begins to bubble, then remove the kombu. And there you have it, clear and sweet soup stock that is high in umami, but does not have any unpleasant effect of synthetic MSG.

My mom loves this method because it’s an easy way to prepare great tasty broth for vegetarian soups while avoiding MSG altogether. It’s a very convenient method because you don’t need to hover over a hot stove and still have clear broth for whatever soup dish you want to make. Actual cooking/work time is cut down significantly, which fits us lazy people perfectly.

There are more ways to extract umami from kombu, but they require immersion circulator and vacuum machine, so I’ll just add a link to this excellent post for you to read more if you are interested.

More information on kombu can be found here.

Happy cooking :)…let us know how you like the kombu broth in your Vietnamese noodle soups (phở, hủ tiếu, bún thang, etc.)