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Apr19

Tofu-misozuke: things you can do with your tofu-misozuke & update #4

tofu-misozuke on bread and crisp rice crackers

Tofu misozuke hits many of the same spot as soft cheeses and can be enjoyed in many of the same ways. We originally had it straight up and paired with sake. It’s also great spread on baguettes and bánh đa (tapioca cracklings). On the other hand, the salt content and assertive taste of many crackers make that pairing a hit or miss affair.

Here’s another way of enjoying tofu-misozuke, inspired by how the Vietnamese sometimes eat mắm (fermented fish): spread tofu-misozuke on a slice of cucumber, whose coolness and crispiness provide an excellent contrast to the soft, intense tofu.

Tofu misozuke on cucumber

That’s a great snack all by itself, but we also like to add herbs to all things:

add herb on top of cucumber-tofu misozuke ensemble

Seen above are húng cây (spearmint) and tía tô (shiso). Kinh giới (Vietnamese balm) and lemon balm (kinh giới Mỹ) also work great, especially with the next addition:

add sardines on top to round out the ensemble

Finally, a piece of sardine (cá mòi) cooked and canned in olive oil is placed on top of herbs, tofu misozuke, and cucumber. This combination makes a great hors-d’oeuvre that is filled with textural and flavor contrast. The tofu-misozuke, herbs and sardines are each strongly assertive in their own ways yet blend together into a suprisingly well rounded whole. Just remember to pick a can of sardines that’s low in sodium; they vary wildly.

An aside: Canned sardines, by the way, are totally a part of Vietnamese cuisine after being imported by/for Frenchmen serving in Indochina. The luxurious aura of foreign food during the colonial era and the lean, iron-curtained post-war years helped, but canned sardines are also just plain good (see also: those red cans of Bretel butter, still cherished by those Vietnamese living in the land of fresh butter and innumerable cheeses). I still relish my occasional sardines and baguette breakfast, and the same combination are still offered by many bánh mì stands in Vietnam.

Updates on tofu-misozuke from CA and MI:

– Soft tofu is gone – all eaten 😀

– Medium firm tofu was soft and creamy (and almost gone; half of it should be in Lyon, France by now; another quarter was consumed at a birthday party this past weekend). It was still on the salty side but paired really nicely with a slice of cucumber.

– Firm tofu was creamy on the outside (I didn’t check the middle; it was probably still crumbly inside). It was still on the salty side.

– Firm tofu with lemongrass was still crumbly, which was perplexing. I wonder if the presence of lemongrass inhibited protease activities. I’ll let this run for a few more months to see. The flavor was more complex than just miso, but it was difficult to identify the additional flavor as that of lemongrass.

– Tofu with kelp: the tofu block wrapped in the better grade kelp was starting to become soft and creamy. The taste was amazing: kelp flavor was there in the tofu and blended very well with miso flavor. It was very delicious and mildly pungent. I can’t wait until this one ripens. The excitement was dampened a bit when I had to throw out the block of tofu wrapped in lesser grade kelp. It had all sorts of growth on both sides of the kelp :( Oh well, at least there’s still one good block of tofu to continue this experiment.

– The attempt to control salt content by cutting marinade amount was a success. All arms of the experiment were creamy and rich. The original recipe was creamier than the rest, but only noticeable in a direct comparison. The others will catch up, I’m sure. Most importantly, the tofu with the least marinade was well on its way to being a full-fledged tofu-misozuke, with a much diminished salt presence.

Apr14

Gỏi cá trích (Vietnamese sardine ceviche)

It’s bothered us for a while that we can make Latin American ceviche but we had no idea how to make Vietnamese ceviche (gỏi cá). This past weekend, we set out to correct this imbalance.

We wanted to learn to make the dish as traditionally as possible so it was time to read up on recipes. Google searches turned up many recipes and instructions in Vietnamese that were all over the place. As we did more searches into this dish, we were struck by how a dish could be quintessentially Vietnamese (lots and lots of greens and herbs in a rice paper roll) and yet unique among its peers (wetting rice paper in coconut milk anyone?). We decided to draw on the common and/or interesting elements from the recipes that we found. So, consider this a best practice review (as Lamp would put it) or a high-level synthesis (my way of describing it) (can you guess the fields we are in yet? :D).

For the fish: we bought whole sardines. The fish mongers cleaned the fish for us, but we had to fillet them ourselves. We marinated sardines fillets in lime juice (~5′), then drained and squeezed out the juice from the fillets (care should be taken not to mush the fillets). We saved this juice to make dipping sauce. Sardine fillets were then mixed with minced ginger, garlic, galanga (riềng) and roasted rice powder (thính). We marinated fish fillets for a few hours in the fridge.

For the dipping sauce: we added coconut soda/juice (or water) to the fish marinade saved earlier, then added fish sauce, sugar and lime juice to taste. Then minced garlic, chili peppers and roasted peanuts were added to complete the sauce.

For the greens: as many herbs and vegetables as possible. When this dish is served in Viet Nam, the fish is accompanied not only by herbs but also by many different types of young leaves gathered in the backyard and/or forest. We didn’t quite know how to forage in the wild yet, so had to resort to foraging at the farmers’ market and an Asian supermarket. After a long walk through these 2 markets, we ended up with the following:

  • dandelion greens
  • 2 types of young kales
  • húng cây (spearmint)
  • kinh giới (Vietnamese balm)
  • rau răm (Vietnamese coriander)
  • rau om (rice paddy herbs)
  • bean sprouts
  • chuối chát (plantain)
  • khế (starfruit)
  • kiwi (for sourness, since we only found 1 starfruit at the market and it didn’t look like it’d be sour)

(Did we mention this was a quintessentially Vietnamese dish? This list isn’t much longer than a standard list of greens that typically accompany a dish involving rolling food in rice paper)

Oh, and don’t forget the coconut: diluted coconut milk (1:10) for wetting rice paper and coconut meat for inclusion in the rice paper rolls. The recipes called for roasted grated coconut, which we forgot to get, so we made do with the tender flesh of the young coconut instead. It was fine – grated coconut would assert itself more forcefully as a distinct textural component, but roasted young coconut flesh was rich and flavorful. A new ingredient to work with!

Phew, that was it for preparations. This is what the spread looked like:

gỏi cá trích spread

The glass of wine contained nước sim (hill gooseberry juice) mixed with shochu. Most of our working recipe is adapted from the gỏi cá style practiced in Phú Quốc, where sim fruits are plentiful and rượu sim (sim liquor) is a local delicacy. We would love to get our hands on authentic sim liquor someday, but the faux rượu sim paired very well with gỏi cá.

When we finally sat down, made our rolls, dipped them in dipping sauce, and took our bites, we encountered a riot of flavors. Our taste buds definitely had to work overtime with each bite given the incredible blend of flavors: spicy galanga and fragrant roasted rice commingling with the strong fish flavor of sardines, floral flavor of rau om, savoriness and creaminess of roasted coconut, bitterness of dandelion greens, leafiness of young kales, sweet fruitiness of starfruit, stringency of plantain, sourness of kiwi, sharp freshness of herbs and saltiness of dipping sauce that had been accentuated with fish marinade and roasted peanuts. Oh my. And yet the ingredients blended together harmoniously or else waited their turns to assert themselves, making for a different sensation with each chew.

gỏi cá trích in a rice paper roll

We were blown away by this dish. I actually thought it was much better than bò nhúng dấm (vinegar beef hotpot), which means a lot since bò nhúng dấm has always been my favorite dish. This dish is definitely more complex, starting with the defiantly fishy sardines that eclipse the milder vinegary beef. The variety of vegetables are similar, but gỏi cá trích specifically calls for as many as you can get, preferably by foraging, so that’s another point in its favor. Even the rice paper dipped in coconut milk, which we were initially skeptical about, turned out great – not greasy but a vehicle for additional coconut richness. Finally, it’s hard to beat a dipping sauce that decorates nước chấm (fish sauce with all its usual fixings ) with roasted peanuts and lime-fish marinade. Yum, and a new favorite!