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Chilled tomato soup topped with yuba cream

We are always on the look out for unusual pairings of ingredients and admire the chefs who made the disparate items into a unified dish. We adapted this light and tasty soup from Chef Murata’s beautiful Kaiseki book and used the soup as an intermezzo. The soup’s intense tomato flavor and thick texture was perfectly balanced out by the rich yet light and savory frothiness of the yuba cream that always magically floated to the top.

Chilled tomato soup topped with yuba cream - photo courtesy of Elaine Vo

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Trà canh rau răm (clarified Vietnamese coriander soup)

Ah, Canh Rau Răm / Vietnamese Coriander Soup. Such a perfectly simple soup, needing only 4 ingredients – rau răm, beef, garlic, and tomato – to achieve a balanced, flavorful broth that is light and refreshing, even when served hot. That the broth itself  contained the highlights and the majority of the experience of the dish made this soup an ideal candidate to test out the modernist/stunt cuisine techniques of clarification. The goal was to produce a clear broth that delivered all the flavors of canh rau răm, We’ve decided to call the clarified soup Trà Canh Rau Răm (lit. Vietnamese Coriander Soup Tea) to avoid confusion .

Canh Trà Rau Răm / Clarified Vietnamese Coriander Soup

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(Mì) Vịt Tiềm Bí – Tonic Duck Soup with Spaghetti Squash “Noodles”

Mì Vịt Tiềm is one of my favorite comfort food but I hadn’t been able to get a good bowl since I’ve been in the States. The central appeal of the dish is the use of thuốc Bắc (traditional Chinese medicinal herbs) that give the duck and broth an ancient, mysterious fragrance – but it’s inexplicably overlooked or dialed down by restauranteurs in the States.  We had to learn for ourselves what medicinal herbs to use before we could make a proper bowl of mì vịt tiềm … and then we had to go and alter different pillar of the dish :)

A prototype bowl of Vịt tiềm bí

Common ingredients used to flavor the broth included ngũ vị hương (five spice), nấm đông cô (shiitake), táo tầu (dried jujube), quế (cinnamon) and đại hồi (star anise). The medicinal herbs included huynh ky (huáng qí, Astragalus propinquus root), đương quy (dāngguī, Angelica sinensis root), kỷ tử (gǒuqǐ, goji berry / Lycium chinense fruit), and suynh khôm (chuānxiōn, Ligusticum wallichii root). The last 3 common ingredients and all of the medicinal herbs were included in mì vịt tiềm kits imported from Guangdong. We were happy with results from the kits but if fetishizing minutiae is a hobby for you too, you can also pick up the herbs individually – they would be in less fragmentary pieces and presumably higher grade.

Gia vị thuốc Bắc của mì vịt tiềm - medicinal herbs for tonic duck soup

Duck pieces were marinated in ngũ vị hương, sugar and soy sauce overnight, then given a quick, searing stir frying.

Seared duck legs

Duck meat and bones were cooked in a stock pot with all the spices. The medicinal herbs were used in equal proportions, except suynh khôm of which a half portion was used because its contribution was so strong. The broth was brought to a boil and then simmered on low-medium heat for 1-2 hours until the duck was soft. Chicken broth and additional ngũ vị hương can be added to the pot. We also added shiitake mushroom and dried jujube.

vịt tiềm broth

In our variation on this dish, we cooked the fry-seared duck pieces inside a spaghetti squash. The squash was roasted at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Duck jus from inside the cooked squash was added to the stock pot – this provided more sweetness to the broth and a lovely smoky flavor that blended perfectly with the traditional vịt tiềm fragrance.

Spaghetti squash being stuffed with marinated duck

We used the strands inside the spaghetti squash as our noodles and garnished the bowl with boiled cải rổ (chinese broccoli) – cải rổ was flashed boiled in the broth itself. Another garnish we used and were happy with was bamboo shoots.

a bowl of vịt tiềm bí

vịt tiềm bí was served several times during this past holiday season to our friends and family. Everyone loved that fragrance of authentic vịt tiềm, with or without recognition of the added roasted squash in the mix. The use of spaghetti squash noodles – crunchy and flavorful in its own right – was a fun surprise, but some missed the resilience of grain noodles. We’re working to improve that and have made some progress.

We’ve made do without the chinese medicinal herbs before, but what a joy it was to finally  have a bowl of mì vịt tiềm with that distinctive fragrance of impossibly old port wine and curiosity shop. Personally it recalled happy times as the undisputed runamuck at my grandfather’s clinic and dispensary. We were also happy to come up with a fun variation on the recipe, one which added New World ingredients and flavors without altering the essential identity of the dish.

This is our contribution to the  April Delicious Vietnam food posts round-up started by A food lover’s journey and Ravenous Couple.