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May01

Weekend food fun

Elaborations on our tweets:

We got together this weekend and worked on a number of dishes, some of which we tweeted about. Select pictures related to those tweets are below:

Weekend discovery #1:

Tea smoked chicken was great paired with oolong flavored xôi/sticky rice

Weekend discovery #2:

Yuzu-mắm tôm (fermented shrimp paste) stir-fry on crispy fried spaghetti squash

Weekend discovery #3:

When nem chua gather in groups, the proper collective noun is covey.

Weekend discovery #4:

Xôi lá dứa w dulce de leche From a street vendor in the Paris of South Amerasia

Apr17

Head-spinning East goes West goes East Bloody Mary (Rượu Pha Nước Cà Chua)

The Vietnamese translation above is literally liquor mixed with tomato juice because there is no way for me to translate Bloody Mary into Vietnamese without being blasphemous.

Bloody Mary is a lovely Sunday morning drink and reputed hangover cure, made with vodka, (sometimes roasted) tomato juice and various spices – most commonly Worcestershire sauce.

Anyway, a month or so ago, a Vietnamese history blog I visit often to disabuse myself of gradeschool-level history mentioned efforts to market Worcestershire sauce in the Far East. Now Worcestershire sauce was attributed to an Englishman bringing back a recipe from the British Far East colonies and attempting to recreate a taste he encountered there. Some decades later, Worcestershire sauce was marketed in Thailand as Western Fish Sauce. Reading the article inspired the idea to make Bloody Mary using Asian ingredients.

Tomatoes on a bed of chopped onions and sea salt - ready for roasting

Worcestershire sauce is made with primarily tamarind, anchovies, chile pepper, sugar (high fructose corn syrup in the US), and clove. The ingredients up to sugar are easy to substitute – altogether that’s just nước mắm me (fish sauce with tamarind). Clove is harder replace, and it’s one of the defining components of Worcestershire sauce. I ended up making a tea of 10 clove pieces and 20 pepper corns in a shot glass to titrate into my drink.

Tomatoes cut in half were laid on a bed of chopped onions and sea salt and roasted at 375 until the outside were charred. Tomatoes and onions were then blended with wasabi (horseradish traditionally) and lemon juice and chilled overnight (forgot to strain juice to get the seeds and other chunks out.)

Roasted tomatoes

Tamarind fish sauce were made from a semi-dry tamarind block, softened and rehydrated with boiling water – about 1/3 of a cup for a 1 inch cube. After straining, fish sauce and sugar and chopped garlic were added to taste. That’s nước mắm me. The sauce was then blended to make a smooth liquid to add to the tomato juice.

I also had some ponzu sauce (a Japanese sauce made of soy sauce, rice cooking wine, and fragrant Yuzu lemons) on hand, so I made another Worcestershire sauce equivalent using ponzu and adding ume-boshi (Japanese pickled plums) for added tartness.

A tall cold glass of stock solution: shochu + tomato juice.

To make the stock solution, equal parts chilled tomato juice and shochu were mixed together. Each type of Bloody Mary was made by adding a tablespoon of the appropriate spices (Worcestershire sauce or the equivalent) and a dash of homemade tương ớt (chilli sauce, Vietnamese style) to a glass of stock solution

  1. The traditional preparation Bloody Mary with Worcestershire sauce was nice as expected. Hints of the wasabi and tương ớt made a small difference, but Worcestershire sauce and tomato flavors dominated.
  2. Bloody Mary made with ponzu sauce was missing umami and the fragrance of yuzu lemon was disproportionately strong.
  3. Bloody Mary made with nước mắm me tasted great, biting, savory and sweet. But it was missing the spicy edge of clove. Adding clove tea didn’t work as clove and nước mắm me were unhappy to share space together.

An East meets West meets East Bloody Mary

Ultimately, my favorite nontraditional Bloody Mary made with traditional Asian ingredients to replace Worcestershire sauce because Worcestershire sauce was originally inspired by Asian ingredients (see, head-spinning) was made with 3 teaspoons of nước mắm me and 1 teaspoon of ponzu/ume-boshi sauce. I never noticed it before, but the distinctive fragrance of yuzu lemons could almost be described as citrusy and clovey. Diluted in nước mắm me, that fragrance was more well-behaved and gave a distinctive Bloody Mary that hit most of the same spots as the traditional recipe. A garnish of rau răm completed the East to West back to East transformation.

Apr05

Tofu-misozuke: time course experiment + a squash blossom dish

We fell in love with tofu misozuke at our first taste of 6-month aged tofu. So far, none of our tofu-misozuke has lasted that long, either due to failure or over-consumption of successful batches. This experiment is designed to ensure at least 1 block will make it to 6 months. Plus, it’ll allow us to keep track of the changes beyond the 2-month mark, which we know so far is the minimum required for a firm block of tofu to become creamy.

tofu-misozuke: time course experiment

The above 2 Pyrex containers hold 4 blocks of tofu. Each block is wrapped in 2 layers of cheesecloth and covered in the same miso mix. They’ll be unwrapped at 3, 4, 5 and 6 months (1 at each milestone). I cut the amount of miso used in half, in an effort to cut down on the saltiness of the finished product. Let’s hope it’ll work.

Another reason we are running this time course experiment is that even though our first batch was creamy and incredibly tasty at 2-month mark, it became slightly bitter a month later (3 months). We couldn’t think of explanations for this development, so we want to see if this is reproducible.

Not pictured is another Pyrex container holding 2 soft blocks of tofu, similarly wrapped in cheese cloth and covered in miso. These soft blocks will be incubated for 1 and 2 months. From our previous batch, we know that soft tofu became creamy starting at 2 weeks (the core was still not creamy enough in such a short time, though. The whole block needed at least 3 weeks), so we won’t need to run this part of the experiment much longer than that. Plus, a shorter incubation period is probably better for soft tofu to preserve the fresh and light taste (similar to fresh cheese).

That’s the experiment I just set up this morning. In summary, I’ll have 1 block of tofu to enjoy every month (starting with soft tofu) :) and will report how the taste changes with time.

A side note: the Mountain View farmers’ market is starting to have these fresh and incredibly inviting squash blossoms. I couldn’t help myself and had to buy a box last Sunday. After thinking through different possibilities, I was compelled :) to create this dish: marinated thinly sliced beef with a few drops of yuzu, wrapped each slice around a cube of tofu misozuke (some slices had tofu misozuke smeared on) and stuffed each slice in a squash blossom.

tofu-misozuke wrapped in yuzu-marinated beef stuffed in squash blossoms

Here’s a whole plate, before going into the oven (some torn blossoms were wrapped in beef slices instead). I had more flowers than originally thought, so there was a mix of different types in this plate:

– squash blossoms stuffed with tofu-misozuke cube wrapped in yuzu-marinated beef

– squash blossoms stuffed with yuzu-marinated beef smeared with tofu misozuke

– squash blossoms stuffed with tofu-misozuke wrapped in beef

– squash blossoms stuffed with beef

– squash blossoms wrapped in beef slices

squash blossoms - before broiling

In the end, I definitely loved the first combination the best. The combination of tastes and textures in each bite was amazing: the sweetness of squash blossom was followed by the refreshingly light taste of yuzu combined with the soft texture and savoriness of beef, which was then followed by a burst of the creamy tofu-misozuke center. The bite ends with the mingling of yuzu and miso flavors, which was a good combination as long as the amount of yuzu used was small.

broiled squash blossoms