Vietnamese Shrimp Pho

To toot my own horn, this is the best Pho I’ve eaten in my life (I stole the recipe from here). It was incredibly flavorful, but none of the spices were too overpowering. You could taste the accents of fresh lemongrass, the intensity of the fresh herbs, the saltiness of the fish sauce, and the sharpness of the garlic.

However, Jon thought the Pho was too difficult to eat with the flat spoons and forks we have in the house we’re renting, and I think this influenced his views on the dish.

Jon’s Review: “This is really tasty, but don’t make this if you’re in a hurry; it takes forever to eat!”

I adapted my pho recipe from this website, because it only had five-star reviews. The high ratings are entirely deserved.

Ingredients (serves two):

  • 3 birds-eye chilis, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, sliced open with the side of a knife
  • 2 cm piece of ginger, skin removed and squashed slightly
  • 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally
  • 4 mug-fulls of water
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock.
  • 3 tbsp of fish sauce (also called nam pla)
  • handful of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 package of cooked shrimp, tails removed
  • 1/2 package of thick rice noodles
  • handful of bean sprouts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Instructions

  1. Put the water and veggie stock cubes into a medium size pan. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger and two of the chilis and boil for about 15 minutes to create the basic broth. Taste it and, if necessary, add more sliced chilis. Turn down the heat, cover the pan and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes. This will allow the flavors to mesh together. Taste the broth again. Add about one mug-full of water, if the flavors are too strong.
  2. Add the prawns to the soup, and add three chopped spring onions, the fish sauce, the beansprouts and the herbs. Reserve a little of each herb for garnishing. Put the lid back on the pan, and leave it whilst you carry out step 3.
  3. In a pan of boiling water, add the rice noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Drain. Then, remove the lemongrass, ginger and garlic from the soup.
    Divide the cooked noodles between two deep bowls. Pour the soup over the noodles. Garnish with a little of the cilantro and mint leaves, a few slices of red chili and spring onion. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Gỏi cuốn – Vietnamese cold spring rolls

This was the dish that inspired me to test out some more Vietnamese recipes. I used to eat rice paper spring rolls pretty often as a kid, but I hadn’t had them in years until I tried one out in a cafe in Shoreditch last week. Basically, Vietnamese cold spring rolls are a way of disguising extremely healthy raw vegetables into something even more delicious. I served the ones I made this week with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce.

I made this spring roll recipe with mint and shrimp, but you could also make it with cooked salmon and dill, or with tofu.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really surprised how well these ingredients all go together.”

Ingredients:

  • Cooked, peeled shrimp (about three per spring roll)
  • Vietnamese or Thai rice vermicilli, cooked
  • 1 package of rice paper for spring rolls (sold in most major grocery stores)
  • 1 head of lettuce, diced
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed.
  • fish sauce
  • white vinegar

Carefully slide one piece of dry rice paper wrapper on a plate, and run the plate under very hot water from the kitchen sink tap. The rice paper wrapper will change in texture, from firm and stiff to delicate and soft. Pour off water from the plate, and put aside.

On one end of the now soft rice paper, place a small mound of vermicilli, lettuce, carrots, shrimp, and mint. Sprinkle with vinegar and fish sauce. Very carefully and gently pick up one end of the rice paper, and wrap the spring roll tightly, as if you were making a burrito. Here is a picture, to help you get it right!

A half-way rolled spring roll.
A half-way rolled spring roll.

Serve with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce. You can also fry a diced shallot until crispy in a frying pan, and sprinkle the crispy bits on top of the spring roll.

Recipe: Bánh xèo – Vietnamese pancakes

There’s some debate over when this dish originated in Vietnam. Some link it to French colonialism, but others claim it’s a dish with more of a South Indian influence. Regardless, it’s absolutely delicious and seriously competes with French buckwheat galettes on my mental list of best pancakes.

It’s almost unbelievable that this recipe works so well. The banh xeo pancake batter is mainly just rice flour, coconut milk, water. No eggs! No flour!

That said, it took me a little trial and error to make the pancakes go from yummy to phenomenal, and I share all the tips in the recipe below. The pancakes are best when they’re paper thin and super crispy.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really shocked that a pancake without egg and flour can taste this good”

Ingredients:

Pancake Batter

  • About 250-300 g of rice flour (I used a little over half of a 400 g package)
  • About 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • 2-3 green scallions, chopped (you can use a little more of the green part than you would normally)
  • about a teaspoon of tumeric

Other ingredients:

  • pre-cooked shrimp, tails removed (about 5 per pancake)
  • a handful of bean sprouts, blanched
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • a big pat of butter
  • for serving: vinegar and fish sauce.

To make the batter, mix about 250 g of rice flour with about 2 1/2 cups of water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2-3 chopped scallions and a teaspoon of tumeric. These are just estimates. You want the batter to be about the consistency of milk. Too thick, and you’ll get a gooey pancake (this was a mistake I made on the first try!).

Once the batter is ready to go, melt a big pat of butter in a non-stick pan, and add the diced onion. Saute so that the pan is coated generously with butter, and the onion is cooked. Next, add a thin layer of batter. And I mean thin! You want to have to shake the pan to get the batter to coat it thoroughly. If you’ve done this right, the batter will bubble and turn crispy (see the pictures of the “right” and the “wrong” amount of batter below). After about one minute, add the shrimp on one half of the pancake, along with the pre-cooked bean sprouts. Cook until the batter is cooked through, and turns from pastel colored to dark yellow. Then, flip half the pancake over (omelet style) and slide onto a plate. Serve with your favorite Vietnamese seasonings (I used a mix of vinegar and fish sauce, but you could also use siracha). The pancake might need a pinch of salt on top, to round everything out – you’re call.

This is based on this recipe.

As promised, here are pictures of the right and wrong ways to make these pancakes:

THE RIGHT WAY:

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Look at the edges – see the bubbles and the crispiness? Of course, the batter still needs to cook through.

THE WRONG WAY:

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See how this pancake is just a little too thick? The edges are a lot thicker. There is more batter in the middle. It won’t taste as good.

Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Shrimp

I’ve taken a few days off from creative cooking. This week, I was busy preparing my first academic paper based on my MPhil dissertation findings for a human rights research conference in London. With that done and dusted, the culinary food travels are back up and running.

We had a heavy night out on the town last night – one of Jon’s friends from Newcastle came down to London for a visit. Afterwards, I was craving some healthy comfort food for dinner. This Jamaican Jerk Shrimp recipe turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

This was the first time I’ve tried jerk seasoning. When I first opened the seasoning jar to smell it, I was worried it might be too sweet. But, it was actually really good – the sweetness dissolved into the shrimp. The combination of jerk spices, shrimp, and onions is pretty magnificent. You can use jerk seasoning on barbeque skewers as well.

Jon’s Review: “MMMMMMM!!! THIS IS DELICIOUS! This is really fantastic… You should make this again.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1 package of pre-cooked shrimp, defrosted
  • 2 teaspoon Jerk seasoning (approximate). If jerk seasoning is not available in your grocery store, you can make your own mix.
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tomato, chopped (optional)

On medium or high heat, saute butter in a saucepan or wok with onion, garlic, and jerk seasoning. Stir occasionally, until onions are cooked and somewhat charred. Next, add in the shrimp, coating in the seasoning and mixing with the onions. Cook for approximately 1-2 minutes. When the shrimp is cooked through, add the chopped tomato, and stir until it soaks up the spices. Serve with rice, or other Jamaican side dishes.

Review: Pham Sushi – Best Sushi in London?

I’m about to wrap up Jamaican cooking week, but thought I’d add a new London restaurant review to the mix – Pham Sushi. I am a complete sushi addict. Hands down, my favorite thing about growing up in Los Angeles was the delicious and cheap sushi at places like Noshi Sushi, and I’ve been missing good sushi like crazy over here in England.

This month, Jon and I tried out a few sushi places in London, and Pham is definitely our favorite place in the city so far. Pham operates both a formal restaurant and a more low key sushi takeway shop across the street. The fish is incredibly juicy and fresh – it really melts in your mouth. Both times that we went, I ordered a bento box and sake, and Jon ordered Japanese beer and the house sushi special.

The bento box comes with different types of nigiri sushi everyday. One time it came with mackerel nigiri which was absolutely AMAZING – a perfect mix of slightly salty fish and sour vinegared rice. It would never have occurred to me to order mackerel sushi, but now it’s one of my favorites.

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Jon’s House Sushi Platter

Jon’s Review: “This is possibly what God would make if he was a sushi chef.”

Pham Sushi, 159 Whitecross St  London, Greater London EC1Y 8JL, 020 7251 6336, Near Old Street Tube Stop. Closed Sundays.

Other sushi places we tried this month, which weren’t as good as Pham were: Eat Tokyo near Piccadilly Circus, the all you can eat sushi buffet at Hi Sushi in Covent Garden, and Ichiban in Brixton.

Japan Centre near Green Park actually has great cheap sushi for takeaway, and they also sell a wide range of Japanese products. Japan Centre’s sushi is a great cheap snack before a West End theatre show! Definitely better than comparable takeout sushi options Wasabi and Yo Sushi.

Recipe: Jamaican Callaloo

IMG_3695This was SO DELICIOUS. It’s probably the yummiest Jamaican dish I’ve tried out this week. My guess is that it’s only a matter of time before the NY Times starts writing yuppie lifestyle pieces about callaloo.

This Jamaican callaloo recipe kind of tastes like a Jamaican version of collard greens. The callaloo is slightly bitter but not overwhelming, the scotch bonnet chili gives the dish a little kick, and the creamy coconut milk and cooked tomatoes round everything out.

I used canned callaloo to keep things simple. Apparently, in Jamaica callaloo can be cooked with salted cod or crab meat as well. I decided to stick with a basic recipe.

Jon’s Review: “While I normally have moral objections to vegetables, I’ll make an exception for this.”

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The Jamaican callaloo served with other Jamaican leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can callaloo
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/3 scotch bonnet pepper (or a milder pepper, if preferred!)
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/3 can coconut milk
  • salt and pepper
  • oil or butter

Saute onion, garlic, scotch bonnet and thyme with butter. After a few minutes, add the chopped tomato, and cook for approximately 3 minutes. Next, add the drained canned callaloo and saute until cooked through. Finish by adding about a third of a can of coconut milk (just eyeball this- enough to soak into the greens, but not too much to overwhelm the dish). Mix the coconut milk in well. Season and serve.

Recipe: Jamaican Peas and Rice

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I actually made Jamaican peas and rice once before. I cooked a big vegetarian feast for my 23rd birthday awhile back, and served this as a side dish. Peas and rice is a perfect complement to the other Jamaican recipes I’ve been trialing this week – I ate it with ackee and saltfish, and the flavors went well together.

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Rice and peas with saltfish and ackee.

Jon’s Review: “Yeah, this was tasty.”

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (approximate)
  • chopped yellow onion
  • 4 diced garlic cloves
  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 whole scotch bonnet chili (it will be used whole)
  • pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a pot and add onions. Saute for about 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic and uncooked rice and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the  salt, water, stock and coconut milk and stir. add the kidney beans and sprinkle with thyme. Also add the whole scotch bonnet. Simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover. The rice should be done after 15-20 minutes. When done, remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork. Discard the scotch bonnet before eating (or you can eat it if you’re a total masochist).

The recipe I used is based on this recipe.

Recipe: Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish

IMG_3684I remember reading about “ackee and saltfish” in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth – the character Clara was always cooking it. But until I moved to Brixton (a London neighborhood with a huge Afro-Caribbean influence) I had no idea what this dish actually was, and I certainly hadn’t tasted it.

After some googling, I found out that saltfish and ackee is actually the national dish of Jamaica, and it’s usually eaten for breakfast. Also, ackee is an exciting ingredient – apparently raw ackee is banned from the United States because parts of the plants are poisonous (the importation of canned ackee into the US is carefully regulated).

So, to kick off Jamaican cooking week we had ackee and saltfish for dinner tonight. It was great. The ackee isn’t particularly flavorful, but blends really well with the other ingredients.

Here’s Jon’s review: “This is delicious. It tastes like we’re having scrambled eggs for dinner, and I love scrambled eggs.”

Recipe:

Important Note – Unlike most of the recipes I blog about, this one is a bit time intensive. You have to soak the saltfish in cool water for 8 hours, or overnight before cooking. Some recipes skip this step, but it definitely eliminated a lot of the salt, and made the fish taste great.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of saltfish (the one I bought was 300 g, and the saltfish was skinned and de-boned. I used pollack, but cod saltfish would also work)
  • 1 can of ackee, drained
  • 1/2 scotch bonnet pepper
  • butter (for cooking)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • about 1 tsbp of fresh thyme.

Advance preparation: Rinse salt off the saltfish and put the fish in a tupperware container. Cover with cold water and let soak either overnight or for 8 hours. Change the water several times during the period to remove excess salt.

Drain the fish. Then, gently simmer in a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes. While the fish is cooking, chop the onion, green pepper, hot chili pepper and tomato. Put aside. Then after two minutes, remove the fish from the heat, drain the pan, and let cool. Afterward, remove the skin and bones of the fish (if there are any) and flake the fish.

Finally, onto the main cooking bit – Stir fry the onion, green pepper, the scotch bonnet  and thyme in a big saucepan or wok for a few minutes, until the green pepper looks nearly cooked. Then, add tomato and flaked fish and cook for about 10 more minutes. Next, add the drained ackee and continue to cook until the ackee is hot. Stir gently, as the ackee can be a bit delicate. Serve with plantains, rice, or potatoes.

Recipe: Easy Seafood Paella

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The other night I made a quick seafood paella for dinner. It was the first time I’ve attempted paella, and it turned out really well! I eat seafood, but not meat, so this recipe differs from traditional recipes in that it does not include chorizo. We live near a great fish market, so I’m looking forward to making the dish again soon!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack of mixed seafood (shrimp, calamari etc), defrosted
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 diced onion
  • tumeric
  • dried ground coriander
  • paprika
  • salt and other spices to taste.
  • 2 limes.

Saute onion with tumeric, coriander, paprika, and other spices until onions are well-cooked. Add dried rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (approx 5 minutes). Add 2 cups of vegetable stock and cover until rice is cooked. When finished, add mixed seafood and peas, sprinkle with paprika, and add the juice of one lime. Serve with lime and other seasonings as desired.

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