Good Morning Vietnam

On the menu:

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Slow Cooked Vietnamese Lamb Shanks, Sesame Roast Sweet Potato, GABA rice 
Banh Flan (Vietnamese Coconut Creme Caramel)

I adore Asian food. But don’t cook it often enough. Vietnamese is my favourite, as I find it the freshest and lightest of all Asian cuisines.

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Having a glut cooked chicken breasts in the freezer, a tried and tested Vietnamese chicken salad beckoned. Combine cooked chicken, carrots and Chinese cabbage. Add dressing. Job’s a good’un. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity though. This salad is fresh, juicy and packs a punch

I recently upgraded my trusty Multicooker. So I’ve been playing around with it for sous-vide, and I’ve tested it as a deep-fryer. But I hadn’t tried it as a slow cooker yet. Lamb shanks are perfect to put it to the test. With the heady aromas of fish sauce, lime, chilli and star anise and a side of GABA rice. Main course sorted!

GABA Rice is a recent discovery for me. And I’m a convert. Forget everything you thought you knew about the cardboard experience that is brown rice.

Also called Germinated Brown Rice (GBR), sprouted GABA rice is wholegrain rice which is naturally germinated before milling. The germination process encourages production of vitamins, nutrients and amino acids such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), lysine, tocotrienols, magnesium and zinc. It has a softer texture than brown rice and a nuttier flavour.

Some scientific studies show that a germinated brown rice rich diet can improve cognitive function. Other emerging research has found that it could also act as an anti-diabetic, as it may contain compounds that promote blood sugar control

GABA rice is apparently less irritating to the digestive tract and less likely to promote allergic reactions than regular rice. Its nutrients are believed to be better absorbed.

Whether or not it’s actually healthier than bog-standard brown rice remains to be proven in the long term. But if you’re having trouble making the switch from white to brown rice, you may find the taste and texture of GABA rice a good alternative.

Enough of the nutritional stuff. What about dessert!?!?

Bizarrely, creme caramel is hugely popular in Vietnam, due to the historic connection of Vietnam with France in colonial times. Known as Banh Flan, Banh Kem or Kem Flan, it’s made with coconut milk and traditionally steamed, as many Vietnamese households did not have ovens. Steaming results in lots of little holes in the creme caramel. As I prefer a smoother texture, I opted for the classic Bain Marie method (oven water bath).

In Vietnam, creme caramel is often served topped with crushed ice. It is said to counterbalance the sweetness of the caramel. It may also be to chill it back down, as it may have been standing around on a market stall in hot humid conditions for some time (not many fridges in Vietnamese markets).

I have a fridge. So I scattered mine with desiccated coconut and lime zest instead.

THE RECIPES

Vietnamese chicken salad (serves 4 – DF GF RSF LC)

Based on a recipe from The Complete Asian Cookbook published by Bay Books ISBN 1-74045-269)

This simple salad isn’t a looker, but it’s super easy to make and has great flavour impact.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Ingredients

3 cooked chicken breasts, roughly shredded (left over Sunday roast will do. Or poach chicken breasts in water and reserve the cooking liquid for the next time you make chicken stock, using it instead of water. I did mine sous vide at 60 C for 1 ½ hrs)

1 red or green chilli, seeds in or out to taste, finely chopped

60 ml lime juice (approx. 2 limes)

2 tbsp coconut palm sugar (I use Biona. You can use soft brown sugar if preferred)

60 ml fish sauce (check the label, not all are GF)

½ Chinese cabbage, finely shredded

2-3 carrots, peeled and grated

A good handful of bean sprouts

A handful of fresh mint, finely chopped

Method

Combine the chilli, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce (I used a mini food processor). Add more or less of each to taste.

When ready to serve, combine the chicken, cabbage, carrots, beansprouts and mint with the dressing . Pile high onto 4 plates and serve straight away.

Any left overs can be stir fried the next day.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Lamb stock (GF DF RSF LC)

Ingredients

500-700 gr lamb bones

A tbsp or 2 of rapeseed oil

3-4 carrots

3 garlic cloves

1/3 of a bunch of celery

2-3 onions (red or white)

A couple of bay leaves, fresh or dried

Fresh parsley (I had some left over chives, so chucked those in too)

A few black peppercorns

Method

Make this the day before you need it.

Roast off the lamb bones with a drizzle of oil in a 200 C oven for 45-60 mins.

I don’t bother with peeling and finely chopping vegetables for a stock unless I need the stock to look pale. Just wash, scrub, roughly chop and chuck them, skin and all,  into a little oil to sweat  off over a low-medium heat until starting to brown at the edges (about 20-30 mins). Add the roasted lamb bones and juices and sweat together for another 10 mins . Then add the herbs, peppercorns and enough water to generously cover.

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Simmer uncovered over a very low heat for 6-8 hrs, skimming off any scum as you go. Add more water if needed to keep the bones and veg fully immersed.

Drain through a sieve lined with kitchen paper, muslin or a clean J-cloth.

Store the stock in the fridge overnight.  Any fat will coagulate on the top, so you can easily scoop it off the next day. This can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Note I don’t put salt in stock. I find it difficult to judge when and how much to put in without it getting overpowering once the stock simmers for hours.  Instead, I add salt to taste when I use the stock in a dish, soup or sauce.

Use the same recipe for chicken stock, adding some thyme if you have it.

My efforts yielded just under 900 ml.

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Vietnamese lamb shank and sweet potato ( serves 4 – GF DF RSF LC)

Based on a recipe from Diana Henry

Slow-cooker Vietnamese lamb shank

Ingredients

1 tbsp raw virgin coconut oil (I use Biona)

4 lamb shanks, about 350g each

2 onions, peeled, and chopped

2 tbsp fresh root ginger, unpeeled if ultra fresh) finely chopped or grated

3 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped or crushed

2 red chillies, seeded or unseeded (1 chopped for the sauce, 1 thinly sliced for garnish.  I used 2 unseeded Thai red chilies, and some whole ones for decoration. For ease, I combined the chilli for the sauce with roughly chopped peeled garlic and ginger in a mini food processor)

1-2 tbsp coconut palm sugar (you can use soft brown sugar)

3 whole star anise

2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, bruised with a couple of whacks with the blade of a cook’s knife

700 ml-1.2 l lamb stock (I used 900 ml, which was plenty)

2 tbsp tomato paste (I like Duchy organic)

1-2 large carrots, peeled and cut into cubes

3-4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes

1-2 tbsp sesame oil (optional, if roasting the sweet potatoes)

½ tin full-fat coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce (check your fish sauce label, not all are GF)

The juice of 2 limes (heat them in the microwave on high for 30 sec and they will yield more juice. Be careful, as they explode if overheated. Very messy)

A handful of fresh mint, coriander and basil (get Thai basil if you can)’ roughly torn or cut into a chiffonade (thin strips)

S&P

Method

Heat oven to 140 C.

Season the lamb shanks generously with S&P. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wide heavy-bottomed casserole and brown the shanks in batches on all sides. Remove to a plate.

Fry the onions for a couple of minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Turn the heat down and cook for 2-3 mins. Add 1 tbsp of sugar, stir, then add the star anise, lemongrass, stock, tomato paste, and seasoning. Bring to the boil.

Add the lamb back in, together with any juices, cover and cook in the oven for minimum 3-5 hrs.

Add the coconut milk and the carrots about an hour before serving. Taste and add more sugar or tomato paste if needed.

The original recipe suggests you add the sweet potatoes at this stage too, but if you have a separate oven, I suggest roasting the sweet potato with some sesame oil at 200 C for 40-45 mins.

The lamb should be completely tender and almost falling off the bones. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice and 1 tsp sugar. Adjust to taste with S&P if needed.  Serve with the roasted sweet potato cubes and scatter with the mint, basil (coriander if using) and the sliced or extra chili to garnish.

Vietnamese chicken salad

This sauce is quite thin. If you like a thicker sauce, remove some of it before serving and reduce, or add a cornflour-water paste to thicken.

Left over sauce can be frozen or whizzed up in a food processor with left over sweet potato to be served as a spicy soup. The bones can be used for your next lot of lamb stock

Multicooker or slow cooker method:

If using a multicooker, follow the method above, except use the multicooker for the frying off stages, then cook on low for 6-8 hrs, or on high for 3-4 hrs. Add the carrots about 1-1 1/2 hrs  before serving. Roast the sweet potato cubes separately.

If using a slow cooker, fry off the lamb and veg in a separate pan, add to the slow cooker and proceed as per multicooker above after that.

Banh Flan (Vietnamese coconut creme caramel) (serves  4 – GF V RSF LC)

Vietnamese creme caramel

Don’t be intimidated by the picture. This recipe is easier than it looks. Coconut palm sugar is more nutritious than refined sugar and adds depth of colour and flavour, reminiscent of molasses. The caramel will not set in the ramekins the way a refined sugar caramel would. But don’t worry, just pour the custard over the cooled caramel and it will be alright on the night.

The original recipe serves 8, so I halved the recipe

Ingredients

For the caramel:

115 gr coconut palm sugar (you can use refined sugar if preferred)

40 ml water

For the custard:

200 ml full-fat coconut milk

190 ml full-fat milk (make it dairy free by using a good non-dairy alternative)

3 eggs, lightly whisked, but without creating bubbles (I used duck eggs)

50 gr coconut palm sugar

½ tsp vanilla paste

Lime zest and desiccated coconut to garnish (toasted if you like)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Combine the palm sugar with the water in a small sauce pan, stir until dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high, and boil for 3-5 mins, stirring occasionally. You may also need to scrape down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush.

Divide the caramel over 4 oven proof ramekins or dariole moulds. Let it cool for 5-10 mins while you make the custard.

Whisk the coconut milk with the eggs, palm sugar, milk and vanilla paste. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug and pour over the caramel in the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a deep baking dish and pour enough boiling water around them to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 35-40 mins until just set.

Carefully remove from the oven, remove the ramekins from the hot water and let them cool. Cover and chill in the fridge for minimum 2 hrs or overnight.

When ready to serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of each ramekin.  Place a small plate on top, invert and give a short sharp shake up and down, holding both plate and ramekin. You should now be able to carefully remove the ramekin and enjoy the pool of golden caramel oozing onto the plate around your flan.

Scatter over some desiccated coconut and lime zest.

Vietnamese creme caramel

Easy coconut creme caramel with lime

Vietnamese creme caramel

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