Vietnamese cooking

I had aunique and interesting opportunity offered to me.  A few months ago the Grand Rapids public library asked me to do a cooking presentation/demonstration on Vietnamese cooking in August!  I was a bit concerned since I am the least bit Vietnamese…actually I am 100% Italian!  But the program director knows me and I have done a number of presentations and cooking demonstrations for the library in the past – she likes my energy and knowledge of food and loves the fun way I present to the audience.

Well, I decided to take on the challenge and did alot of research on the subject (for 3 months) learning alot about Vietnamese culture, history as well as learning about their cuisine.  My biggest concern when presenting was having the right knowledge and representing the Vietnamese culture correctly.

I made friends with a fella at our local Asian Market who ended up being Vietnamese and his uncle owns the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city!  His knowledge and the resources of the market was invaluable.

The presentation happened this past Wednesday evening and I was quite nervous going into the presentation…especially when I saw some patrons of the library from the Asian culture in the audience…(seated in the second row).  Well, the presentation ended up going very well and I had such a fun time presenting the material.  The audience (over 35 of them) was very responsive and asked a lot of questions…the best part was when I couldn’t answer some of the questions…two of my Asian “friends” in the audience helped me.  After the presentation was over and guests came to the front to taste the food, I was complimented on how much fun they had and when my two Asian friends specifically complimented me on the dishes prepared and told me I was “spot-on” with the taste, texture and selection of historic significance related to their cultural food – I was so happy!

I ran out of copies of the recipes to hand out so I have included them below for those who attended the presentation and were unable to taste all the food or not able to recieve a copy.

My advise to everyone reading this blog is if you are lucky enough to have an Asian market in your town; take some time and visit!  Try some of the different rices and noodles, explore the sauces and vegetables.  Ask questions and I am sure the people who work there will be willing to help.  They like sharing knowledge about their culture and types of foods they eat – it truly will be an experience and have fun doing it!

Enjoy culture at your dinner table tonight!  Have fun eating – Kathleen


Vietnamese dipping sauce

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 teaspoon ground chili paste

1 fresh thai bird chili, chopped (optional)

2 Tablespoons fish sauce

2/3 cup hot water

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, no need to strain

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons shredded carrots for garnish


1.      Make paste with garlic, chili paste in mortar.  Pound with pestle into a paste.

2.      Combine with remaining ingredients; mixing until sugar is dissolved.

3.      Garnish with shredded carrots.


Hoisin Peanut Sauce

1 cup hoisin sauce

½ cup water

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

¼ cup finely minced onion

½ tablespoon ground chili paste

2 tablespoons chopped roasted/salted peanuts for garnish


1.      Place hoisin sauce, water vinegar and onion in sauce pan and bring to boil; reduce and let simmer for 5 minutes adding a bit of water if too thick.

2.      When cool stir in chili paste and garnish with peanuts.


Rice paper-wrapped salad rolls

12 medium raw shrimp peeled

½ pound pork shoulder trimmed

8 (12-inch) round rice papers (extras may be needed in case some tear)

8 small leafs of lettuce, romaine, red leaf, or iceberg folded into 5”x 1” rectangles

¼ pound rice vermicelli, cooked in boiling water 4-5 minutes, rinsed and drained and tossed     lightly with vegetable oil.

1 cup bean sprouts

18 fresh mint leaves


1.      Cook pork in a medium sauce pan of boiling salted water until tender; about 30 minutes.  Cool and then slice into ¼” x 1” pieces.

2.      Cook shrimp in boiling salted water until just done, about 2 minutes.  Drain and refresh in cool water; cut in half lengthwise; set aside.

3.      Set up a prep station before making rolls by arranging all ingredients in separate bowls and in order of filling.  Work on a large clean counter.

a.       Fill a large bowl with hot water

b.      Line up ingredient as given: rice paper, sliced shrimp, pork slices, lettuce, vermicelli (1 tablespoon/roll), sprouts (1 tablespoon/roll), and mint leaves (3 per roll)

c.       Dip one rice paper disc into bowl; count to 5 and remove; place on counter

d.      Place filling in order given above neatly on top of each other at top third of rice paper working as quickly as you can

e.       Roll top edge of rice paper over ingredients and roll over once.  Then pull sides in together to create a package and then continue rolling making sure you press down on the ingredients and while you roll to ensure a tight package

4.      To serve, slice the rolls in 2 to 4 equal pieces passing Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and Hoisin Peanut Sauce.




Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

2-2 ½ pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed of any visible fat, cut into 4 pieces

3 quarts water

1 ½ tablespoons salt

1 (5-inch) piece fresh ginger, unpeeled

2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered

5 whole star anise

4 whole cloves

1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce

2 ½ tablespoons sugar


Noodles: ½ pound dried small rice sticks, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes; drain



Finest quality top sirloin (raw) (optional)

Yellow onion, sliced paper-thin

Green onion, chopped

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Bean sprouts

Fresh Thai basil sprigs

Limes cut into wedges

Fresh red or green chilies, sliced

Fish sauce


1.      Fill large stockpot with water and bring to a boil; add beef pieces and boil for 5 minutes; remove meat from water and discard water.

2.      Return beef to pot and fill with the 3 quarts of fresh cool water; add salt and bring to a boil.

3.      While stock simmers, dry-roast ginger and onion in fry pan over high heat.  Turning occasionally so skins are evenly charred but not cooked, about 5-8 minutes; remove from heat and add to stock.

4.      Add star anise, cloves, fish sauce, and sugar and continue to simmer until meat is tender, about 1½ hours.

5.      Remove 1 piece of beef from pot and set aside to cool; simmer stock with the remaining meat to create a rich broth, about 30 minutes more.  Remove spices, ginger and onions at this time.  Broth may seem salty but will balance with remaining condiments and noodles.

6.      Arrange condiments on a platter and set aside.  Cut reserved beef into thin slices and serve with condiments.  If using sirloin beef (refrigerate the raw meat until ready to serve), slice into very thin strips and arrange on platter; pour boiling hot broth over top of beef and other select accompaniments and serve immediately.

7.      Serve soup in large soup bowls to hold generous amounts of steaming broth along with noodles (1 part noodles to 4 parts broth) and any accompaniments.




Curried Rice with Lime

3 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups jasmine rice

1 ½ tablespoons curry powder

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ tablespoon salt

2 ½ cups water

2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Zest of 1 lime (optional)

2/3 cup frozen peas, thawed


1.      Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat; add onion and sauté until tender; about 5 minutes.  Add rice, curry powder, turmeric, and salt.  Toss for 2-3 minutes to evenly coat the rice. 

2.      Place water and coconut milk in the rice cooker with the rice mixture.  Stir to combine; cook.

3.      When rice is done stir in peas and lime; replace lid of rice cooker and let sit for 3 minutes; serve.





Siagon salad


5 cloves garlic

1 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

1 red chili

3 tablespoons white sugar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 (12 ounce) package dried rice noodles

2 carrots, julienned

1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and


1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1-2 cups shredded lettuce

1/4 cup unsalted peanuts

4 sprigs fresh mint



Mince the garlic with the cilantro and the chili. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the lime juice, fish sauce or salt and sugar; stir well. Let the sauce sit for 5 minutes.


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles; boil them for 2 minutes. Drain well. Rinse the noodles with cold water until they have cooled. Let them drain again.


Combine the sauce, noodles, carrots, cucumber, mint and lettuce in a large serving bowl. Toss well and serve the salad garnished with the peanuts and mint sprigs.



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