Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feasting with Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

Last May I reviewed Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Beyond the Great Wall, and for the review I made a huge family meal with a menu and recipes taken from the book. It was a hugely successful meal, and BtGW is still on my shelves, still one of the nicest books I own. At Christmas, I was given an Amazon gift certificate by a very generous friend, and one of the books I chose was the volume written before BtGW by the same authors. On Saturday, I made a Vietnamese meal for my family - and it was another resounding success.

Hot Sour Salty Sweet takes us on a culinary journey through southeast Asia and encompasses dishes from not only Vietnam but Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, and southern China. These countries and their widely varied cultures have on thing in commong: the Mekong River and its tributaries. As with BtGW, HSSW is part cookbook, part travel book, and part photographic ecstacy. The authors blend recipes in with stories of their travels throughout the region and epic photography that'll just make you want to jump on the next plane to Asia. It's on par with BtGW for sure, and I'm just as stoked about having it on my shelves. The recipes were also just as fabulous.

I decided on a mainly Vietnamese menu consisting of (recipes without page numbers are my own):

Salad Rolls
Must-have Vietnamese Table Sauce (p. 28)
Vietnamese Herb and Salad Plate (p. 68), which included Carrot & Daikon Pickled Salad (p. 85)
Deep-fried Rice Balls (p.105)
Baked Vietnamese Chicken*
Aromatic Lemongrass Patties (p. 251)
Banana & Coconut Pudding*

* Recipes to appear in a forthcoming post.

The idea behind the herb & salad plate is, as the authors describe in the recipe: "to wrap, to accompany, to enhance, or to alter the other dishes, or [the herbs and veggies] are simply eaten on their own. The salad platter gives each person a chance to vary tastes and textures, mouthful by mouthful, as the various herbs and salad vegetables complement the cooked food with fresh flavours."

My herb and salad plate included:

Fresh Mint, basil, and cilantro
Lettuce leaves
Lime wedges
Carrot & Daikon Pickled Salad
Bean sprouts
Cucumber slices

Well, it certainly isn't lettuce season in these parts, I can tell you that. The lettuce at the local overpriced grocery store was crappy and expensive, so head lettuce it was. Other than that, this was a fresh, attractive way around which to centre a meal.

The Aromatic Lemongrass Patties were not a recipe from Vietnam, but from Laos. They were really easy to make and tasted great. I didn't use fresh lemongrass, but opted instead to go for a less expensive alternative, lemongrass powder. My local ovepriced grocery store sold this powder in its bulk section, so I decided to try it out. Although I think it lacked the punch of fresh lemongrass, it was certainly aromatic and tasty.

Aromatic Lemongrass Patties (adapted by me)

1lb ground pork
2 green onions, finely chopped
salt & pepper
1 tbsp lemongrass powder

Combine all ingredients by hand and form into small patties (I got about a dozen because I used some of the ground pork for my Dad's salad rolls since he won't eat shrimp). Grill on BBQ or indoor grill for 6 - 7 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

I rarely deep fry anything, but I was compelled to do so by the recipe for Deep-fried Jasmine Rice Balls, also a dish from Laos, though the authors say they might originally be Vietnamese. These treats are apparently common street food in Laos and Vietnam, and normally they're served with herbs, pork, and a sauce. They went perfectly with the herb & salad plate.

Deep-fried Jasmine Rice Balls (adapted slightly by me)

1 large egg
4 cups cooked jasmine rice
1/2 tsp each salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1 tsp lemongrass powder (I had exactly this amount remaining after making my other dishes with it)
Oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl, combine rice, coconut, seasonings. Add the egg and mix together by hand so egg is evenly distributed throughout the rice mixture. Using wet hands, form into 10 - 15 balls. I chose smaller ones since I was deep-frying in my wok.

You'll need enough oil to get a depth of 1 1/2 - 2" in the bottom of whatever pan or wok you use. Heat to the oil shimmery. Drop a small clump of rice in to see what happens: the oil is ready when the rice sinks and then immediately rises back to the surface, while gently browning. Slide the balls carefully into the oil and fry, in batches, until deep golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve with herb & salad plate and Vietnamese Must-have Table Sauce.

Here is a round-up of the rest of the meal:

Shrimp salad rolls, containing bean threads, lettuce, carrot, mint, and shrimp. I served these with a Thai peanut dip I had kicking around my fridge in addition to the Must-have Table Sauce.

This was a chicken recipe that I totally whipped up on my own, using the Must-have Table Sauce as a guide. It was the best part of the meal! I'll be posting the recipe soon - I promise!

I didn't quite know what to serve for dessert as the sweet recipes didn't look like they'd go over well with my family, but a recipe for Bananas in Coconut Cream caught my eye on page 298. I made my own, quicker, cheaper version using Jello's coconut cream pie filling. A recipe for this will be posted soon, too. This was a great dessert, actually, and as you can see, I am not above resorting to using such shortcuts at all - but only once in a while!

As with BtGW, I highly recommend Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. It's pricey, but it's worth it. It's not just a book, it's an experience!

To see the rest of the pictures, a nice and convenient Flickr set has been created for your viewing pleasure, here.


Meg said...

It all looks so delicious! I love the title....that describes all the elements of my favorite dishes!

Bellini Valli said...

The entire meal sounds amazing from start to finish.

Cherie said...

Selfishly I wish I lived next door to you so I could smell the food - and maybe, just maybe be invited over to see and taste it. ;)

It looks fantastic, WC!

The Lemongrass patties and rice balls look especially good to me today. And the salad, as daikon is one of my favorites.

Sara said...

Everything looks amazing, I've heard great things about this book.

Joie de vivre said...

Looks like a great book!

Pierce said...

You should open your own catering company. Everything you make looks great!


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