It’s been nonstop days of cold & wind, hearty soups, & carbs. I’m really craving for a dish that evokes the warm shores ahead (like a beach in Phu Quoc or ANY warm sandy beach right now is good too). I saw what looks like a grapefruit on steroids at an Asian grocery & knew exactly what to do. This grand daddy of citrus fruit can grow up to the size of a basketball from what I’ve heard. It’s less acidic than most citrus fruit & sweeter than a grapefruit but not as sweet as an orange. Get it?
Pomelo originated in South East Asia. You’ll see bounties of pomelos all over Vietnam & a popular dish called goi buoi (pomelo salad) can be seen at most restaurants & household. Everyone have their own way of making it & often with shrimp added to it. There’s no right way in making pomelo salad. Let your imagination go wild. You can opt out of a salad & eat it like we did growing up by just dipping the pomelo chunks in salt & black pepper mix & nosh on it as a snack. They’re just as good on their own.
I’m going to enjoy my personal expression of it with napa cabbage, carrots, red onions, herbs, and peanut sprinkles to give a textural contrast to the delicate juicy pomelo. Dressing it in soy vinaigrette takes the salad to a bold direction. Eating this bold & zesty pomelo salad will transport me to the warm sun & sandy beach or at least get my body in shape for it. It’s really delicious & refreshing to eat!
Many people think the sizzling crepe called banh xeo is a gift from France, but I think it’s from India. Influences from China, India, Thai, & France are prominent in Vietnamese food. The use of rice flour, turmeric, coconut milk, & mung beans are common in Indian cuisine & not so much in the French pantry. This is enough to justify my belief for it’s influence being more from India. Besides, India have a pancake or crepe version called dosas which utilizes pretty much the same ingredients as banh xeo. No matter, you’ll sure love to devour this delicious savory crepe.
The traditional crepe fillings are slices of meat, shrimp, bean sprouts, mung beans, & onions. We will skip the meat & seafood for meaty mushrooms & creamy mung beans. Don’t skimp out on the mung beans because it gives full-flavored to the crepe & also jazzes up the texture.
We normally eat the crepe as a shared appetizer or first course & then follow by pho (duh of course) or other main dish. Often a vendor will have five crepe pans going all at once & filling it with all types of goodness. Only seconds off the pan we demolished it in seconds enjoying the hot crunchy texture of the crepe. We won’t be cooking 5 crepes all at once but to begin, make sure your pan is super hot & have enough oil so that the batter doesn’t stick & it’ll be easy to fold the crepe over. Don’t fret if you messed up couple times. I sure did. It’s a trial & error but with several tries you’ll get the hang of it. Give it a try & enjoy it with a small army of guests.
Most countries have an iconic dish that represents their culinary culture. In the United States it’s the hamburger, in Italy it’s pasta, Mexico it’s tacos, & in Vietnam it’s pho. You’ll see people eating pho everywhere in Vietnam at any hour of the day from either one of the hawker’s stall or in their own home. Growing up, pho was a breakfast staple for us. Now we love eating it for brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Pho was originated in Hanoi & then spread south to Saigon now known as Ho Chi Minh City. As it reaches HCMC, the flavor becomes more complex and vibrant with more spices & garnish added to the dish. My mom’s version & my aunt’s version is slightly different. My mom’s pho is savory & comforting while my aunt’s pho is spicy & aromatic. Everyone have their own unique twist to it. That’s the fun part of it! But in the end you know you’re eating a delicious bowl of pho.
The two most common types of pho are pho bo (beef pho) & pho ga (chicken pho) with pho bo being the most traditional. The latest addition is pho chai (vegetarian pho) which is increasingly becoming popular. It’s simple & doesn’t take that much time to make. The key thing when making it is to add the spice & the charred onion & ginger. Please don’t omit this step! This will add flavor & full body to your soup.
The recipe is simple to make & you can use short cuts. You can buy your favorite vegetable stock from the market & add seasoning according to your taste (but don’t skip the spice packet & charred onion & ginger). For the tofu, you can buy prefried tofu & just marinade it. Pho is truly a one dish meal that gives comfort & sustenance for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Comfort yourself with a luxurious slurp of pho chai!
1 lb celery
1 1/2 lb yellow onion
1 lb carrots
3/4 lb daikon
3 garlic clove, peeled
4” piece of ginger (charred)
1 medium onion (charred)
salt to taste
soy sauce to taste
Spice mix: 5 star anis, 6 whole cloves, 3 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp black peppercorn, 3 cardamon (optional)
1 block extra firm tofu
1 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tbsp vegetable oil
The garnish mix:
1-2 bunch thai basil
1-2 bunch culantro (optional)
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped 1/2 & leave other half whole
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
2 cups bean sprouts
2-3 jalapenos, thinly sliced
2 limes, cut in wedges
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
For the charred onion & ginger
Turn the stove on high heat. Place the whole onion & ginger on top of the stove top to char. As one side is charred turn it to char on the other side. All sides of the onion & ginger doesn’t have to be charred completely. Once it’s cooked & smelled fragrant remove & set aside.
For the spice mix:
Put the cinnamon, star anis, clove, peppercorn, & cardamom in the pan on medium heat. Heat the spice mix until it’s fragrant (about several minutes) flipping the pan every now & then. Set aside.
For the broth:
Roughly chopped the celery, carrots, yellow onions, & daikon to 1” chunks. Put 2 tbsp vegetable oil into a soup pot on high heat. Add in the chopped vegetables along with 3 clove garlic. Cook on high heat for 5-10 minutes stirring often. Add 8 cups water into the soup pot along with the spice mix, charred onion & ginger, & 2 tbsp sea salt. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes with pot uncover. Strain & discard the vegetables & spice mix. Taste the broth & add soy sauce & salt to taste.
For the tofu:
Remove tofu from its package & place the tofu on a dish. Add weight on top of the tofu with a heavy dish to strain excess water from the tofu for 20 minutes. Drain the water from the tofu every now & then. After most of the water is strained from the tofu, cut it in half crosswise. Put 1/2 cup oil in pan on high heat. Place the tofu in pan & brown on all sides till slightly crispy. Take the tofu out & place on paper towel to drain excess oil. As tofu is cool to handle, cut the tofu in strip to 3/8” thickness. In a mixing bowl, pour in 1/2 cup of teriyaki sauce & 1/8 cup of soy sauce & mix well. Place the tofu into the mix & toss so that the tofu is fully covered with the marinade. Put 1 tbsp into pan on high heat. Pour the marinated tofu & excess marinade into the heated pan & cook for 5 minutes stirring the tofu every now & then. Set aside.
For the noodles:
Follow the instruction on the noodle package.
For the garnish:
Thinly slice the yellow onion & place it in a small bowl. Pour in a tbsp of white vinegar. Set it aside. Thinly slice the scallions & roughly chop 1/2 the cilantro & place all of it in a mixing bowl. Mix it evenly & place it in a small bowl. Set it aside. Arrange nicely on a large plate a pile of thai basil, cilantro, jalapenos, lime wedges, & bean sprouts. Set it aside.
ASSEMBLE & SERVE
Set the garnish out on a table. Place a handful of noodles onto a bowl, arrange pieces of tofu on top. Ladle the broth into the bowl. Pile on top of the pho soup the vinegared onion, scallion/cilantro mix, thai basil, jalapenos, bean sprouts, & squeeze a wedge of lime on top. Amount of garnishes used is up to your preference. Enjoy!