Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vietnamese Flavors

Vietnamese Cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is defined by the region from which it originates: Northern, Central or Southern Vietnam.  Many ingredients are commonly used in all three regions: fish sauce , soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs , fruits and vegetables.  The fresh herbs commonly available are:   lemongrass , mint , Vietnamese mint , long coriander and Thai basil leaves.
In Northern Vietnam, the colder climate limits the availability of many herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.   To obtain a spicy element to the cuisine, black pepper is used instead of chilies.  It is also not bold in any one element of tastes (sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, or sour), but light and balanced with flavors.   While beef, pork and chicken are fairly limited, freshwater fish, crustaceans, and mollusks (prawns, shrimps, crabs, oysters, mussels) are more widely used. Many popular dishes of Northern Vietnam are crab based; fish sauce, soy sauce, prawn sauce, and lime are among the main flavoring ingredients.
In Central Vietnam, the mountainous terrain creates an abundance of spices and chilies which provide more heat to recipes.  Hue, once the capital of the last dynasty of Vietnam, maintains the culinary tradition of highly decorative and colorful food, reflecting the influence of ancient Vietnamese royal cuisine.
In Southern Vietnam, the warm weather and fertile soil enable the growing of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; as well as livestock breeding.  The cuisine is flavored with more exciting additions such as garlic, shallots, and vibrant fresh herbs.  Sugar and coconut milk are also more often used in Southern cuisine dishes; being influenced by foreign cuisines such as China, India, Thailand, and even the French.

Beef Pho
Pho, pronounced “phuh” (the ph sounds like “f”), is a Vietnamese noodle dish.  Primarily beef is used for the dish, and it serves as a meal that can be eaten at any time (breakfast, lunch or dinner)
1 (8 oz) package rice noodles
2 qts beef broth
½ lb raw rump steak, thinly shredded
1 small onion, peeled and chopped into rings
6 Tbsp. fish sauce
¼ tsp minced garlic
2 fresh hot red or green chile peppers, cut into rings (optional)
½ of a green onion, diced
4 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro and mint
 4 iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and finely shredded
Soak the noodles for 30 minutes in warm water, until just soft; drain and keep warm.  

In a large stockpot, on medium-high heat, bring the beef broth to a boil; add shredded beef and onion rings, cook for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low; add in fish sauce and garlic; cook another 5 minutes.

Ladle beef, onions and broth into bowls; add noodles, chile rings, green onion, cilantro, mint and shredded lettuce.
Makes 4 servings.
Mary Cokenour
March 23, 2011

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