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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Herbal delights

Slightly off the radar, Vietnamese cuisine is full of fresh herbs, clear but flavorful broths, rice noodles and surprisingly doesn't use much oil. I spent the day at Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School in Hoi An to finally get the inside scoop on what makes the national dish so loved. If you're feeling the urge for pho, the recipe (and others) are on their website. 

Herbs are an integral part of the Vietnamese food experience. You'll get a bowlful at nearly every food stand when you order a noodle soup dish, banh cuon (a rice noodle dumpling filled with meat or seafood), banh xeo (rice crepes filled with meat and veggies) and do-it-yourself fresh spring rolls. Our first stop was at an organic herb garden where they used seaweed as fertilizer and crushed mollusk shells for pesticide.

Hot weather herbal antidote - ginger, mint, and lemon basil seed
 The key to a clean and flavorful pho broth is first barbequing the beef ribs and ginger to bring out the flavors. Then you clean off the bones in boiling water before putting in the spiced and onion broth.

The magic of making noodles starts with soaking rice a few hours and blending into a batter. Spread over a thin cloth to steam for less than a minute, cut into thin slices and you've got home made rice noodles.

There's nothing left to do but put it all together - noodles, herbs, thin layer of raw beef and pour the broth over to cook it all. 

Dig in to one-bowl meal heaven

An all purpose marinade, this one worked great with shrimp wrapped in a banana leaf and bbq-ed. Chilies, asian coriander, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, pounded in a mortar and then mix with the shrimp.

Another typical Vietnamese item on a menu is the salad. There are all kinds of salads but my favorite has to be the banana blossom, a cousin to my Thai som tom.  This one included carrots, green papaya and green mango for extra crunch. 

 If you're looking for flavorful and healthy cuisine, Vietnamese is the way to go!

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