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Bun Cha

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This tasty meatball dish was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s 2016 episode with president Obama in Hanoi. For very good reason—super delicious when paired with cold beer.

Ingredients for 4 to 6 generous servings

Meatballs

  • 1 kilo of ground pork 
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small red onion 
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (nam pla)
  • Ground black pepper

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/2 cup of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of fish sauce
  • 5 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 5 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 red chili pepper, finely chopped or to taste

Other

  • 1 package of rice vermicelli
  • Fresh greens such as lettuce, cilantro, basil, mint, bean sprouts

Directions

  1. Finely chop the lemongrass, garlic, and onions.
  2. Mix together with the meat, sugar, fish sauce, and pepper and allow to marinate for 1/2 hour. 
  3. Meanwhile prepare the dipping sauce and the plate with fresh greens. This sauce should be sweet, salty, tangy, and umami. Feel free to play with the proportions.
  4. Bring a pot of water to boil and immerse the vermicelli for about 3-4 minutes until soft. Drain and set into individual bowls. It’s normal that these noodles become sticky and clumpy. They will loosen with the sauce.
  5. Form little meatballs and flatten slightly. They are wonderful grilled over charcoal but a shallow fry pan is also fine.
  6. This is served by layering the noodles, the meatballs, the greens, and sauce.

Slurping encouraged.


French Onion Soup

Chef's corner header

With these few details, you will have a complex layering of flavors and the ultimate bowl of comfort worthy of any French chef.

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 1 liter of stock, traditionally beef but a rich vegetable stock is great too
  • 6 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 dash of nutmeg
  • 1 dash of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of brandy or vermouth or white wine
  • 8 thin slices of toasted French baguette
  • 4 to 6 slices of Swiss cheese like Gruyere,
  • Emmenthaler, or Baby Swiss

Directions

  1. Slowly caramelize the onions in the olive oil for about 20 minutes until it reaches a deep brown color.
  2. Deglaze the pan with the brandy and then add the stock and seasonings.
  3. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and then discard the bay leaf.

To assemble in bowls

Ladle the soup into heat proof bowls, top with 2 bread slices per bowl, distribute the cheese on top of floating bread slices and place under broiler for 5 to 10 minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Allow to cool very slightly before serving.


Crunchy Vietnamese Salad

Chef's corner headerThe sweet-tangy fish sauce dressing is key to this refreshing chicken salad that can be served either as a starter or a light meal.

Ingredients for 4 to 6 servings

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of Asian fish sauce (Nam Pla)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of white distilled vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of water
  • 1 red chili pepper, finely chopped or to taste

Combine these ingredients until sugar is dissolved and set aside.

Salad

  • 2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken meat
  • 2 cups of shredded cabbage
  • ½ cup of shredded carrot
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • Small amount of vegetable oil for frying
  • ½ cup of coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup of coarsely chopped herbs such as mint, basil, or saw-toothed cilantro (culantro coyote)
  • ¼ cup of coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts

Directions

  1. Fry half of the red onion until crispy and set aside.
  2. Combine all salad and dressing ingredients.
  3. Top with fried red onion and peanuts.
  4. Feel free to garnish with more lime wedges and chili peppers.

Spam Musubi

Chef's corner headerFrom the aloha state of Hawaii, this sweet-savory combo of sushi and processed meat is the ultimate quick bite lunch on-the-go.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of spam (can substitute with firm tofu)
  • ¼ cup of thick teriyaki sauce (or mirin, sugar, and soy sauce)
  • 2 cups of Japanese short grain rice
  • 5 sheets of nori seaweed folded into thirds, letter-style and then cut with scissors

Directions

  1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear and cook in rice cooker or deep pan in 2 cups of water. Cook until water is absorbed, fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
  2. Open the can of spam and slice horizontally about seven times. Clean and save the can.
  3. Spray a non-stick frying pan and fry the spam for a few minutes until slightly crispy. Brush spam abundantly with teriyaki sauce.
  4. Line the empty can with plastic wrap and place 1/3 cup of cooked rice in the bottom and top with one slice of spam. Press down firmly before pulling out the plastic wrap. You should have 2 compact layers of rice and spam.
  5. Wrap in 1 piece of cut nori and press down using the rice side to make it all stick together.

Enjoy!


Mexican Street Corn (Elotes)

Chef's corner headerGrilled sweet corn slathered with cream, then dusted with cheese and chili powder (tajin) is a perfect side dish for your next fiesta. Can be served on or off the cob.

Ingredients

  • 3 ears of shucked sweet corn
  • ½ cup of sour cream or natilla
  • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • ½ cup of parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon of tajin pepper powder or to taste

Directions

  1. Grilling the corn is the best method for extra smokiness, but boiling also works. 
  2. In a bowl, mix the cream with mayonnaise, and in a separate shallow plate mix the parmesan with the tajin.
  3. Brush the warm cobs with cream mixture before rolling in cheese until entirely covered.
  4. Garnish with cilantro.

If you opt for serving the corn off the cob and in little bowls, cut off the cooked kernels and mix with cream and then top with cheese, tajin, and cilantro.


Two Favorite Homemade Hot Sauces

Chef's corner headerQuite often, a good hot sauce will brighten up any meal in a pinch.

Colombian Aji Salsa 

Process these simple ingredients for a fresh and spicy boost to empanadas, rice, fish, chicken, veggies, guacamole.

Ingredients

  • One ripe tomato cut into cubes
  • One small to medium yellow onion
  • One stalk of green onions
  • One Habanero pepper, seeds removed (any other pepper will work, amounts can vary)
  • 1 cup of chopped cilantro, stems included
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar (or any other vinegar, you can also only use lime juice)
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Use the “pulse” setting for a coarse texture. This salsa keeps for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Moroccan Harissa

This smoky peppery paste will kick up your vegetables, proteins, soups, and such.
Keeps for several weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.

Ingredients

  • 3 Mexican Guajillo chilies, cleaned of seeds and stems
  • 1 fresh red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 whole chipotle in adobo
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ cup of olive oil

Directions

  1. Roast the fresh red pepper in a hot oven or over a griddle until the skin is charred and the flesh is cooked. Discard skin and seeds.
  2. Coarsely chop the cleaned Guajillo peppers to facilitate the blending. 
  3. Dry fry the caraway, cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant.
  4. Place spices in a blender to pulverize and add the Guajillo chilies to blend until fine.
  5. Gradually add the rest of the ingredients using the olive oil to finish the emulsion. The flavors will optimize overnight.

Octopus Salad

Chef's corner headerThis is my spin on a Portuguese salad and a refreshing way to enjoy this underrated protein.

Ingredients

(For 6 to 8 servings)

  • 1 kilo of raw octopus
  • 1 medium, yellow onion chopped into small squares
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 6 sun dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar or apple cider or white balsamic or any good quality light colored vinegar.
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro (can substitute for parsley if desired)

Directions

To tenderize octopus, you must immerse in boiling salted water for 45 minutes. Cool down, rinse off, and cut into small chunks. There might be a little cartilage in the head cavity which needs to be removed. Mix with remaining ingredients and allow to mellow in fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving.


Thai Beef Salad

Chef's corner headerLet’s welcome our hot season with a light and crunchy salad whose dressing is pure umami, also great for repurposing leftover steaks or other proteins.

Here is a simple and interesting steak marinade if you’re not using leftovers.

Steak

  • 400 grams or 1 lb of tender beef (tenderloin or sirloin)
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 cleaned cilantro roots
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of oil

Salad

  • Lettuce
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Small thinly sliced red onion
  • Handful of coriander and mint leaves
  • Chopped peanuts for garnish

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Fresh chili peppers to taste

Instructions

  1. Finely grind the garlic, cilantro roots, pepper and oil and marinate steaks for 20 minutes.
  2. Grill to medium rare and thinly slice, allow to cool.
  3. Assemble salad, top with sliced meat, pour dressing over and garnish with peanuts.
  4. Serve immediately.

Portuguese Carrot Cake

Chef's corner headerThis is the easiest carrot cake recipe ever! The only equipment needed is a food processor, a Bundt pan, and of course, a hot oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and then cut into chunks
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • Soft butter and 1\3 cup flour for greasing pan

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Prepare Bundt pan with soft butter and 1/3 cup of flour
  3. Sift the 2 cups of flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside
  4. Place the carrot chunks, eggs, oil, and sugar into the food processor. Process for 2 minutes until the carrots are well grated and the texture is creamy.
  5. Mix the sifted flour together with the carrot mixture and pour into pan.
  6. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until a knife comes out clean and the edges are golden

This cake is very moist and can be served plain or glazed. Here are some ideas:

Butter-rum: 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of melted butter, 3 tablespoons of rum, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Orange: 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of melted butter, 3 to 4 tablespoons of orange juice, orange zest
Caramel sauce: 1 cup of light brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract 


Cornbread, Chorizo, Cranberry, and Pecan Stuffing

Chef's corner headerThis is arguably the best and the easiest stuffing that will draw you compliments into the next year! 
Day-old homemade cornbread is optimal, but the box mix is also fine. Toasting and drying the bread cubes is a main step towards that perfect texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried craisins
  • 10 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups room-temperature chicken stock 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Toast pecans in oven for 8 minutes. Toast cornbread bread cubes for 15 minutes turning around in pan several times.
  2. Brown chorizo in skillet, transfer to bowl with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add onion, celery, garlic, sage, and craisins to skillet and fry until fragrant.
  4. Turn off heat and scrape the pan well before mixing with chorizo, bread cubes, and toasted pecans.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs with the chicken stock and pour over the stuffing along with the melted butter. Mix well.
  6. You can use this mixture to stuff the turkey’s cavity, or bake separately in a prepared pan for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thai Crisp Fried Noodles (Mee Krob)

Chef's corner header
Here’s a twist in the Thai noodle category. If you’re a fan of these flavors, try to source the Kaffir lime (fruit and leaves) which is a fascinating ingredient. Our local “limon mandarina” makes an adequate substitute.

The crunchy-chewy texture of the fried vermicelli pairs up superbly with those sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors that we love so much.

Ingredients (8 to 10 portions)

For Noodles

  • 1 package of rice vermicelli noodles (400 to 450 grams depending on which brand)
  • Oil for frying

Thai Crisp Fried NoodlesFor Sauce

  • 8 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice*
  • 2 tablespoons of Sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of lime zest (Kaffir limes if possible )

Optional Add Ons

  • Fried egg
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Cooked meats such as chicken or pork
  • Thinly sliced and lightly cooked veggies such as carrot, peppers, and scallions
  • Thinly sliced red chili peppers
  • Chopped nuts such as peanuts or cashews
  • Fresh cilantro leaves sprinkled on top to finish
  • Very thinly sliced and fried lime leaves (Kaffir limes if possible )
Kaffir lime

Kaffir Lime

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a deep pan or wok. Working in small batches, fry the noodles. This is a quick process since they will puff out immediately. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
  2. Pour out hot oil except for 3 tablespoons and gently fry the chopped garlic. 
  3. Add all of the sauce ingredients stirring to dissolve.
  4. Prepare the add-ons separately. 
  5. For the final assembly, coat the noodles with the warm sauce and mix in the other ingredients. Mee Krob is generally considered like a salad and served room temperature.

Indian Red Lentils (dal)

Chef's corner headerIndian spices and coconut milk jazz up these little legumes superbly. In less than 15 minutes you can make a flavorful plant-based bowl of comfort packed with protein and nutrients. Any lentils can be used for this recipe, although the red ones become naturally creamy, nutty, and quick to cook.

Ingredients for 6 to 10 bowls

  • 2 tbs coconut oil
  • 2 medium white onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 chili pepper without seeds and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups of red lentils
  • 3 cups of water or stock
  • 1 tsp powdered turmeric
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1 tsp powdered coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala or a curry powder of your choice
  • 1 can (400 ml) of coconut milk
  • 500 grams of tomato puree (passata)
  • Juice of one lime or to taste
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Indian Red LentilsTo serve

  • Cooked rice (basmati is ideal)
  • Yogurt (or vegan version)
  • Chopped cilantro or mint
  • Toasted sesame seeds, slivered almonds or chopped pistachios
  • Lime wedges
  • Bread (ideally naan or pita, but baguette is nice too)

Directions

  1. Heat the coconut oil and fry onions until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, chili pepper and fry for one minute before adding the lentils, water, spices, and tomato puree. Make sure to stir often scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid burning.
  3. After about 5 minutes, when the stew is nice and thick, add the coconut milk, lime juice, then adjust the seasonings.
  4. Add more water or stock if necessary, since lentils tend to absorb great amounts of liquid.
  5. Ladle into bowls and serve with the accompaniments listed above.

Easy Morrocan Chicken with Lemon & Olives

Chef's corner headerWhen our local limes (limones messinos) turn yellow, preserving them in salt will deepen the flavors of this recipe. Just cut them in half lengthwise, rub with abundant sea salt and store in a jar in the fridge. You can also omit this step and use fresh, ripe limes and the results will be equally delicious.

Ingredients for 4-6 portions

  • 1½ kilos of boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 1 tbs garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Peel of 3 preserved lemons or of 1 fresh one
  • 4 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1 medium size yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup of lime juice
  • ½ cup of chicken stock
  • Handful of pitted olives with a little brine
  • Fresh parsley or coriander for garnish
  • Toasted slivered almonds for garnish

Morrocan chicken with lemon and olivesDirections

  1. Marinate the thighs for a few hours in the paprika, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and ginger.
  2. In a large pan, brown the thighs in batches and set aside.
  3. Using the same pan, fry the garlic and onion.
  4. Cut the thighs into large chunks and return to pan with lemon peel and juice.
  5. Stir for a few minutes before adding the stock and the olives.
  6. Allow the gravy to thicken and garnish with parsley and slivered almonds.

    Good accompaniments are rice or couscous. In the photograph, I used Israeli couscous and braised fennel.


Homemade Queso Dip & the Easiest Epic Nachos

Chef's corner headerThe world of nachos is full of possibilities and shortcuts. However, the real game-changer is a homemade and creamy queso dip made with your best cheeses on hand.

Queso dip: 8-10 portions

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 finely sliced green onion with some of the green slices reserved for garnish
  • 1 finely chopped whole jalapeño or to taste
  • 1 small cubed roma tomato
  • 1 can of 315 g or 11/3 cups of evaporated milk
  • 225 grams of shredded cheddar (or any melting cheese such as Monterey Jack, gouda, or our local Monte Rico)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs cornstarch 
  • ½ tsp powdered cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

Cheese dipInstructions

  1. In a thick bottomed pan, melt butter, sweat the onions, the garlic, the green onions, the chopped jalapeños, the tomatoes, the cumin, the cayenne, and allow to boil.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch into the evaporated milk until fully dissolved and then pour into the hot pan to combine the entire mixture thoroughly for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Turn down heat and let thicken while stirring gently.

NachosNachos

  1. Find a sturdy tortilla chip, I recommend a local brand such as “Rafaelitas.”
  2. Layer the tortillas with some queso dip, shredded cheese, cooked beans and/or shredded meat.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes until chips are golden and cheese is melted.
  4. Top with any of these options: pico de gallo, salsa, guacamole or avocado cubes, cilantro leaves, a dollop of sour cream. Great for entertaining on the fly!

Aloo Gobi – Potatoes & Cauliflower Curry

Chef's corner headerTake these ordinary vegetables on a “drab to fab” journey with this classic Indian curry made famous by the 2002 movie “Bend it like Beckham.” Serve it with paratha flatbread or any bread, or a little basmati rice.

Ingredients for 6 to 8 portions

  • 4 tablespoons of olive, coconut, or your favorite cooking oil
  • 3 to 4 medium to large potatoes cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges
  • 1 medium sized cauliflower cut into florets
  • 2 teaspoons of whole cumin seeds
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 whole medium diced tomatoes
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander seeds (found in farmer’s market)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne flakes or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of powdered turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala (Garam masala is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamon, and the recipes may vary.)
  • Chopped green chili peppers for more heat (optional)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Small handful of curry leaves (It is sometimes possible in our area to find fresh leaves from the curry plant. They add a sharp and nutty component.)
  • Coriander leaves for garnish

Aloo Gobi - Potatoes and Cauliflower Curry

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil to medium-hot in a wide lidded pan. Add cumin seeds. Once they start popping, add potatoes.
  2. Once the potatoes are translucent, remove them with a slotted spoon, repeat with cauliflower and also remove.
  3. Add oil to pan in necessary to fry the onions, the curry leaves if available, then add the garlic and tomatoes, all the dry spices, and simmer while stirring often until you can see the oil pooling on the surface.
  4. Once this takes about 8 to 10 minutes, add potatoes and the cauliflower, and stir gently while adjusting the flavors with salt, lime juice, and peppers.
  5. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.

Quick paratha flatbread

  1. Sift 1½ cups of whole wheat or all-purpose flour with ½ teaspoon of salt.
  2. Make a well and gently stir in ⅔ to ¾ cup of water until a stiff dough forms.
  3. Shape into a ball and let rest for 20 minutes in a bowl covered with a damp cloth.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.
  5. Lightly flour hands and surface and roll each piece into a 5 inch (13 cm) disc.
  6. Brush with a little oil or ghee or melted butter and place in a heated comal or frying pan until golden on each side.
  7. Serve immediately after brushing both sides again with oil or melted butter.