As a part of this project, I would like to host at least one dinner per month where I invite local friends to help me savor the world’s cuisines. So when I remembered that I had the day off on Friday, I invited some of my volleyball friends to join me for dinner that night. I forgot to take a picture of the whole spread before we started eating, but here you can see their happy faces towards the end of the meal :) From left to right, there are Ben, baby Heidi, Shannon, Julia, and Kha – who happens to be Vietnamese.
We did an “assemble-your-own” vermicelli meal. Rice noodles come in all sizes and thicknesses, just like the wheat pasta that we are more familiar with in the U.S. A thin rice noodle is called vermicelli, and it is used in soups and salads, and in this case a base for many different toppings. I made some vermicelli and three main toppings: grilled pork, lemongrass beef (recipe shared previously on this blog), and a spicy lemongrass tofu. One of the main garnishes is a bunch of different herbs and greens.
I had some romaine lettuce in the middle of my “table salad”, with cilantro, mint, thai basil, and rau ram, or Vietnamese coriander which I found at Grand Asia market. Assembly of the bowl starts with noodles and one of the proteins, topped with a bunch of herbs, and garnished with carrots, cucumber, peanuts, and bean sprouts. Nuoc cham (fish sauce with chili and lime juice) is most often used as what we might call a “dressing”, but I also provided a hoisin/peanut butter sauce as a non-spicy flavoring.
Dessert options are limited in Vietnamese cuisine, but I found a recipe for Coconut Creme Caramel (Banh Gan) in the book Authentic Vietnamese Cooking. It is very similar to a French Creme Caramel or a Flan, though as you can see in the picture, it’s not as brown on the top as it should be. That was my mistake from not cooking the caramel long enough! The custard is made from coconut milk, milk, eggs and sugar and then baked slowly in a water bath until the individual custards firm up. I really enjoyed this dessert, the coconut-flavored custard was smooth and the syrup provided just enough sweetness without being overly sugary. Fresh fruit is also a nice addition to this dessert, which I discovered as I ate the leftovers with sliced strawberries the next day. I’ll have to try it again with a darker caramel, which would give it a depth of flavor that was missing this time around.
I had a lot of fun preparing and sharing the meal with friends, and I think they did too! So local friends, be ready for your invitation sometime during the year, I’ll try to spread the love throughout my church, volleyball and work friends :)