Category Archives: Beverage

Vimila’s Curryblossom Cafe

If you’re in the Triangle and haven’t been to Vimila’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill – you’re missing out!  Delicious and healthy Indian food made with local and fresh ingredients.  I was there for a librarian networking event a few weeks ago, and didn’t have a camera with me – but the food was wonderful. I had a couple of samosas that were light and flaky, served over chana masala (chickpeas). Although I enjoyed my meal, I also experienced some envy of my neighbors’ choices – so I know I need to get back there and try some more things!

With my meal, I ordered the ‘house tea’. This was a fragrant hot tea with the tang and redness of hibiscus and freshness of mint. I liked it so much that I asked if the restaurant would sell the tea mix to take home.  With the gracious hospitality of a local restaurant, the manager made me up a pint to-go container and sold it to me. Isn’t it beautiful?

vimila's tea

It’s basically an equal 3-part mix of hibiscus flowers, lavender blossoms, and mint leaves. I’ve made a few cups-full at home, not only is it a relaxing drink, but it makes the whole room smell wonderful at the same time.

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Limoncello delights

Some of you may know that I don’t like coffee or even coffee-flavored items <gasp!> so tiramisu is a dessert that I don’t eat.  I came across a recipe for limoncello tiramisu and decided to give it a try – a tiramisu I could actually enjoy!  It’s fairly easy to make, you boil a limoncello flavored syrup for a few minutes, and you make a lemon custard. Once everything is cool, ladyfingers are dipped in the syrup and layered with the custard.

The recipe I used was from the cookbook Lidia’s Italy – and is actually available from her website:  http://www.lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/871   It packs a punch, as my co-workers and I found out when I brought this dessert to our lunch together :)  I was starting to wonder if I might get in trouble for bringing this dessert to work!

Limoncello is a lemon-flavored liqueur from Italy. Now that I have a partial bottle remaining, I have to figure out what else I can do with the stuff ;)  Last night, I tried this limoncello cosmopolitan with cran-raspberry juice, vodka and limoncello that turned out pretty good.

I’m thinking of trying a Limoncello Raspberry Float tonight – http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/danny-boome/limoncello-raspberry-float-recipe/index.html  It seems “meant to be”, since I already have both vanilla ice cream and raspberry gelato in my freezer at the moment. Something to look forward to at the end of another hot hot day (104 degrees) in Raleigh!

 

 

Spring Simplicity

Sometimes the best foods can be really simple, as long as you’re starting with fresh, quality ingredients. Strawberry season started this week in North Carolina, and I picked a gallon bucket of beautiful, ripe, warm strawberries right out of the strawberry patch.  This isn’t really a recipe – but with strawberries this good, I don’t need anything fancy.  A scoop of french vanilla ice cream topped with the berries is pretty perfect, all by itself!

Or perhaps this strawberry-mango smoothie that I made for a quick dinner. Fresh strawberries and the salvageable remains of an overripe mango – blended with milk, vanilla ice cream, 3 ice cubes, a splash of rum, drops of vanilla extract, and a Tbsp. of sugar. Delicious!

I also made a lovely roasted beet dish, inspired by a Food Network magazine I was perusing recently. Peel the fresh beets and cut them into cubes, then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast the beets in a single layer at 400F, stirring occasionally, until they are tender, sizzling, and aromatic.  Just before serving (warm or cold), sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese. If you don’t think you like beets, try them this way – they just might change your mind!

Odds and ends

It’s my last week to explore Vietnamese cuisine as October comes to an end, I will soon be on to November in South America!  But before I leave Vietnam, here are a few miscellaneous items that I wanted to share.

Using Lemongrass

Lemongrass is one of those ingredients I had never used until this month, but it’s really quite easy to work with.  This is what it looks like whole.  The botanist in me wants to tell you that it IS an actual grass, native to India.  Look for the stalks with larger stems like this, because for most dishes (unless you’re flavoring a broth and will later remove the tough stems) you want to use only the tender inner part of the stalks.  If you’ve ever used leeks, this is a very similar type of stalk. Trim off the root end, and remove the outer layers of the stem until you get to more tender tissue. Then slice it in half length-wise, and slice those pieces in half, continuing until you have many long thin strips. Cutting across the strips then results in very small minced pieces of lemongrass that should not be tough or noticeable in the final  dish.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, you can also purchase lemongrass already minced up in a tube in the herb section of many grocery stores.  It’s more expensive this way, but convenient.  If you’re only using it occasionally this may be a better option, because it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator or freezer.

Vietnamese coffee

I am not a coffee drinker, but from what I have read and what my friend Minh tells me, Vietnamese prepare coffee one small cup at a time, and the coffee is filtered by gravity through a special filter directly into the cup after a certain amount of steeping.  The French press method is a reasonable substitute, and uses a similar size grind of coffee.  Of course, coffee is yet another item that became popular in Vietnam through French influence and is now very common at breakfast.  It is often served with sweetened condensed milk.

Grilled Pork

Grilled pork and pork chops is a meat that I’ve seen and eaten regularly in Vietnamese restaurants.  The grilled pork can be served over vermicelli or in a Vietnamese submarine sandwich called banh mi.  My family has always enjoyed cooking with pork (I’ve been told it’s a Showalter trait, from my dad’s mother’s family?), so I wanted to learn how to marinate and grill this kind of pork.The recipe I found online called for 2 lbs. of pork shoulder, but since the only shoulders I could find at Kroger were 8+ pounds, I decided to buy a top loin roast instead, it had enough fat marbling to provide some good flavor and worked well for this dish.  I put the roast in the freezer for about an hour to stiffen it up for easier slicing and then sliced it thinly.  I marinated the pork slices for about 1.5 hours in a Ziploc before grilling.  It was a bit too salty when I made it, but here is an adjusted recipe that I think will work well;

Grilled pork – Vietnamese style
2 lbs. thinly sliced pork

6 garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions, minced
4 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Mix together the marinade ingredients to dissolve sugar.  Marinate sliced pork in the mixture for at least 1 hour.  Grill until cooked through and somewhat charred on both sides (5-10 minutes).

Wine shopping

Yesterday was a brief hiatus from Vietnamese cooking, in the interest of a trip to the State Fair for some fried stuff.  It has been a busy week, so I have mainly been eating leftovers from the weekend.  I am, however, planning a small dinner party tomorrow night with a few friends.  I’ll write more about that menu later, with pictures.

In planning for the meal, I wanted to look into appropriate wines to serve with a Vietnamese meal. As you’ll probably remember, there is a heavy French influence in Vietnamese cuisine.  In my reading, I’ve seen that it is more appropriate to serve wine than beer with a Vietnamese meal.  That’s great news for me, since I don’t really like beer anyway.  And better news yet, the best wines to go with this type of meal are sweet white wines – my favorite!

I haven’t done a lot of exploration on my own beyond pinot grigio, so I went to my local wine shop Barley & Vine for some inspiration and assistance.  Back in the spring, I won a $25 gift certificate in a fundraising raffle which I hadn’t used yet.  Before going shopping, I looked up some ideas online and found the following suggestions for a Vietnamese pairing – riesling, pinot gris, gruner veltliner, rose (from Rhone Valley suggested), vouvray, and sancerre.  When I explained what I was looking for, I ended up purchasing the following 2 suggested wines; Steininger Gruner Veltliner Kamptal, and Leitz Rudesheimer Drachenstein Riesling (recommended as a “not too sweet” Riesling).  They’re chilling as we speak, and I look forward to trying them with the meal tomorrow!

Vietnamese proverb:  Good wine must drink together with good friend

Ginger-licious

I love ginger.  I don’t mean that yellow powdered stuff that you put in molasses cookies, gingerbread and pumpkin pie – though those are some of my favorite desserts!  I mean ginger root, or rather rhizome (underground stem) of the plant Zingiber officinale.

Ginger is one of those spices that is so versatile it is used in all kinds of foods — including desserts (fresh and crystallized ginger are amazing in carrot cake, for example), meat marinades, and salad dressings.  Ginger is also promoted as a medicinal herb, just check out this Medline entry for a list of its many suggested health benefits.  As I write this, I am remembering an amazing ice-cold ginger juice that I ordered at a West African restaurant in New Orleans this summer.  The drink was so ginger-spicy that I had to drink some water in between to cool down my tongue – but it was delicious. 

Vietnamese cuisine uses a lot of ginger, often to complement flavors like lemongrass and garlic.  Last night’s dish was Braised Tofu with Ginger, or Dau Hu Kho Gung – another internet recipe.  Therefore, I can’t really vouch for its authenticity, but it has a Vietnamese name and it seemed like an interesting way to cook tofu so I thought I’d give it a try.  The ground pork used in the recipe definitely makes this a non-vegetarian tofu recipe.  A good portion of ginger and garlic are sauteed briefly, then the pork is added until cooked through.  Tofu, chili sauce, onion and fish sauce are added and the dish is covered and cooked for about 15 minutes while the flavors all meld together.  My usual way of preparing tofu involves marinating it before cooking, but the longer cooking time for this dish allowed the tofu to soak up the flavors during cooking.  The dish ended up a bit salty, (I keep forgetting how much salt the fish sauce adds to the dish already) but other than that it was a very flavorful dish.  The ginger flavor was cooked into the dish, so it was not brash like some fresh ginger dishes, but the flavor was definitely there.

I also made this cabbage salad/slaw dish to go with it.  The salad called for one tiny Thai chili sliced thinly, and boy was it a HOT one!  Thai chile rates about 50,000-100,000 units of heat on the Scoville scale, which puts it about 10-20 times hotter than an average jalapeno pepper.  So I ended up with a salty main dish and a spicy-hot salad for dinner, my tastebuds are still tingling a bit…

Back to ginger for one more recipe that I found on the Food Network about a year ago, Ginger Pear Tea.  I have made it a few times, and although it’s not Vietnamese specifically, it is Asian-inspired and easy to make, so I wanted to share it with you.  It’s served cold, and the pear-ginger combination is very refreshing.