Desserts Entrees

Food travels-Vietnam

My mom came to visit for the weekend so I had a cooking partner for this week’s food travels (and what a difference it makes having two people doing the cooking instead of just one). After writing the restaurant review for Le Colonial, I got in the mood for Vietnamese food so I opted for us to “travel” to Vietnam.

Although I go in waves and spurts as to what far flung exotic destination I want to visit next, Vietnam always remains at the top of the list. Images of  Halong Bay and Hanoi’s French Quarter completely spellbind me. And ironically enough, this month’s National Geographic Traveler magazine actually had an article on Hanoi so it seemed like kismet that we “travel” to there with our cooking.

Halong Bay-image courtesy of

We started out by making Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Although the recipe called for chopped raw shrimp and black fungus for the filling, we left those two things out and did everything else instead (bean thread vermicelli, ground pork, onion, scallions, garlic, fish sauce, and salt and pepper).

For the main course we made pho or in English, Beef & Rice Noodle Soup. I had made this once before earlier this year and it was equally as good this time. The oxtail broth is simply delish.

The soup accompaniments (we had red chiles, lime wedges, basil, cilantro, mint leaves, and bean sprouts)

The setup

Pho (Beef & Rice Noodle Soup)


1 (3 lb.) oxtail, cut into pieces

2 stalks lemon grass, chopped

1 large piece ginger root, peeled

1 onion, sliced

5-6 whole star anise

6 cloves

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 lb. flat rice noodles, soaked in hot water 10 minutes, then drained

8-10 oz. sirloin beef steak, cut into small paper-thin slices

Trim off as much excess fat from oxtail as possible. Place pieces in a large pot, add lemon grass, ginger, onion, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon stick, if using. Add 9 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer oxtail at least 2 1/2 hours, skimming the surface occasionally to remove the scum.

Strain the broth and discard the oxtail and flavoring ingredients (the meat from the bones can be used in another dish). Add sugar, salt, and fish sauce to the clear broth, bring back to a boil and simmer 2-3 minutes. (At this stage, the broth can be cooled and refrigerated 1-2 days. The fat can be removed from the top and the broth reheated ready for use.)


4 oz. bean sprouts

1/2 cucumber, thinly shredded

4-5 lettuce leaves, shredded

1 onion, thinly sliced

4 small red chiles, seeded and chopped

2 limes, cut into wedges

Mint, basil and cilantro leaves

Chile sauce

Arrange the accompaniments on a serving platter. Place a portion of the rice noodles in each of the 4-6 large serving bowls.

Bring the beef broth to a rolling boil. Place a few slices of beef steak on top of the noodles and pour in the boiling broth to fill the bowls about three-quarters full. Bring them to the table.

Each person takes a small amount of bean sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, onion, chiles, and herbs and places them on top of the noodles, with a squeeze of lime and more seasonings as desired.

(Makes four-six servings).

Note: For more-cooked steak, cook it in the boiling broth a few minutes. 


For dessert, we made Lychee Sorbet which was really good and decidedly summer. I had never eaten nor made anything with lychees before so it was fun getting to know a new fruit. For anyone not familiar with them, here’s a picture of what they look like unpeeled and peeled:

(The black stuff on it is ground Tahitian vanilla bean that I sprinkled on).


Lychee Sorbet

1/2 lb fresh lychees in their shells or 6 oz. can
1/2 cup syrup (1/2 sugar, 1 1/2 cups water-boil together then let cool)
mint sprigs to decorate

Peel fresh lychees and remove seeds
Place lychees in a processor or blender with syrup and process to a smooth puree
Pour the puree into a freezer proof container and place in the freezer about 2 hours or until almost set
Break up the iced mixture and whip until smooth
Return mixture to the freezer, 30-45 minutes to set until solid
Serve the sorbet, decorate it with mint leaves
(Makes 4-6 servings)

Both recipes are from The Book of Vietnamese Cooking by Deh-Ta Hsiung

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