Sep 11, 2010

I love Vietnamese food so when John and I were in Saigon we attended a cooking class at the Vietnam Cooking Center. It turned out to be a good choice and excellent value. During the three-hour class we learned about Vietnamese culture, how to make several recipes, and it ended with a lunch of the food we cooked – all for $39 USD per person.

The class started out with Ms. Nhu, the interpreter, explaining the various ingredients, spices, and fruits typically used in preparing Vietnamese meals such as dragon fruit and tamarind. We learned about the Kitchen Gods, which are found in all traditional Vietnamese kitchens. It is believed that these gods observe everything that takes place during the year. At the end of the lunar year during the Tet festival, which occurs in late January or early February, the gods depart to make their report to Ngoc Hoang, the Jade Emperor, the supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven. During that time the Kitchen Gods are offered the best food and spices and are presented with gifts of money and clothing.

During the class we prepared several recipes including Caramel Pork in Clay Pot, an everyday dish in the south of Vietnam, and Sweet Green Bean Soup with Seaweed, which is a typical dessert and even though it may not sound wonderful – it is!
Caramel Pork in Clay Pot
1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin, cubed in 1 inch pieces
1 /2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
3 tsp sugar
1 /2 tsp powdered chicken bouillon
1/ 2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp chopped shallots
1 tsp chopped scallions
1-inch long red or green chili chopped
1 cup water
1 small whole green or red chili for garnish
1 tbsp chopped scallion greens for garnish
Marinate pork in a mixture of oil, fish sauce, 2 tsps sugar, chicken powder, pepper, shallots, scallions and chili for 30 minutes. Soak the clay pot in water for 5 minutes to avoid breaking on the stove but any pot will do. Make a caramel syrup by putting oil in a second pot over medium heat, add 1 tsp sugar, and cook, stirring frequently till it dissolves and is golden brown. Remove from heat. In the clay pot add marinated pork and 1-2 tsp of caramel syrup. Cook until the sauce is boiling, stirring frequently. Pour water into the pot and cook until the mixture is boiling again. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened. Remove from stove, garnish with a chili and scallions. Serve with rice. Serves 2-3.

Sweet Green Bean Soup and Seaweed
1 /2 cup mung beans (substitute soy beans, chickpeas, or yellow lentils) soak for
1 hour
1 cup water
1-2 tbsp sugar
1/ 2 tsp salt
2 oz seaweed, washed and julienned (substitute dry ear mushrooms – soak for 30
minutes and julienned)
2 oz canned coconut milk
After the beans have soaked for one hour, cook in 1 cup of water for 15-20 minutes until tender. To the beans add salt and sugar, more or less to one’s preference. Add seaweed and stir 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into serving bowls, and add 1/ 2 tbsp of coconut milk to each serving, and it is ready to enjoy. Another option is to serve it cold by pouring the mixture over crushed ice. Serves 2.