India’s Influence On A Few Vietnamese Dishes

Vietnamese Goat Curry

I’ve always liked it when you’re having a friendly, let’s catch up with each other, conversation and something unexpected materializes and puts you on a path that leads you to a destination you’ve been searching for. This happened in early 2013 while having lunch with a friend, and long time Vietnam resident. In between bites of delicious vegetarian Vietnamese food I shared with him that I suspected there were some food related connections between India and Vietnam. A visit to Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu sparked this curiosity when a chef I was speaking with mentioned that there were some older women who sold Vietnamese spring rolls door to door in the older part of the city.  My friend shared with me that one of his closest friends, now living in England, had done her PhD about the Tamil community in Saigon and he would happily connect us. I had found some solid food leads on my own but there were some holes that needed to be filled and small parts of her thesis helped me with some minor, yet, important connections. Finally, this past autumn I spent some time in Saigon and was able to investigate the Indian community there and learn about how they influenced a few dishes in the Vietnamese kitchen.

This result was this article that I wrote for Zester Daily. At the end of the article there is a goat curry recipe Chef Tracey Lister of the Hanoi Cooking Centre learned from a Vietnamese chef in Saigon that she has included in her upcoming book title Real Vietnamese Cooking (to be released in April 2014 by Hardie Grant).

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny soupMulligatawny soup is perhaps one of the most well known Anglo-Indian dishes that came out of the Raj, the period of the British rule of India. Jennifer Brennan’s culinary memoir, Curries and Bugles: A Cookbook of the British Raj, is a solid account of what the cultural and culinary life was like for the British living in India from the late 19th century up to 1947, the time of Indian Independence.  In it she describes how mulligatawny soup is a derivative of South Indian rasam, a watery broth of lentils, ground spices, made slightly sour with tamarind. Since the soup course is not really part of an Indian meal it was most likely a British memsahib (“housewife”), who wanted to offer a unique soup to their guests, and asked her cook to come up with a solution.  It really is that first South Indian cook, and not the memsahib, who should be credited with the innovative idea of merging his staple daily rasam with vegetables and meat to create a satisfying soup.

As the weather turns colder this is a great soup to have as a light meal. This recipe uses local lamb, from La Ferme Albe, but chicken can also be substituted.  Including diced and blanched potatoes, carrots or turnips as a garnish can make this a more substantial soup.  With only a couple of omissions and additions a vegetarian version is quick and easy to make (see end of recipe).

Mulligatawny Soup
Serves: 4
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 pound (1/2 kg.) cubed lamb leg or shoulder; or substitute with chicken thighs on bone
  • 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
  • 16-20 curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne (for mild) or ¾-1 tsp for a kick!
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup masoor dal (split red lentils)
  • 6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
  • 1 (400ml) can of coconut milk
  • 4-6 tbsp tamarind water or to taste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coriander leaves, for garnish
  • Fried onions, for garnish (optional)
In a medium sized pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add curry leaves, garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes. Stir in ground spices, bay leaf and cook for another couple of minutes. Add lamb, salt, pepper and cook until the lamb has changed colour. Toss in tomatoes and red lentils. Cook for another minute then pour in chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.
Cover and cook over low heat for about 45 minutes or until the lamb pieces are fork tender.

While the lamb is gently simmering, place 1 cup of basmati rice in a small pot. Cover with 1 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. When it has reached a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low.
Cook for 12 minutes then turn off the heat. Keep the lid on and allow the rice to steam for another 10 minutes.

Remove lamb pieces from the broth and dice or shred. Set aside.

Remove and discard bay leaf and curry leaves (if some remain, no problem).

Place broth in a blender and puree. Return to pot and keep warm over low heat. Pour in the coconut milk. Stir in tamarind water, to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and tamarind.

Ladle some soup into a bowl. Spoon a ⅓ cup of cooked rice in the centre of soup and top with some diced lamb, coriander leaves and crisp fried onions, if using. Accompany with papadums.

Note: If tamarind liquid not available you can substitute with lime juice to taste.
For Vegetarian Version:

Replace lamb with bite sized pieces of mushrooms.

Replace chicken stock with vegetable stock or water.

Reduce cooking/simmering time to 20 minutes.

Remember to remove and set aside mushrooms before pureeing soup.

Other cooked vegetables (ie boiled cauliflower, fried eggplant or stir fried greens) or pulses (such as cooked chickpeas/ or other pulses) can be added at end as a further garnish.

NOTE: This was originally published on my blog India On My Plate on November 15, 2011

A warming beef and root vegetable curry

Indian beef curry with root vegetablesThis recipe is one that I recently wrote for our local community newspaper.  Inspired by some of the dedicated farmers who sell locally raised, hormone and anti-biotic free meat at the Landsdowne Farmer’s Market. The vegetarian dishes of India are fantastic but so too are many of the meat dishes.  This recipe, one could interpret it as a spiced beef stew, is a good introduction to a simple meat curry.  Play around with the spice combinations to tailor it to your own preferences and tastes. Lamb, pork, bison or elk can be substituted but cooking the time may need to be adjusted.  Typically, vegetables would not be added to such a dish but by doing so you end up with an easy substantial meal.  I love making the curry at this time of year as I find the shades of orange, rust, yellow, white and speckles of green on the plate mimic what is happening in the fields and forests during mid-autumn.

A warming beef and root vegetable curry
Serves: 4
  • 2 pounds (1 kg) stewing beef in 1 ½ inch cubes
  • 2 medium white onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic cloves (3 cloves), finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped plus 1 tbsp julienned ginger for garnish
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder (family friendly); ½ tsp for a spicier curry
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 green chilli- seeds removed- finely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ cups assorted root vegetables (carrots, turnips, potatoes, squash) cut into bite sized pieces
Preheat a heavy bottomed large saucepan at medium heat. Add cumin seeds and dry roast for about 2 minutes or until aromatic and dark brown. Remove cumin seeds and set aside.

Pour vegetable oil into pan and increase heat to medium high. Toss in onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add cayenne powder and cook for 30 seconds or until oil starts to separate from the onions. Add chopped garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in cumin powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add stewing beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes until all of the meat has changed colour and has lightly browned. Toss in tomatoes, green chilli, toasted cumin and a quarter cup of water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes or until tender. Occasionally give the meat a stir. Once the meat is tender, remove the cover and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced but still lightly coats the meat.

While the curry is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Toss in one type of root vegetable and cook until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with other vegetables, if using.

When you are happy with the consistency and tenderness of the curry gently stir in the cooked vegetables. Check and adjust seasoning, if need be. Garnish with julienned ginger and roughly chopped coriander and serve immediately.
  1. The beef curry can be served with rice, naan or homemade paratha.

NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog India On My Plate on November 2, 2011

Beet Tomato Salad, Fenugreek Chicken Curry and Kashmiri Style Poached Apricots

This week throughout the world various religious celebrations have brought family and friends together: Muslims celebrating Eid and Hindus worshipping the elephant God Lord Ganesh with the festival Ganesha Chaturthi. Although I do not practice either religion I still felt it necessary to get some old and new friends together for a celebration.

A slight chill in the air has arrived indicating soon summer will abruptly end. But there is still much work and harvesting to be done in the farmer’s fields. Ripe heirloom tomatoes, multi-coloured beets, fragrant golden apricots and an organic chicken shaped the menu with my friends: a beet, tomato, cumin salad; fenugreek chicken curry; and poached apricots scented with cardamom and saffron.

Indian spiced Beet and tomato salad

Beet Tomato Salad
Serves: 4
For the beet and tomato salad I decided to use golden and ruby beets. In order to preserve their colour each beet variety needs to be cooked separately. Similarly, I used a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes. It is important to try and cut them roughly the same size. Don’t worry if you cannot find fenugreek sprouts as other seedlings can easily be substituted.
  • 1 lb. beets (small or medium sized are preferred)
  • 1 lb. tomatoes
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • ½ cup fenugreek sprouts or micro green sprouts such as radish or sunflower
  • ¼ cup coriander, roughly chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Place beets in a large sized pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium high and cook for about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool for about 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use your hands or paring knife to peel the beets. Cut beets into bite sized wedges or pieces. Place in bowl with cut tomatoes.

While the beets are cooking, core tomatoes and cut into bite sized pieces. Place in a large bowl.

Sprinkle cumin, salt and pepper over cut vegetables. Toss in lemon juice, spring onions and sprouts. Mix the salad well and adjust seasoning if needed.

Garnish with coriander and serve.

A dish of fenugreek chicken, punjabi style
Fenugreek Chicken Curry
Serves: 4
This Punjabi chicken dish is one of my favourites. It is a great dish to serve large groups. I learned how to make it with dried fenugreek leaves, known as kasoori methi. If you are fortunate to get your hands on some fresh fenugreek leaves substitute one large bunch for the dried fenugreek. Simply wash and roughly chop the fresh leaves and proceed as normal for the remainder of the recipe (no need to soak the fresh leaves as required with the dried ones).
  • 1 kg boneless chicken thighs (breast can also be used)
  • 1 ½ cups diced onion
  • 3 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 green cayenne chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 1 box (25 grams) dried fenugreek (kasoori methi)
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 green cardamoms
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ to 1 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (if using canned, do not add liquid from can)
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ½ to 1 cup water
  • Salt, to taste (approx. 1 ½ tsp)

  • For Garnish:
  • A generous pinch of garam masala
  • 2 tbsp ginger, julienned
  • ¼ cup coriander, roughly chopped
Place dried fenugreek in a medium bowl and cover with water. Rehydrate for 20-30 minutes. Drain, discard water and lightly squeeze out any remaining moisture.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Lower heat to medium and stir in ginger, garlic and slit chillies. Cook for 2 minutes. Add whole and ground spices. Cook for another couple of minutes. Add rehydrated fenugreek (or fresh, if using) and tomatoes. Stir fry for a few more minutes. Add chicken, some salt, and cook for another 5 minutes or until most of the pieces have turned white and lost their raw colour.

Stir in yogurt. Add enough water to almost cover the chicken pieces. Cover the pot and bring the curry to a good simmer. Leave the cover slightly ajar, lower the heat and gently for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Adjust seasoning, if needed and garnish with julienned ginger, pinch of garam masala and roughly chopped coriander. Serve with basmati rice, naan or fresh whole wheat chapattis.

Poached apricots is Kashmiri spiced syrup
Poached Apricots, Kashmiri Style
Serves: 4
This is an easy and light dessert. Scented with cardamom and saffron, it can be made with fresh or dried apricots. I like serving it with ice cream or thickened yogurt and a homemade gingersnap cookie.
  • 1 pound fresh apricots (or 18-21 dried apricots)
  • 3 cups water
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
Place sugar, water and lemon juice (if using) in a medium or large sized pot. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium.

While the syrup is coming to a boil remove seeds from the cardamom pods. Discard husks. Place seeds, pinch of saffron in a mortar and pestle and pound to a fine powder. Add to the sugar syrup.

Halve and deseed the apricots. Add to the spiced sugar syrup and bring the syrup back to a boil.
When it has reached the boil, cover and turn off the heat. Set aside and let the apricots steep for about 30 minutes.
Serve warm with thickened yogurt, ice cream or rice pudding- and gingersnap cookies.
If making in advance, put apricots and syrup in a container to cool and for storage in the fridge.

NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog India On My Plate September 02, 2011

Garlic Scape Chicken (Lasuni Murgh)

garlic scapes

Last week we had somewhat of a bittersweet Delhi reunion.  It was fantastic to get the old gang together, particularly since the McW’s were visiting from Australia and the ever growing teenagers were excited for the opening of the newest Harry Potter.   But it was also sad knowing that it would be a long while before we would all be together again as others were preparing for imminent postings to Africa and other adventurous locals.  In planning the menu I decided to have at least one easily recognizable item that everyone would enjoy.  Lasuni Murgh, or garlic chicken, is a standard cocktail item on the diplomatic circuit in Delhi. I thought it would be fun to use the coiled garlic scapes, which snaked their way into my Teamwork CSA box, with the Mariposa Farms chicken I had purchased.

Garlic Scape Chicken (Lasuni Murgh)
Serves: 4
  • One 1.2 kg whole chicken or 750 grams boneless chicken breasts
  • 4 tbsp garlic scape puree (recipe below)
  • 2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), made into powder in spice grinder or mortar/pestle
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
Remove skin from chicken and cut into 8 pieces (4 breast and 4 leg pieces).

In a large bowl, place the garlic scape puree, ginger, fenugreek powder, cumin, turmeric, and lemon juice. (Note: if you are only using regular garlic puree add 2 tbsp vegetable oil to the marinade).

Place chicken pieces into the bowl with marinade, season lightly with salt and pepper and mix well. Place in a separate container or large Ziploc bag to marinate, at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat barbeque. Remove chicken from marinade and season with salt and pepper.
When grilling meats with Indian marinades I like to cook them on the upper rack. I tend to have the flame around medium. I find that this helps in having a slower cook and prevents from flare ups affecting the meat. Lightly oil your grill to prevent the meat from sticking. Grill the chicken on each side until fully cooked (approximately a total of 15 minutes depending on the degree of heat you are using and which grill level you decide to use- this will be less if you are using boneless chicken breasts).

Garlic Scape Puree
  • 2 cups, finely chopped garlic scapes
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup of water
Place chopped garlic scapes, vegetable oil and salt in a blender. Puree. If the mixture seems rough and chunky, scrape down the sides of the blender. Begin to puree and slowly add some of the water. Add only enough water to get the mixture moving. You may need to stop and scrape the inside of the blender a couple of times. You should have a mixture that is somewhat smooth and pureed.
The puree can be kept covered in the fridge for a few days. You can also freeze it in small batches (such as in ice cube trays) and then store in a plastic bag to use at a later date.

NOTE: This was originally published on my blog India On My Plate on July 20, 2011