Hanoi Social Supper Club Does the Tango

Last autumn I had a diner who was interested in attending one of the supper clubs but sadly by the time she enquired about availability the dinner was fully booked. Not wanting to disappoint friends and guests I then decided that the first person to be on the waitlist was guaranteed two places at the next supper club. In talking with this person, now my new friend Natalia, I learned that she was from Argentina and I suggested that we should do an Argentinian themed night. After a few months of finding a mutually available date we organized the latest installment of the Hanoi Social Supper Club featuring the cuisine of Argentina.

Hanoi Social Supper Club Argentina Dinner Invitation

Natalia and I met to discuss the menu with me already having some ideas in mind based on some research online and my regular visits to the wet market to see what is in season. Having never been to Argentina I felt it was important to have Natalia’s culinary and cultural input. We decided upon a menu theme of an informal family Sunday lunch or visit to a bodegon or neighbourhood bistro. A few years back reading the 2009 Saveur 100 issue the image of the dish matambre, or ‘hunger killer’, a browned, then braised flank steak rolled around cooked carrots, spinach and hard boiled eggs caught my eye and has remained on my never ending list of dishes I would like to make. Last year I was reminded of this dish, while enjoying another Saveur article by fellow Canadian David Sax, about his lunch experiences in Buenos Aires. Natalia was happy with my initial ideas and shared some necessary suggestions to ensure the right Argentinian flavours. Our menu for the evening was:

Chicken, Potato, Olive Empanadas

Roasted Mushrooms stuffed with Chorizo and Smoked Cheese

Chimichurri Sauce

Matambre

Russian Salad

Roast Beetroot, Arugula, Goat Cheese Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

 

Caramel Flan with Dulce De Leche

Fresh Tropical Fruits

As the appetizers were handed out Natalia shared with the supper club how Argentinian food was heavily influenced from Italian and Spanish immigrants yet adapted with the products available in Argentina. As we were ensconced on the second floor of a café in the middle of Hanoi we needed something to transport us to gorgeous landscapes of Argentina. So we projected the film Caballos Salvajes on the wall during the meal.

The folks at The Perennial Plate, Mirra and Daniel, produce fantastic short videos about the culture of food based on their interactions with chefs, farmers, such as these Argentinian cattle ranchers, and producers around the world. Just as I was searching for stories or videos to share with my guests they released a couple of videos about food in Argentina. Keep watch on their site as I believe they are editing a few more.

Natalia and her latina friends were extremely happy with how the meal looked and tasted joking that I must have had an Argentinian grandmother providing me guidance in the kitchen.

A Few Notes On Making Matambre

Rolled, cooked and sliced matambreIf you’re interested in trying the matambre recipe the Saveur recipe link above is worth using as a template, as I did. Below are some additional tips based on my experience.

Since it is hard to get a nice cut of flank steak here in Vietnam I ended up purchasing a whole rump/ top butt and then butchering it in to smaller sized roasts. I then gradually cut it on an angle, rolling it out to be relatively flat. Pounding the meat, no matter, what cut is a must to get it thinner.

cooked spinach and onions layered over pounded meat for Argentinian matambreIngredients for matambre, rolled Argentinian beef dish

Braise the Vegetables to Enhance Their Flavour

Instead of simply boiling the vegetables, I decided to braise them slowly in some butter and water. First the whole carrots until tender enough to cut with a spoon. I followed this with some leeks, as the ones at the markets here are about the thickness of a thumb – so a perfect addition to the dish. If you want to do this with larger leeks, first braise the entire leek first, you probably will have to cut the length of the leek down. Once cooked tender cut the leek in half lengthwise to make it more manageable for the dish. I also decided to braise some peeled garlic cloves (say one or two whole bulbs worth for the Saveur recipe).  All of the recipes I consulted indicated to add the spinach raw. Instead, I briefly boiled the spinach, refreshed it and then squeezed out all of the water and roughly chopped it. I thinly sliced an onion and then sautéed it for about 5 minutes before mixing it with the spinach.

Rolled and tied matambreBrowned matambre in braising pan

Tie It Tight

As the recipe says, it is important to tie the kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals to keep the roll together during the searing and cooking.

Great Picnic Fare

Lastly, instead of serving this hot or warm, I let it cool down and served it at room temperature, primarily since the days and nights are getting hot and humid in Hanoi and I thought it would be a nice change to start eating this way.

If you try making the matambre let me know how it turned out or feel free to ask any questions before attempting the recipe.

 

Green Mango Mulberry Crisp

Green Mangoes and bicycle in Hanoi

At this time of year in Hanoi, green mangoes are everywhere. Not that I want to escape them but it seems that I can’t go two hundred feet without coming across a woman from the country side standing beside her bicycle with a bamboo basket full of green mangoes. Each green mango laden bicycle I pass prompts me to mull over potential recipes and flavor combinations. Should it be a spicy, Thai inspired salad, always a favourite or a small batch of sweet sour Indian green mango chutney equally good for an Indian meal or as an accompaniment for some good cheese or grilled meat?

Last week my wife had informed me that we were off to our friend’s house for dinner and that we needed to take dessert. That day was already quite packed and so I needed something quick and easy to make. Coming back from the market on my trusty red Vespa I spotted a basket of the elusive burgundy, scarlet and claret berries for which I had been keeping my eye out. The beginning of green mango season coincides with the very short mulberry season and so upon spotting the more difficult to find berries I immediately knew what I was going to make.

Mulberries in springtime

I bought a few handfuls of the mulberries and 3 green mangoes from another vendor just a few yards away and I was set. Keeping in mind that the dish would need to be child friendly, I decided to add a couple of apples to the mix. I had tricked my kids earlier in the week by serving them a green mango mint cooler, aam pudina panna, by leaving out the ‘green’ in the name but I wasn’t sure that they were going to want to eat this dessert if there wasn’t something in the title that they were familiar. Plus, I wanted something slightly sweet to counter the tartness from the green mangoes and the mulberries. The apples would also add some needed pectin to the dish. To the crust I added some freshly grated coconut to bring a tropical nuttiness to the dish.

In the end the older kids, ages 8, 10 and early 40s devoured the dessert but the two 5 year olds weren’t so interested. Don’t make the mistake I did which was forgetting some vanilla ice cream to disguise fact that there were some fruits the younger kids weren’t fully comfortable with. If you are living outside of Asia for the next few months you should be able to find some green mangoes at your local Asian shops. As different berries, or even rhubarb, come in season you can easily substitute them for the mulberries.

Green Mango Mulberry Crisp
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups mulberries
  • 2 pounds (1 kg.) or 3 whole green mangoes
  • 2 sweet apples
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant or pearl tapioca (or substitute same amount of tapioca flour or regular flour)
Crisp Topping
  • ⅓ cup oats
  • ½ cup grated coconut, unsweetened
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F/ 190C.
  2. Cut off any small twigs, if any, from the mulberries. Fill a large bowl with water, add the berries and swish them around gently with your hands to loosen any dirt. Wait a minute for the dirt particles to sink to the bottom and using a slotted spoon, spider or your hands remove the mulberries to a waiting dish. Drain the water, rinsing away any settled dirt and wash the mulberries one more time. Drain well and set the mulberries in a large bowl.
  3. Peel the green mangoes and cut around the large flat pit to get two halves plus a few other smaller pieces. Cut the halves and other pieces into 1 ½ inch cubes. Place over the mulberries in the large bowl.
  4. Peel and core the apples and cut the apples into 1 inch cubes. (Note: the mango chunks should be larger than the apples so that the more tender mango pieces do not overcook by the time the apple pieces are soft and tender) Add to bowl of cut fruit.
  5. Sprinkle the sugar and tapioca pearls, or flour if using, over the fruit and gently toss to mix well. Transfer the mixture to an 8 by 11 inch baking dish (or one that holds the 8 cups of cut fruit).
  6. In a medium bowl, toss the oats with the coconut, flour, white and brown sugars, and cinnamon. Grate the butter, using the large holes of a grater, over the flour mixture. Alternatively you can cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and toss into the flour mixture. Using your fingertips, mix the butter until the topping has pea-sized crumbs. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.
  7. Place the filled baking dish onto a tray and into the middle level of the preheated oven. Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is starting to bubble around the edges of the dish.
  8. Let the crisp cool for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream (vanilla or ginger) or whipped cream.

 

 

 

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).

Preparing Thanksgiving In Asia – Some Tips

Ingredients for Thanksgiving in AsiaBeing away from your friends and family on Thanksgiving is possibly the loneliest day of the year for a North American expat. Once you have been able to find and organize some others to celebrate this harvest festival the next challenge is to figure out what you are going to make as a lot of the time, particularly in Asia, it can be like a difficult treasure hunt to find those all important must have ingredients to recreate family Thanksgiving recipes. Having prepared 8 Thanksgivings overseas for close to 1000 people I have had to become creative when ingredients are unavailable. I recently wrote an article for Zester Daily highlighting some tips for preparing Thanksgiving in Asia.