Traveling to Vietnam

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Kim Fay's book is Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam.  Her sister took the photographs.  

Kim buys traditional Vietnamese ingredients from the following Southern California locations:

Bangkok Market – 4757 Melrose Ave

Bangluk Market – 5170 Hollywood Boulevard

Chef Huong’s Dalat Ragu

Because the key to this recipe is fresh vegetables, you can play around with it, substituting different kinds of beans and mushrooms, or perhaps adding white pearl onions, depending on what is in season. The one ingredient that is essential is tomatoes. You must get the freshest, best tomatoes you can find. It is the liquefied tomatoes combined with the fish sauce that creates the buttery flavor of this dish.

1 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 lb. carrots, cubed

1/4 lb. potato, cubed

1/4 lb. taro, cubed

1/4 lb. fresh beans (cranberry, fava/broad, lima/butter)

1/4 lb. fresh straw mushroom (button or crimini can be substituted)

1 small shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2/3 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes, skinned and thoroughly seeded, chopped. I blanch the tomatoes for easy peeling. Don’t overdo it with the tomatoes or the sauce will be sour.

1 French bay leaf

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

6 cups vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon + 1 tsp fish sauce

Loaf of crusty French bread for dipping

1.     Cut pork into cubes, and marinate with 1 Tablespoon fish sauce and pepper for 30 minutes. Do not marinate in the fridge.

2.     In a medium frying pan, brown pork in 1 Tablespoon oil. Salt to taste.

3.     In a separate medium frying pan, sauté shallot in 1 Tablespoon oil, and then add garlic.

4.     Add tomatoes to shallot/garlic, and sauté on low heat, reducing until it is almost liquid. Reduce thoroughly to remove sourness. There should be no trace of tomato flesh left in the pan.

5.     While tomatoes are simmering, remove pork from the pan with a slotted spoon (to keep as much grease in the pan as possible), and put in a bowl.

6.     Pan-fry carrots in pork grease for flavor. Remove, and add to pork bowl.

7.     Pan-fry potatoes in pork grease for flavor. Remove, and set aside.

8.     Pan-fry taro in pork grease for flavor. Remove, and set aside.

9.     Pan-fry mushrooms in pork oil with a little salt, for flavor. Remove, and set aside. (As you fry the vegetables, you may need to add a little oil and even a tad of fish sauce. You can also add the juices draining from the pork in the bowl.)

10.  While simmering tomatoes and pan-frying vegetables, blanch beans to remove acid from the skin. You should use fresh beans. If using dried beans, let them soak overnight. If you must use canned beans, don’t stress over it. This dish will still be terrific.

11.  While the last of the veggies are frying, pour tomato liquid in a large soup pot, and add pork, beans, and carrots. Stir in 1 tsp of fish sauce.

12.  Add stock and bay leaf. Cook for 1 hour on low heat, covered, until meat is tender.

13.  Add potato and taro, and simmer, covered, for 20 more minutes.

14.  Add mushrooms, and simmer, covered, for 10 more minutes. Keep an eye on the taro/potatoes to make sure they don’t get too soft.

15.  Serve hot with a fresh, crusty French bread.


Serving: 4 as a main dish.


Julie’s Banana Flower Salad

Using recipes from our cooking classes at the Metropole in Hanoi and the Cargo Club Cooking School in Hoi An as a base, Julie perfected this salad. Highlighted by the hot-tart play of chili and lime off the crisp rings of the banana flower, it is a refreshing dish that is perfect for a hot summer day. If banana flowers are unavailable, a good substitute is peeled and shredded green papaya.



2 banana flowers, thinly sliced (see directions)

2 Tablespoons peanut oil

Scant 1/4 cup shallot, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, coarsely chopped

3 Tablespoons lime juice + 1 lime for the bowl of water

Large bowl of room temperature water


3 Tablespoons lime juice

2 tsp brown sugar

1 red Thai chili, chopped

2 tsp fish sauce

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1.     Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet. Sauté the shallots until golden brown. Leave them in the oil, and set aside to cool.

2.     Squeeze fresh lime juice into the bowl of water. This will be used to prevent the banana flower slices from turning brown.

3.     Peel back the dark purple layers of the banana flower until you reach layers with just a hint of purple. Using a mandoline, slice the banana flower into thin rings, beginning at the point and slicing about three-quarters of the way down. The rings will look similar to onion rings. Immediately soak the rings in the lime water until ready to use. Set aside.

4.     Once the oil is cool, mix in half of the mint leaves and half of the Thai basil with the sautéed shallots.

5.     Mix the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. Heat lovers will want to add more chili.

6.     When you slice the banana flower, you will end up with small bits from the center of the flower. Strain these out using a spoon. Don’t worry if you don’t get all of them. Remove the banana flower from the water, and combine with the shallot/mint/basil mixture, chopped peanuts, and remainder of the fresh mint and basil.

7.     Toss in the dressing, and serve.

Serving: 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish.

Music Break: Barrio Bueno by The Cabildos