For our third London Cooking Club evening a few weeks ago, we decided to host a Vietnamese themed event inspired by two of my favourite cookery books "Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Recipes from the Heart" and “The Songs of Sapa” by Pauline and Luke Nguyen.
We were pleased to have some new members joining us for the evening – Louise, Alain and Veronique, my sister Patricia, Betina, my Brazilian friend Sidnei, and Linda.
We were also delighted to have Hoa with us, a Vietnamese student who helped us to prepare and serve most dishes as well as telling us some interesting stories about the food we were about to try.
All recipes were taken from the above two books with each person contributing at least one dish and accompanying wine. It was a fun evening with a great atmosphere as we all participated in the cooking and tucked into some amazing Vietnamese food.
The recipes were surprisingly easy to follow and only a few unusual ingredients were required which were purchased at Longden Supermarket on Hackney Road.
To start the evening, Dr G prepared “Bi Cuon” (soft rice paper rolls with pork loin and scented roasted rice powder). The meat was marinated in sugar and fish sauce, boiled until the sauce was reduced and caramelised and then cut into fine strips. Shredded pork skin was added to the meat, and then seasoned with garlic, oil, sugar and ground roasted rice among other ingredients.
The pork mixture was rolled tightly in rice paper with lettuce, perilla, basil and mint leaves and served with a dipping fish sauce. This was a deliciously refreshing dish and a nice alternative to the more popular “goi cuon”. Hoa showed us how to roll them, and we all had a go at preparing our own. It was a great way to start the evening and to get people participating and talking to one another.
To accompany the rolls I prepared “Goi Du Du” (green papaya salad with prawns and pork). I would not have attempted this without purchasing one of those Vietnamese vegetable peelers on my recent trip to Vietnam (virtually impossible to julienne a whole papaya without one). I love the combination of shredded green papaya, mint, perilla, pork and prawns in this salad, making it one of my favourite dishes in Vietnam.
This was followed by Linda’s “Bun Bo Xao” (wok tossed beef and lemongrass on vermicelli noodles).
The beef had a delicious wok-charred flavour and a strong scent of lemongrass, and it accompanied the cold rice vermicelli and other ingredients perfectly. I loved the balance of hot, cold, sweet and savoury elements of this dish. Linda was a little hesitant about cooking this but she made a great success of it.
Our Vietnamese guest Hoa prepared “Suon Ram Man” (pork spare ribs braised in coconut juice). I was pleased that she had decided to prepare this as I had never cooked with young coconut juice before – the meat was marinated in a mixture of garlic, oyster sauce, sugar and fish sauce, deep fried and then braised in coconut juice. The meat was incredibly tender and having absorbed the sweetness of the coconut juice, it tasted delicious.
Veronique and Alain cooked a splendid dish of lemon grass and chilli chicken called “Ga Xao Xa Ot”.
The chicken, whilst cooking, absorbed the flavours of the lemongrass, chillies and other ingredients, remaining tender and succulent. This was a simple but delicious dish served with Jasmine rice.
Patricia and Betina made what I think was one of the most successful dishes of the evening, and one I cannot wait to try again – “Thit Kho Trung” (caramelized pork leg and whole egg with chilli and pepper). The meat was coated in hot caramel and cooked in stock, fish sauce and sugar for about 45 minutes before whole boiled eggs were added. Thirty minutes later, the meat was melting in the mouth, tasted sweet and utterly scrumptious. A real winner.
To accompany the main dishes, Louise cooked us a delicious dish of “Ca Tim Nuong” - char-grilled aubergines with prawns, roasted peanuts and shallots.
For dessert Patricia and Betina made “Che Khoai Mon” (Black sticky rice with taro and sweetened coconut cream). I enjoyed the nearly chocolaty quality of this dessert - the creaminess of the dark sauce coming from both the starch of the taro and the coconut cream was exquisite.
As in previous London Cooking Club meetings, most people were meeting for the first time that evening but still a shared sense of fun, camaraderie and above all, love for good food prevailed. I would like to thank all the guests for being so kind and for the effort they put into cooking all those delicious dishes and for sharing them with us.
Our next meeting will be in June 2010 and the theme will be “Ottolenghi” inspired by the cookery books “Ottolenghi The Cookbook” and “Plenty”. Please visit our Facebook page “London Cooking Club” or e-mail me if you would like to take part.