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Featured/ Vietnamese Recipes

Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Dessert (“Che Chuoi”)

You know you’re an adult when you find yourself belonging in a dinner club with other couple friends, am I right? My husband and I are part of a dinner club with four other couples and we take turns every month hosting a dinner party. The hosting couple provides all the food and drink pairings and hosts the dinner at their house. So far, we’ve had a Mardi Gras themed event and a spring-themed event. It was my turn to host this past weekend, and obviously, my theme was Vietnamese. The other couples actually volun-told me what my theme was, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter!

In planning the menu, it was a no brainer what the appetizer and main courses were going to be. Appetizers were fresh rolls and the main course was a build-your-own vermicelli bowl, with spring rolls, vermicelli noodles, fish sauce, and various veggies and accompaniments. However, I had a tough time coming up with a dessert, mainly because I have never ever made a Vietnamese dessert before. My mom very rarely makes them, so I don’t really have a favourite Vietnamese dessert. After much research and consultation with my mom, I decided to make a Vietnamese banana coconut tapioca dessert (“che chuoi”). Vietnamese cuisine have desserts called “che” that are best described as a pudding. Some of these desserts have fruit in them, some have beans (like black beans), some are served cold, some are served hot, most of tapioca in them, and they come in varying textures (some are thicker and some are quite liquid-y like a soup). This banana dessert was easy to make and it’s dairy-free, which was the deciding factor for me. This dessert can be served hot or chilled, but I prefer it chilled.

I decided to do a wine pairing with my dinner, because I love introducing friends to wines and Vietnamese food. For the fresh rolls, I paired it with the Melipal Malbec Rose (Argentina). This rose wine is crisp, light and not too sweet, and it pairs well with the pork and shrimp in the fresh rolls. For the spring rolls and vermicelli bowls, I paired it with the Stark Raving Red wine (USA). This red wine blend is smooth, slightly sweet, and doesn’t clash with the fish sauce or overpower the spring rolls. And finally, for the banana tapioca dessert, I paired it with the Dr. Loosen Riesling (Germany). I bought two bottles of each and they were completely finished off by the women! The men could care less about wine pairings and drank various beers with their food (not that we were complaining, more wine for the wives!).

You know the dinner party was so much fun because I forgot to take lots of pictures for the blog! (Blogger fail!).  I completely forgot to take pictures of the fresh rolls, and only took a few of the spring rolls, vermicelli bowls and the banana tapioca pudding. Sorry guys! Enjoy the few pictures and the banana tapioca dessert recipe below.

Vietnamese dinner wine pairings

Vietnamese dinner wine pairings

 

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

5 dozen spring rolls for the party

 

Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl

Build your own spring roll vermicelli bowl!

 

Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl with Stark Raving Red wine

Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl with Stark Raving Red wine

 

Vietnamese Banana Coconut Tapioca Dessert

 

Vietnamese Banana Coconut Tapioca Dessert

Vietnamese Banana Coconut Tapioca Dessert

Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Dessert (Che Chuoi)

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup small tapioca pearls
  • 1 can (14 oz or 400 ml) coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 ripe bananas, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla powder (I used vanilla powder)

Instructions

1

Soak the tapioca pearls in cold water for an hour.

2

Drain the tapioca pearls and place in a big saucepan with 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and let simmer for 15 minutes until the pearls are opaque. Drain and set aside.

3

In a large saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut milk, 1 cup water, vanilla and sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved.

4

Add bananas to the mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.

5

Add the cooked tapioca pearls and stir together for another 2 minutes.

6

Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool and thicken. After it is cooled to room temperature, you can put it in the fridge to chill.

7

Spoon into individual bowls, garnish with strawberries, mangoes or another colourful fruit, and enjoy!

Featured/ Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review – Quan Ngon

You guys, I didn’t think this Restaurant Review thing through. A couple weeks ago, I realized that I don’t have the heart to write bad reviews. I had written up this review on a restaurant that will remain unnamed, and technically, it was a well-written, witty review of a not so good restaurant, but I just didn’t feel right publishing it. Also, the Vietnamese community in Regina is pretty small, and although I’m not involved in the Vietnamese community at all, my parents are and I don’t want to create awkward encounters for them. So I’ve decided that I will only write about restaurants that I love, so that I don’t have to write bad reviews. So by simple powers of deduction, if you don’t see a Vietnamese restaurant reviewed here on my blog it’s either because: 1) I haven’t eaten there yet (not likely); or 2) it’s not that great (this one).

So let’s get started with a glowing review. Quan Ngon is a small Vietnamese restaurant located at 227 Victoria Ave here in Regina. My mom and my sister, the two biggest Vietnamese culinary snobs ever, have raved about this restaurant so I’ve been so anxious to try it out.

Unlike many other Vietnamese restaurants, Quan Ngon has a very small menu, but I’ve heard that every item on their menu is carefully prepared and quite tasty. It’s also the only Vietnamese restaurant that I know of in Regina that does the “add-on” concept. With an order of a main dish, you can “add on” a pop, a fresh roll or a spring roll for $1. It’s an interesting concept and makes for a very economical meal.

Quan Ngon’s main course menu

The restaurant itself is quite small, maybe a dozen tables or so. My mom has eaten there numerous times, and she said that the first few times she went when it first opened, there were only a couple tables of customers. When we were there a few days ago, there were 4-5 tables of customers, so I think the good word is spreading around! Also, the majority of the customers were Asian. That’s how you know a Vietnamese restaurant is good, by the way, when the customers themselves are Vietnamese (especially if they are older Vietnamese women or Vietnamese families).

My husband and I went with my parents, and we all ordered pho (beef noodle soup) with fresh roll add-ons. My husband and I both ordered Pho Tai Bo Vien, which is Pho with Sliced Rare Beef and Beef Balls. Quan Ngon doesn’t have any size options for pho and the portions were quite small, which is understandable considering the cheap price of $8.95. My husband and I were still somewhat hungry after our fresh rolls and pho, so next time I would add on a side of extra beef or extra beef balls for $3.95 to make it a more fulfilling meal.

Pho Tai Bo Vien (Pho with Sliced Beef and Beef Balls)

You guys, the pho was the best restaurant pho in Regina. The flavours were authentic, the broth was rich and aromatic, and the beef thinly sliced and fresh. I found my pho to be slightly salty, but my mom said it must be a one-off, because this is the first time where she’s found it to be too salty. Anyways, it was nothing that a squeeze of fresh lime didn’t remedy. The pho came with a plate of proper accompaniments, including crisp bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, lime wedges, and Thai basil. Making pho properly requires a lot of time, effort, and lots of expensive ingredients (brisket, various cuts of beef, beef bones for the broth, etc) and my mom only makes it on special occasions. Quan Ngon’s pho is so good that it is now my go-to place for pho when I’m having a craving and my mom isn’t making pho anytime soon.

Pho Accompaniments

The pho was great, but I was blown away by the fresh rolls. My mom and sister had raved about the fresh rolls, but I was like, “Come on, fresh rolls are fresh rolls, how great can they be?” Man, was I ever surprised. This is the only restaurant in Regina that I know of that has cucumber and bean sprouts in their fresh rolls (in addition to the noodles, lettuce, shrimp and pork). The addition of the cucumber and bean sprouts added a fresh crunchy texture to the fresh rolls. I was definitely inspired and I might start adding cucumber and bean sprouts to my own fresh rolls now! Fresh rolls may seem simple to make, but it’s the quality of ingredients that really set fresh rolls apart. Quan Ngon used big black tiger shrimp, crisp bean sprouts, fresh cucumber, and even the romaine lettuce in the fresh rolls were nice and crisp. I can’t speak highly enough of them, my mouth is watering as I’m typing this.

The best fresh rolls ever!

I can’t wait to eat here again. I want to try some of the other items on their small menu. I saw that they have a salted fish fried rice, and I’m curious to see if it’s as good as the one that I’ve written about from Peking House.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not involved in the Vietnamese community at all, so I’m not writing this glowing review because I know the owners of this restaurant or anything like that. The owner greeted us when my husband and I arrived, and she didn’t even know I was Vietnamese until my parents arrived. And the owners likely won’t even know this review exists (unless one of you guys tell them about it!). This is a completely unbiased, uninfluenced review and you can trust me when I say that this is Regina’s hidden Vietnamese gem!

With their limited but focused menu, Quan Ngon is able to deliver well-prepared, well-executed, authentic  Vietnamese dishes at an excellent price point. If you haven’t already, give this restaurant a try!

Featured/ Vietnamese Recipes

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

Well, that was a rainy and dreary weekend in Regina! Thank god for good books and new episodes of Law & Order: SVU on Netflix.  And thank god for beef stews! You’ve all seen my post on the Irish beef stew, but this time around I decided to make a Vietnamese beef stew (or “bo kho” in Vietnamese).

I remember my mom making this when I was younger and I’ve always loved the heartiness and warmth of it. My mom always used fattier cuts of beef, but as you all know, I like leaner cuts of meat so I used 2 lbs of stewing beef bought at Sobeys (on sale this week!).

Now, there are a couple key differences between Vietnamese beef stews and the beef stews of other cultures (other than seasoning):  1) Vietnamese beef stews aren’t as thick as other stews. If you remember, in the Irish beef stew recipe, the stew is thickened near the end with a butter and flour mixture. Vietnamese beef stews are a little more soupy. 2) European beef stews are served over mashed potatoes. Vietnamese people did not mash their potatoes. Instead, Vietnamese beef stews are served with a thick, crusty loaf of French bread. France ruled Vietnam as a colony for hundreds of years, and you can see lots of French influence in Vietnamese cuisine. For example, Vietnamese “banh mi” (a sandwich served on a baguette), and desserts such as flan and pate a choux pastries. The French introduced bread to the Vietnamese people and this hearty beef stew is only completed by a nice loaf of French bread.

Now, this version of Vietnamese beef stew is a little spicy as I used two red chili peppers. My husband and I both like spicy foods, so this was fine for us, but if you don’t like things too spicy, just use one red chili pepper. There are a couple of spices in this recipe that some of you may not be familiar with and that’s Chinese five spice and star anise. These are common spices in Vietnamese cuisine and when you smell them, it will definitely remind you of Vietnamese broths and soups. You can find them at an Asian food store or grocery stores with well-stocked Asian aisles, like Superstore. I have never found them at Sobeys or Co-op.

Also, although this recipe requires some prep time, I love the fact that there are ‘breaks’ in there where the stew simmers and I can rest. First, I marinated the beef and set it aside. While it is marinating, I prep all the vegetables and gather all the ingredients. I like having all the ingredients prepped and gathered by the stove, as it’s not practical for me to waddle back and forth between the stove and the pantry multiple times anymore! Things could burn or overcook by the time I find the ingredient and make it back to the stove! So the prepping and gathering of ingredients took me about 20-30 minutes. It might be faster for you guys, as I’m moving pretty slow lately, but the beef doesn’t need to marinate for that long. After everything is prepped, the next stage is to brown the meat and throw most of the other ingredients in and let it simmer for 1 hour. That’s enough time to watch one episode of Law & Order or have a decent nap. After that hour is up, you throw in the potatoes and then there’s another 45 minutes of simmer time. That’s another episode or nap!

This was the perfect comfort meal for a rainy weekend! What is your favourite comfort meal for rainy days?

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 2.5 - 3 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of stewing beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 2 red chili peppers, deseeded and finely minced
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped into thick 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 1/2 cups of beef stock
  • 5 potatoes, peeled and quartered (or cubed into 2-3 inch pieces)

Instructions

1

Combine the beef, flour, Chinese five spice, pepper, garlic, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Set aside to marinate while you prep all the other vegetables and gather all the other ingredients.

2

Put the oil in a large dutch oven or pot and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, lower the temperature to medium and brown the beef cubes.

3

Add the shallots and red chili peppers and fry for a couple of minutes.

4

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, cinnamon stick, star anise and beef stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer on the low heat for one hour.

5

After an hour, add the potatoes, give the stew a stir, cover again, and continue to simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

6

Check the seasoning, add salt and pepper if needed, remove the cinnamon stick and star anise, and serve with a nice crusty loaf of French bread.