I had an interesting experience on Easter Sunday in Canoga Park. I signed through Slow Food L.A. to take a Vietnamese cooking class at a private home. Since Vietnamese food is one of my all-time favorites I jumped at the chance to learn from home cooks.
There were about 15 people attending and we walked into a home with three Vietnamese women at the stove, all ready and willing to show us a few of the classic dishes of this flavorful and fresh cuisine.
The first course was a spring roll that was filled with cooked shrimp, pork and rice noodles.
We had all the ingredients in front of us and were instructed as to how to make a roll by our hostess. The rolls are a standard offering in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and I have included them in my cookbook, “Simple Real Food,” as I serve them often at catering events and dinner parties.
What contributes to the rolls’ wonderful flavor are the fresh herbs used; basil, mint and cilantro are traditional but in this case we were also using shiso leaf which was an interesting addition.
The rice paper wrappers are briefly soaked in warm water and then you fill your roll with shrimp or pork, red leaf lettuce, cooked rice noodles and the fresh herbs. Then it is dipped in a sauce that is usually made with fish sauce, chili peppers, and sugar and lime juice.
In this class we used a homemade hoisin sauce with ground peanuts that was delicious. I must have had four of the rolls before realizing it was time to save room for the other dishes.
The second course was another classic Vietnamese dish called pho; there are numerous places to experience this main dish soup around Los Angeles but none compare to the homemade version. It is basically a highly-flavored beef stock made with ginger and shallots.
They added thin slices of bison meat that was briefly cooked in simmering broth before being added to each bowl.
The bowl was filled with cooked rice noodles, the beef broth, meat and mung bean sprouts then topped with the cilantro, basil and lime juice.
You can add the chili pepper sauce that was being passed around that was basically chilies, garlic, sugar and a little vinegar. What a delicious soup, very easy to prepare and healthy.
Our last course was a Vietnamese crepe that was made in a large wok filled with cooked pork, shrimp and julienne jicama and then folded over into a huge omelet. This was cut into four pieces and served with the same herbs and a fish sauce concoction. The batter was flavored with coconut milk and scallions and even though I was quite full at that point it was very yummy.
I enjoyed being around traditional authentic cooks and re-connected with this wonderful cuisine. If you would like to try your hand at my version of Vietnamese recipes have at it and Enjoy!
Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer Rolls with Spicy Lime Dipping Sauce
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, de-veined, cooked (or ground pork, cooked all the way through in 1 Tb. canola oil with 1 Tb. fish sauce)
8 leaves red leaf lettuce
1 package small spring roll skins, eight inch rounds- also called rice paper wrappers
1 cup packed cilantro, rinsed, dried
1 cup packed mint, rinsed, dried
1 cup packed basil leaves, rinsed, dried
1/2 English cucumber, seeded, julienne
1 red pepper, julienne
2 ripe avocados, cut into thin slices
Lime Dipping Sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
Juice of 3 limes
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 Tb. sugar
1 Tb. minced garlic
1. Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise. Set aside.
2. Pull the leaves off the lettuce and break into large chunks. Set aside.
3. Soak a few wrappers at a time in warm water until pliable.
4. Fill the summer rolls as demonstrated.
5. Place seam side down on a baking sheet until they are all finished. Cut on the diagonal and serve with dipping sauce.
6. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes to dissolve the sugar. You can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
* You can substitute the tofu for the shrimp, drained and finely diced.