Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vegetarian nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish sauce dressing)

Vegetarian Vietnamese Dressing

This is a vegetarian adaptation of nuoc cham, the Vietnamese sweet fish sauce dressing, which seems to be used with just about every Vietnamese dish, at least those which we get in the states.

Fish sauce is a liquid drained from fish that are salted and left in a jug in the sun to ferment. I have heard that kosher fish sauce is available, but I have checked lots of places in the capital of the Jewish diaspora (the Upper West Side) and haven't found it yet.  So, I am dubious that such a thing exists, though I will have to try Jersey and Brooklyn.  Although fish sauce is said to be made from anchovies, which have fins and scales and are therefore are kosher, without supervision who cares about this,  it is possible that any given sauce contains treyfe fish. (The use of fish flavorings along with meat is of no concern to me.  For more on this, see my posting on lamb shank ragu and the umami problem.)  It also presents a problem for vegetarians, including my daughter.

As as substitute for fish sauce, I use Bragg's aminos, which tastes like a wonderful aged soy sauce with lots of umami undertones.  I also sometimes wonder what Google is up to.  I push this product so much you would think that they would take out an ad on one of my pages.  You could also use an expensive aged soy sauce.   I find that Bragg's makes the best substitute, not quite the same, but not bad at all:


  • 1/2 cup Bragg's aminos (substitute fish sauce or a wonderful aged soy sauce if you wish)
  • 3 cloves smashed garlic
  • juice of two limes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • on chopped green or red chili (bird or serrano) -- optional, remove ribs and seeds if you don't want it so hot
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
  1. Smash the garlic with the side of a broad sharp knife or cleaver.  Sprinkle with 1 spoon of sugar and set aside for a minute.
  2. Chop, smash, and crush the garlic and sugar until you have a puree. Put it in a jar or small pitcher.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. The quantities are approximate and can be adjusted to your taste.
This dressing may be used for any number of Vietnamese or Thai-style salads. I will post some recipes shortly.  It is also great with grilled meats on cold boiled rice noodles. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mexican Carrot Soup

I work at the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (more on this program below) and our office manager, Adriana, has a very good palate so I sometimes bring her samples when I bring in my lunch.  She has apparently become a big fan of my cooking.  I know this because I recently returned from a meeting of our Latin American partners in Queretaro, Mexico.  I arrived on the 3rd day of the meeting and the first question everyone asked me was not about work, but about this carrot soup.  I had brought in some of this for Adriana, and she apparently raved about it to the group before I arrived.  So, this is for Adriana, Marina, Anabella and Fulvia, the cooks and foodies in the group. (I am including a very rough approximation of the metric amounts on their account.) The recipe is also for my niece Sarah, who when she is not surviving harrowing airplane rides on Eastern European carriers  that she thinks are safe and competent seems to have been checking this site regularly from Vienna.  I haven't updated it in more than a month and don't want to leave her hanging, so she will find this recipe shortly after she arrives in Lvov (which she insists on calling L'viv).

I adapted the  recipe from Diana Kennedy, but I like mine better. She uses scallions and purees them in the soup along with the cilantro, giving it a sort of swampy look.  I use white onion and remove the cilantro before pureeing, so the soup is a nice orange but still has the cilantro flavor.  This is good hot or cold, simple to make and  fun to eat since you can vary the garnishes.

Mexican Carrot Soup

  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped (white onions are the norm in Mexican cooking)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, or more if you want
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots (about 750 grams), peeled and sliced
  • 1 large starchy potato (white, russet or Yukon gold, about 300 grams) peeled and diced
  • 1 small-medium bunch cilantro, roots cut off and washed well until not sandy
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) liquid (vegetable or chicken broth, canned or boxed ok, or the equivalent in water and bouillon -- I used 3 tablespoons of Osem pareve soup powder)
  • salt and white pepper to taste
For garnish, some or all of the following:
  • chopped white onion
  • chopped jalapeno or serrano (hotter) chile -- leave in the seeds if you want it hot
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • lime quarters
  • diced avocado
  • tortilla strips (see below)
  1. Saute the onion in the oil on medium heat until soft, but do not brown.  
  2. Add carrots and potatoes and saute another few minutes.
  3. Add the liquid and bring to the boil  Turn heat down to a simmer.
  4. Tuck the cilantro into the soup. 
  5. Cover and cook about 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  6. Cool a bit, and fish out the cilantro.  Puree using and immersion blender (much easier and safer) or in a regular blender or processor.   
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.  
  8. Serve hot or cold with some or all of the garnishes above to 6 - 8 people.
Tortilla strips:  This is a great way to use up stale tortillas.  Cut 6 tortillas in half, and then cut them into thin strips, about 1/8 inch.   Spray a baking sheet (lined with foil if you want) with vegetable oil spray, put the tortillas on the sheet and spray them again.  Don't pack them too close or it will take very long for them to dry out. Bake in a 250-300 degree oven until crisp, which will take 30 minutes or more depending on many factors.  You can also deep or shallow fry them.

Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP):  IFP is a grantee of the Ford Foundation's that provides postgraduate fellowships to students from 22 countries around the world so that they can become leaders in their fields.  The fellows are drawn from groups in their societies that have lacked access to higher education. The program has demonstrated that there is a demand for higher education in marginalized communities around the world, and that people from these communities are capable of completing rigorous graduate programs. Our fellows are chosen for their leadership potential as well as academic excellence, and the overwhelming majority return to their communities where many become social change leaders. It is a great place to work, and you get to meet some of the most interesting people in the world.