food for thought

by michelle

cooking class in Hoi An

with one comment

Hoi An is a fishing town which lies at the centre of Vietnam. The ancient town remains untouched by war and despite it being a popular tourist destination it is a gem. The Red Bridge Cooking School has a well-deserved reputation for it’s cooking classes. Ours began with a walk around Hoi An’s central market and a description of many ingredients and their uses. From there we travelled by boat to the cooking school. The location is wonderful. After a tour of the herb garden the class began. The first dish demonstrated by the chef was a salad.

Vietnamese salad

Thinly sliced shallot then shrimp and squid were quickly fried on high heat with some sliced ginger and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. This was placed in a bowl together with shredded green papaya, green mango, lotus root, cucumber, carrot, sliced red chillies, salt, sugar (twice as much as the salt) and lime juice. Finally mint, Vietnamese mint, peanuts and sesame seeds (added just before serving or the mint darkens and the nuts and seeds become soggy). The salad was transferred to a pineapple boat and served with crispy rice paper.

imageOur first hands-on recipe was for fresh rice paper rolls, including the fresh rice paper! The filling was made in a similar manner to the salad. Shrimp was first flash-fried with a little salt and sugar and a pinch of turmeric. Placed in a bowl this was combined with grated green papaya, cucumber and carrot, some finely chopped ginger, another pinch of salt and sugar and a little lime juice. The rice paper was made from a thin rice batter. This is made by soaking plain white rice in fresh water for at least 7 hours. The rice is then rinsed 3 times and placed in a blender with double the amount of water and a pinch of salt. It takes 7 minutes of blending to make the smooth batter only slightly thicker than milk which must be left for one hour again. To make the rice paper a sheet of thin cotton is secured over a pot of boiling water, leaving an opening on one side. A small ladle-full of batter is quickly spread into a thin circle on the cotton then covered with a lid and steamed for one minute. To remove from the cotton wet a bamboo or metal skewer in the pot and run it under the rice paper before carefully lifting and placing onto a plate with the top side down. To stack more than one rice paper brush with oil or place a lettuce leaf between each one to prevent sticking. To make the rice paper roll place some lettuce, fresh herbs and salad mix into the rice paper. Roll the edge over tightly then the two sides in before rolling into a cigar shape. Serve with Nuóc Chám for which I now have a recipe! Mix 2 tablespoons of Vietnamese fish sauce (milder than Thai), 1 teaspoon each of finely chopped chilli, crushed garlic and sugar and the juice of one lime.

imageOur second hands-on recipe was Hoi An pancakes or Bánh Xèo. These are made by lightly frying some shrimp and pork in vegetable oil then adding them to ½ a cup of the same rice batter as the fresh spring rolls with the addition of a pinch of turmeric. Heat some more oil in a small pan and pour the batter in. Top with some bean sprouts and sliced onion and cook over medium to high heat until the bottom is crisp. Flip and cook the other side. To serve place the pancake on a round of dry rice paper with some fresh herbs and lettuce. Roll and dip into a peanut sauce made with 2 tablespoons each of crunchy peanut butter and soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar or honey, a pinch of chilli powder and ¼ of a cup of coconut milk.

Lastly, a wonderfully fragrant eggplant (aubergine) hotpot made by first frying some garlic until a little translucent then adding sliced tomatoes, finely sliced lemongrass, sliced spring onions and fresh chilli to taste. Next the diced eggplant with some fish sauce, sugar, turmeric, freshly ground black pepper and ½ a cup of water. This is simmered for 7 minutes, garnished with fresh herbs and served with steamed rice. I’m sorry to report that I have no photo of my eggplant hotpot.

imageimage

While this was cooking we received instructions on some food decorations. Our chef, who had a great sense of humour, showed us how to make cucumber Vietnamese hand fans and a tomato rose. It was refreshing to do a cooking class where it was assumed that we had the basics of cooking under our belts. We learnt a lot. When the lesson was over we enjoyed the fruits of our labour as well as steamed mackerel on a bed of mixed vegetables. Finally, a boat ride back to town.

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  1. […] for at least an hour. Meanwhile we made the noodles using the same method as for rice paper (see cooking class in Hoi An) but this time oiled, folded and cut into 1 cm […]


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