green papaya saladwine with dinner

Another month, another meeting of the Bellingham Supper Club. Our theme was Indochina, which allowed for dishes from Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, with Thailand being an allowable deviation. We had a great selection of white wines of varying sweetness or spiciness, beer, and lots and lots of good food.

snow peas

While we sipped glasses of Grüner Veltliner, Jenise stir-fried some fresh snow peas with sake and we picked them up with toothpicks to nibble on while we talked.

green papaya salad

Our first sit-down course was Roger’s green papaya salad. Very simple and refreshing, with just a hint of heat.

dipping sauce

spring roll toppings

spring rolls and coconut pancakes

Linda and Mike brought spring rolls. There were little coconut pancakes, which Linda claimed hadn’t come out properly, and fried spring rolls cut into sections. These we rolled up in lettuce leaves with herbs and vegetables and dipped into a fresh-tasting dressing of lime juice, garlic, chiles, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. I particularly loved the texture and taste of the pancakes with the herbs and dressing – I hope to try these myself someday.


Roger made a grilled chicken satay with yet another dipping sauce…

shrimp grapefruit salad

…and Georgiann made a creamy, lightly curry-scented shrimp and grapefruit salad, served in the grapefruit rinds.


Jenise threw together some meat-filled dumplings, which were liberally garnished with hot chile peppers. I think it was at this point I went and got a bottle of Tsingtao to wash the food down.

ribs and curry

The last savory course was a lemongrass beef curry from Jenise, and pork ribs cooked in fish sauce and bitter caramel, from us (more about those below), with a bowl of rice.

pandan ice cream

And for dessert, a cup of coffee and a scoop of pandan ice cream.

pandan infusion

This was very successful, I thought, but pandan (the leaf from a type of screwpine – we buy it at Uwajimaya and keep it in the freezer) is an unusual flavor – floral, but also very toasty flavored. We’ve tasted it in drinking water, Indonesian curries use it to flavor broths, and it’s used in sweets of all sorts. Jon made the ice cream, looking up various recipes online and adjusting. It’s noteworthy that every single recipe he found was based on David Lebovitz’s basic vanilla ice cream, which is about as good as ice cream gets.

mixing the custard

into the ice cream maker

The recipe he ended up following was from Use Real Butter, with a few adjustments. He used twice as many pandan leaves, and chopped them up for a more intense infusion instead of knotting them. He didn’t use pandan extract at all, but added two drops of green food coloring to enhance the appearance. The color ended up looking just like classic mint ice cream. The flavor, though, was reminiscent of green tea, particularly the kind with roasted rice in it. And the texture was perfect, smooth and creamy. A little of this goes a long way, but a small portion made a perfect dessert after all the different flavors of the meal.

grilling pork ribs

Then there were our ribs, which were made right out of Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. We’ve made these before, but had used the broiler for the first round of cooking instead of the grill. This time Jon braved the elements and cooked them properly over charcoal.

grillin' in the rain

It was a nasty wet day. But the ribs smelled absolutely incredible on the grill. Warning – don’t attempt this before lunch.

putting ribs on to braise

After grilling the ribs go into a pot with their remaining marinade, more fish sauce, and a lot of bittersweet Vietnamese caramel sauce, which we had made earlier that morning.

feesh sossadding the caramel

braising the ribs

They simmer for an hour, until the meat is falling off the bone. The bitter char and smoke flavors from the grill blend with the bitterness of the caramel sauce, creating a rich deep flavor. So good.

Another successful Supper Club!

weekend edition

vinho verde

Last weekend was a true taste of summer: sunny, seventies, and mosquitoes. We finally got our patio free of the encrustation of junk (ladders, plant pots, rocks, dishes, ancient bags of fertilizer) and sat outside for dinner for the first time this year. We went to the local farmer’s market and bought asparagus and sweet baby turnips. We made nuoc cham and ate it on Vietnamese spring rolls and Korean pancakes. I pulled rhubarb in the garden and made buttermilk muffins. We drank white wine with a hint of fizz. And we had brunch at Revel. It was a good weekend.

rhubarb muffins

salmon cakes

High Plains Drifterbaby turnip

grilled shrimp in nuoc cham

spring roll fixings

spring roll

kalbi burger

pork belly galette

the deck at RevelRevel

tamarind pork

threading the skewers 

Despite what the weather keeps telling us, it really is summer now, and therefore grilling season. Even if it’s raining, darn it. At least the sun came out for a few minutes while Jon was grilling these Vietnamese tamarind pork skewers – just long enough for us to eat our dinner outside, before getting cold and going back in. Yay, June.

pickled zucchini

pickled vegetables

We had gotten a pork roast out the freezer a few days ahead, but hadn’t quite decided what direction to go with it. Jon pulled out all of our meat cookbooks and finally settled on a Bruce Aidells marinade with tamarind, fish sauce and shallot. He also made the included recipe for pickled shredded zucchini, and since we had a bag of radishes and some carrots on hand, he pickled those as well. All I had to do when I got home from work was cook up some rice noodles.

Continue reading

caramel scallops

Vietnamese braised scallops

Caramel-coated seafood sounds unlikely, I realize, but keep in mind this is Vietnamese caramel sauce: savory and bitter, it’s not at all like candy. Thankfully.

This wasn’t entirely my favorite way of eating scallops (panfried, wrapped in bacon, holds that honor), but we’d been looking for ways to use the caramel sauce Jon made awhile back, and it made for a very quick and interesting dinner. The sauce was made from a recipe in Andrea Nguyen’s Vietnamese cookbook, and the braised scallops were done more or less according to Molly Stevens’ book – basically, heating the caramel, adding fish sauce and shallots, putting in sea scallops and covering until just cooked through, mixing in chopped scallions, then dumping it all over white rice. The flavor was rich, and not nearly as salty as you’d think from looking at it. A plate of paper-thin slices of cucumber was a nice accompaniment, along with a sparkling low-alcohol Riesling.

Vietnamese braised scallops

I might consider making the sauce again, but maybe with halibut instead of scallops. Or if I did use scallops, I think I’d pan-sear them instead of braising. It’s hard to resist a seared scallop. Even if it doesn’t have bacon on it.

Vietnamese caramel-braised spare ribs


Emboldened by our recent experience of making caramel candy at home, we decided to take the next step: Vietnamese caramel sauce. Some time ago, I got a copy of Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. It’s a great book, and just reading the recipe titles will make you salivate, but so far the only thing I had done out of it was follow general guidelines for fresh spring rolls. Jon had discovered a recipe for a kho of pork ribs cooked in caramel sauce, though, and since he was on winter break he decided to go for it. Vietnamese caramel sauce is very different from caramel candy: it’s very dark, with a deep, almost burnt, bittersweet flavor. I had never tasted it before, and I was amazed at the savory scent of the ribs as they braised.

leftovers for lunch

This is not a quick weeknight recipe, let me warn you. Jon made the caramel sauce in the morning, got the ribs marinating early, then broiled them in the late afternoon. We braised them after I got home from work and had a late dinner. But leftovers were fabulous – even better than the first night – so you could definitely do this recipe ahead and set it all aside for later. We thought the sauce was best when it was reduced down to a syrup, which is easiest to do if you take the ribs out and just boil the heck out of the liquid in the pan. Continue reading