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Quick Guide to Vietnamese Herbs

Herbs add such wonderful aroma, flavor and color to foods that it’s no wonder they’re such integral ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine.  Without the inclusion of certain herbs, a dish could be rendered completely lacking and unappetizing.  Can you imagine having Vietnamese Chicken or Beef Noodle Soup (Pho) without Thai basil?  Just the aroma of Thai basil conjures to mind a big, piping hot bowl of pho! 🙂  If you’re not familiar with all of the different herbs and their uses in Vietnamese cuisine, I am here to help!  In this post, I’ll go through some of the more popular Vietnamese herbs with some basic descriptions.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve included pictures of each herb to help you identify them when shopping.  Lastly, I’ve provided links to recipes where these herbs are used.  I hope you try all of these herbs and let me know which one is your favorite.  Enjoy!

Check out the video below to learn how to prepare and store herbs.



Cilantro/Coriander (Ngò, Ngò Rí, Rau Mùi)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Cilantro | runawayrice.com
Appearance:  delicate, lacy leaves, clustered in three’s
Aroma/Taste:  strongly fragrant with mild citrusy taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Vegetarian Fresh Spring Rolls, Fresh Spring Rolls, Grilled Pork Sandwich, Thick Noodles and Fish Cake Soup

 


Thái Basil (Húng Quế)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Thai Basil | runawayrice.com
Appearance:  elongated leaves with purple stems and pink-purple flowers
Aroma/Taste:  licorice-like aroma and taste
Dishes:  Vietnamese Chicken Noodle and Beef Noodle Soups (Pho Ga, Pho Bo), Baby Clams and Basil, Papaya with Shrimp and Pork, Savory Rolled Cakes 

 

 

Vietnamese Coriander (Rau Răm)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Vietnamese Coriander | runawayrice.com Appearance:  long, slender leaves with dark V-shape on each leaf
Aroma/Taste:  aromatic with slightly spicy and peppery taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Chicken Cabbage Salad, Cured/Fermented Pork, Vermicelli Soup with Chicken, Steamed Pork Roll and Egg

 


Perilla (Tía Tô)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Perilla | runawayrice.com
Appearance:  large, broad leaves with purple underside
Aroma/Taste:  strong musky aroma and slightly bitter taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Grilled Pork Patties, Beef Wrapped in Perilla, Sizzling Savory Crepes, and Crab Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu)

 


Garlic Chives (Hẹ)

A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Garlic Chives | runawayrice.comAppearance:  flat, long and slender leaves resembling tall grass
Aroma/Taste:  strong grass and garlicky aroma and taste
Dishes:  Can be eaten raw or cooked, Fresh Spring Rolls, Grilled Pork Sausage Fresh Spring Rolls, Won Ton Noodle Soup, Pickled Bean Sprouts

 


Lemongrass (Xả)

A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Lemongrass | runawayrice.comAppearance:  long and tapered, light green, fibrous stalks
Aroma/Taste:  strong, citrusy aroma and taste without the acid
Dishes:  Chicken Curry, Beef Stew, Lemongrass Tofu and Rice Noodles, Lemongrass Beef over Rice Noodles, Curry Lemongrass Seitan Stir Fry, Honey Lemongrass Dressing, Asian-Style Beef Short Ribs, Grilled Shrimp, Egg Rolls and Rice Vermicelli, Satay Chili Paste, Grilled Pork Patties and Skewers, Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves

 

Rice Paddy (Ngổ Ôm)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Rice Paddy | runawayrice.comAppearance:  small and delicate oval-shaped leaves
Aroma/Taste:  mild citrusy aroma and cumin flavor
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, Yampi Soup, Sour Soup, Rare Beef in Lime Juice Salad

 

 

 

Sawtooth (Ngò Gai)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Sawtooth Herb | runawayrice.comAppearance:  long flat leaves with jagged, serrated edges
Aroma/Taste:  strong cilantro flavor and slightly citrusy taste
Dishes: Commonly eaten raw, Beef Stew, Sour Soup, Rare Beef in Lime Juice Salad

 

 

 

Spicy Mint/Peppermint (Húng Cây)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Spicy Mint | runawayrice.comAppearance: medium-sized, oval-shaped leaves
Aroma/Taste:  minty aroma, spicy taste with cooling sensation
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Lemongrass Beef over Rice Noodles, Savory Rolled Cakes 

 

 

Spearmint (Húng Lũi)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Spearmint | runawayrice.comAppearance:  medium-sized, oval-shaped with curly leaves
Aroma/Taste:  minty aroma and minty and slightly sweet taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Lemongrass Tofu and Rice Noodles, Lemongrass Beef over Rice Noodles, Sizzling Savory Crepes, Rare Beef in Lime Juice Salad, and Crab Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu)

 


Vietnamese Balm (Kinh Giới)

A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Vietnamese Balm | runawayrice.comAppearance:  medium-sized, oval-shaped leaves with serrated edges
Aroma/Taste:  intense aroma that’s a combination of lemon and mint, slightly bitter taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish, Grilled Pork Patties, and Crab Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu)

 

 

 

Fish Mint (Diếp Cá)
A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs: Fish Mint | runawayrice.comAppearance:  flat, heart-shaped leaves
Aroma/Taste:  strong fishy aroma and slightly citrusy taste
Dishes:  Commonly eaten raw, served with other fresh greens as a side dish

 

 

 

A plate of fresh herbs and vegetables (lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers) is often served as a side dish adding flavor, aroma and freshness to every meal!

A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs | runawayrice.comAssorted Herbs with BBQ Pork Skewers | recipe from runawayrice.com

Assorted Herbs with Sizzling Savory Crepes (Banh Xeo) | recipe from runawayrice.com

 

 

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Lemongrass Tofu and Rice Noodles (Bun Dau Hu Xao)

Refreshing vegetarian cold noodle salad...Dig in! | recipe from runawayrice.com One of my all-time favorite dishes is Lemongrass Beef and Rice Noodles.  It is so refreshingly light and flavorful with the aromatic lemongrass, fresh greens and herbs and springy noodles.  When I decided to focus more on a vegetarian diet, this was one of the first dishes I revamped by substituting the beef for tofu.  Believe me, you won’t miss the meat.  Using firm tofu makes the dish really hearty and gives it that meaty texture.  The seasonings enhance the tofu without making it overly salty and you can still serve it with a dipping sauce.  This vegetarian version is just as flavorful as the original recipe.  So if you’re looking for a new go-to vegetarian dish, you must give this one a try.   Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

14 oz firm tofu
1 small leek
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp minced lemongrass
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp vegetarian stir-fry sauce
4 oz bean sprouts
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
20 oz cooked rice vermicelli/thin rice noodles

1 bunch mint, plucked and washed
1 bunch cilantro, washed
2 cups chopped green leaf lettuce
1/2 cup carrot and radish pickles
red chilies
1 lime, cut into wedges

Directions

Trim off the end of the leek and discard.  Cut off a 1/2-inch section of leek, white part, and finely mince.  Set aside on a small plate.  Cut off a 2-inch section of leek, green part, and then cut into thin strips.  Set aside on the same plate.

Remove the tofu from its packaging and gently rinse with cool water.  Pat the tofu dry using paper towels.  Cut the tofu into strips.

Heat a wok over Medium High heat and when hot add vegetable oil.  Add the minced leeks and lemongrass and stir-fry for 20 seconds.  Add the tofu and pan-fry for 5-6 minutes or until the pieces are golden brown.

Add the remaining leeks.  Drizzle the soy sauce and vegetarian stir-fry sauce over the tofu pieces.  Toss everything together and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the bean sprouts.  Toss together and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add freshly ground black pepper.

To assemble the dish, put the chopped green leaf lettuce into a salad bowl.  Add a layer of rice noodles and then the stir-fried lemongrass tofu on top of the noodles.  Add fresh herbs and a generous amount of carrot and radish pickles.  Top with the crushed roasted peanuts.

Serve with Honey Soy Dipping Sauce, a vegetarian dipping sauce or salad dressing.

Yields:  4 servings

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

There's nothing better than a hearty bowl of Viet-style Beef Stew with some crusty French bread!

I love the simplicity of slow cooker meals and I am always looking to revamp some traditional Vietnamese dishes using an appliance most of us have.  Using a slower cooker is so effortless and if you’re busy like me, every bit of time-savings is a blessing.  With this easy recipe, you can prep everything (including searing the meat) the night before and then store in the fridge.  In the morning, add everything into the slow cooker, set the temperature to Low and let it cook throughout the day.  Upon coming home, slice some bread or cook some noodles, make the onion/cilantro garnish and you have a hot and delicious dinner ready to enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

The beef tendon is an optional ingredient.  If you enjoy beef tendon, it’s wonderful in this stew and adds delicious texture and crunch.  If you’re not familiar with how to prepare and cook beef tendon, please watch the video for some helpful tips.

Searing the meat is an important step when preparing beef for stews.  The process enhances the flavor and color of the meat.  (If you’ve ever made a stew without searing the meat, you may have noticed the meat is gray and dingy looking.)  Be sure to use a large wok or skillet so the beef has lots of contact with the hot surface.

This Vietnamese stew does not have potatoes but if you like potatoes, reduce the carrots to 1/2 lb and add 1/2 lb potatoes.

Adjust the water levels depending on how you want to eat this stew.  If serving as a noodle soup, you’ll want more liquid, so add an extra cup of water.  For a thicker stew, cut the water back by 1 cup or thicken using cornstarch.  Combine 2 Tbsp cornstarch with 3 Tbsp cold water.  Stir to dissolve.  Add to the stew and mix well.  Turn-up the temperature to High and cook for 10-15 minutes.

One of the best things about using a slow cooker is the timing does not have to be exact.  If cooking on Low, cook the stew for 7-8 hours, on High temperature 3-4 hours.

Don’t forget to remove the lemongrass, star anise, bay leaves before eating.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook this over the stove.  Add the seared meat, lemongrass, star anise, coconut water and water into a large pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to Low and simmer for 45 minutes or until the meat is tender.  Add the carrots and continue cooking until soft, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Watch the video for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Slow Cooker Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)and Simple Crock Pot Vietnamese Meatballs (Xiu Mai).

Ingredients

1/2 lb beef tendon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vinegar

2 lbs beef chuck roast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Vodka 5-Spice Marinade  or 1/2 tsp 5-spice powder
2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced onions
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb carrots
10 oz coconut water
3 cups water
1 stalk lemongrass
2 star anise
4 bay leaves
1 small bunch fresh cilantro

Directions

Sprinkle salt and vinegar on the beef tendon and rub it into the tendon for about a minute.  Rinse with cool water to wash off the salt and vinegar.  Add the tendon into a large pot of water.  Cover and bring to a rapid boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.  Rinse the cooked tendon with cool water.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.  Cut the tendon into 1-inch cubes.

Cut the beef chuck roast into 1 1/2-inch cubes.  Combine the chuck roast and beef tendon with salt, curry powder, soy sauce, Vodka 5-Spice Marinade, and Hoisin sauce.  Cover and allow to marinate while continuing with the next steps.

Finely dice the onions and divide in half, 1/4 cup each.  (Half is used for cooking.  The other half can be refrigerated for now.)

Cut-off a 6-inch section of lemongrass.  Peel off the tough outer skin and discard.  Cut the lemongrass in half.  Using a wooden pestle or meat hammer, smash the ends of the lemongrass to release the aroma.

Peel and clean the carrots and then cut into 1-inch sections.

Heat a large wok over Medium High heat and when hot add the vegetable oil.  Add 1/4 cup of the finely diced onions and the minced garlic.  Stir-fry for 15-20 seconds.  Add the tomato paste and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Increase the heat to High and add the marinated beef.  Stir-fry for 5 minutes searing the meat on all sides.

Add the carrots to the slow cooker and arrange in a single layer.  Add 1 piece of lemongrass, 1 star anise and 2 bay leaves on top of the carrots.  Add the seared beef.  Place the remaining spices on top of the meat.  Add the coconut water and water.  Cover and set the temperature to Low.  Allow to cook for 7-8 hours.

Chop the fresh cilantro and combine with the remaining diced onions.  Garnish the stew with this medley just before serving.

Serve this delicious Beef Stew with crusty French bread or over tapioca noodles (hu tieu) for an amazing and hearty meal!

Yields: 4-6 servings

Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen

Serve over Beef Stew over tapioca noodles for a hearty noodle soup!

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Asian-Style Beef Short Ribs (Suon Nuong)

Hoisin Plum Sauce Glaze for Beef Short Ribs - simply amazing!Love ribs but not quite sure how to make them?  This easy recipe makes perfectly tender, juicy and flavorful ribs.  We finish the ribs on the grill to get that nice charred taste and then top it off with a generous amount of a sweet and savory glaze.  Is your mouth-watering yet?

Notes on the recipe

Usually when making these ribs I use the cross-cut beef ribs which are typically sold at the Korean grocery stores.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip and ended-up buying the regular beef short ribs at my local grocery store.  These are much meatier and they worked out really well in this recipe.

I use 2 disposable foil trays to bake the ribs.  They’re nice and deep and clean-up is super easy with these.

The white vinegar is the secret ingredient to help soften the beef as it can often be tough.  Don’t worry, the ribs won’t smell like vinegar.

Be sure to use the wire cooling racks to elevate the meat so they’re not touching the vinegar.  We don’t want our ribs tasting like vinegar.

Covering the ribs with foil is the key to keeping them juicy and tender.  The ribs are actually being steamed and will be nice and moist.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

Meat and Marinade:
4 lbs beef short ribs
1 stalk lemongrass
1 shallot
1-inch ginger
4 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup black bean soy sauce (2 Tbsp black bean sauce + 2 Tbsp soy sauce + 2 Tbsp water)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp Vodka 5-Spice Marinade
1 cup water
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup white vinegar

Glaze:
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup plum sauce
1/4 tsp chili paste

Directions

Cut a 6-inch section of lemongrass.  Peel and discard the tough outer layers.  Cut the stalk into thin coins.  Chop in food processor for 1 minute.

Peel shallots and roughly chop.  Add to food processor.

Peel ginger and cut into small pieces.  Add to food processor.

Smash garlic cloves and then remove skin.  Add to food processor.

Add brown sugar, black bean soy sauce, sesame oil, Vodka 5-Spice Marinade, water and black pepper into the prep bowl.  Process for 1 minute.

Add beef into a large plastic re-sealable bag.  Pour in the marinade.  Squeeze out the air from the bag and then seal shut.  Work the marinade into the meat.  Place the bag in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours.  (Overnight is best.)

Add 1/4 cup vinegar to each disposable foil tray.  Place a wire rack inside each tray and then set the ribs on top, bone side down.

Cover each tray securely with foil.  Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine Hoisin sauce, plum sauce and chili paste to make the glaze.

Set the heat to Medium on the grill. Place the ribs on the grill, meat side down.  Grill for 2 minutes.  Flip the ribs over and then quickly coat each rib with a generous amount of the glaze.  Grill for another 2 minutes, flip and glaze again.

Remove from the grill and enjoy right away!

Yields: 4-6 servings

Juicy and Tender--these Beef Short Ribs are so easy to make!

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Curry Lemongrass Seitan Stir-Fry (Mi Can Xao Xa Ot)

It looks like chicken but is actually seitan (mock meat, also called wheat meat).  Seitan is so easy to make and so versatile as a substitute for meat.  In this dish we combine pan fried seitan strips with fresh lemongrass and spicy curry powder to make a super simple and super tasty vegetarian dish.  Whoever said being vegetarian meant eating boring tasteless food never tried this flavorful dish!  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

A few notes on the recipe

I shared the recipe for seitan earlier so please be sure to read that recipe.

If you don’t have time to make homemade seitan, you can use the store-bought variety.

Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Mock Roast Pork/Seitan Roast Pork (Mi Can Xa Xiu) and Braised Seitan and Vegetables (Mi Can Kho Chay).

Ingredients

8 oz boiled seitan
3 tsp vegetable oil (for pan frying seitan)
2 green onions or leeks
2 red peppers or chilies
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced lemongrass
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp curry powder (mild or spicy)
1 Tbsp soy sauce

Directions

Cut boiled seitan into thin strips.  Add 1 tsp of vegetable oil into a large wok or nonstick pan and pan fry 1/3 of the seitan over Medium heat until the pieces are golden brown.  Fry the seitan in small batches and leave plenty of room so they don’t stick together.  Set aside in a bowl.

Cut green onions into 2-inch sections and then into thin strips.  Chop the peppers.

Heat the same wok or pan over Medium High heat and add vegetable oil.  Add the lemongrass and stir fry for 30 seconds.  Add the peppers and stir fry for 1 minute.

Add the seitan and stir fry for another minute.  Add the sugar, curry powder and soy sauce and continue stir frying.  Cook for another minute.  Turn off the heat, add the green onions and black pepper and toss together.

Serve while hot.

Yields: 2-3 servings

Seitan, fresh lemongrass and spicy curry powder makes this one fragrant and delicious meat-free dish!

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Grilled Shrimp, Egg Rolls and Rice Vermicelli (Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong)

Lemongrass Grilled Shrimp - A few simple ingredients makes this the easiest dish to make!Savory lemongrass grilled shrimp, crispy egg rolls on mounds of springy rice vermicelli and fresh greens–This is a favorite dish among those dining out mainly because it’s perceived as complicated with all of the different ingredients.  Yes, this dish requires a lot of ingredients and component recipes but it’s truly simple and consists of some very basic Viet recipes:  Rice Vermicelli, Carrot and Radish Pickles, Scallion Oil, and Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce  It’s the perfect dish to make at home for several reasons.  First, if you made egg rolls, chances are you have a lot leftover.  This is a great dish to make to get rid of the leftovers.  Nobody wants to waste food and I love repurposing leftovers to make other tasty meals.  The time-consuming part of making the egg rolls is already done.  This Grilled Shrimp recipe is the easiest ever and can be made in minutes.   If you don’t want to fuss with the skewers, just toss everything in a pan.  It doesn’t get simpler than that!  My final reason for wanting to make this dish at home is the restaurants never give you enough greens and herbs.  I typically double the veggies in this recipe and my bowl looks more like a big salad than a noodle bowl but this is how I enjoy it.  In fact, I highly recommend that you try this dish as a salad.   Cut the rice vermicelli into shorter strands.  Add everything into a large bowl and then toss together.  Serve the “dressing”, the fish sauce dipping sauce on the side so everyone can add as much as they like.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

for the Grilled Shrimp
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced lemongrass
2 tsp vegetable oil

for the Grilled Shrimp, Egg Rolls and Rice Vermicelli
2 cups shredded green leaf lettuce
4 cups cooked rice vermicelli
1 cup bean sprouts
1 bunch cilantro, washed and plucked
1/2 bunch mint, washed and plucked
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
8 Egg Rolls/Spring Rolls
4 Grilled Shrimp skewers (see above)
1/4 cup Carrot and Radish Pickles
1/4 cup Scallion Oil
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (to taste)

Directions

In a large bowl, add shrimp, salt, ground black pepper, garlic, and lemongrass and mix together.  Marinate shrimp for 15 minutes.

Place shrimp on bamboo skewers by piercing the head of the shrimp and then the tail so the body lays flat on the skewer.  Place approximately 4 shrimp per skewer.

Heat a grill pan over Medium High heat.  Brush the pan with a generous amount of vegetable oil.

Place the skewers on the grill and cook for 2 minutes.  Flip the shrimp over and cook and on the other side for another 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

To assemble the dish, take a large bowl or plate and add 1/2 cup of shredded green leaf lettuce.
Layer 1 cup of rice vermicelli on top of the lettuce.
Warm egg rolls in toaster oven.  Cut 2 egg rolls in half and add to the dish.
Add 4 pieces of grilled shrimp.  (You can remove the shrimp or serve on the skewer.  It’s up to you.)
Add a handful of bean sprouts
Add a few sprigs of cilantro and mint.
Add a generous amount of cucumber slices
Top the dish with the pickles.
Drizzle shrimp with Scallion Oil.
Sprinkle peanuts on top.

Serve with fish sauce dipping sauce on the side and allow each person to add as much as he/she prefers.

Yields: 4 servings

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