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Chewy Sesame Peanut Candy (Keo Me Dau Phong)

A homemade treat that's perfect for gift-giving.

I shared a brittle version of this candy not too long ago.  (Check out the link for my Peanut Candy recipe.)  After posting the brittle recipe, I received numerous requests for the chewier version, so here it is–finally.  This recipe for Chewy Sesame Peanut candy is softer and more tender for those who don’t like hard candy or fear cracking a tooth on these delights.  The Viet version of this candy, Keo Me Xung, is made with only sesame seeds.  I love the coupling of sesame seeds and peanuts and modified the traditional recipe.  If you’d like to make an all sesame seeds version, just substitute the peanuts for sesame seeds.  The rest of the recipe is the same.  Feel free to also use any combination of nuts you like.  Enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

Cooking the sugar is the trickiest part of this recipe and you may have to make this a few times before getting the consistency just right.  If the sugar is not cooked enough, the candy will be gooey and not hold its shape.  Cook the sugar too long and you’ll have brittle instead of a chewy candy.  The best ways to tell if the sugar is cooked just right is to:  1) check the color–the syrup should be the color of honey and 2) check the consistency–the syrup should bead off a spoon rather than stream off it indicating it has reached the appropriate thickness.  (If you have a candy thermometer that can provide a quick read, the sugar should reach the Firm-Ball Stage, temperature is 245°F – 250°F.)

Be attentive as the syrup nears the 5 minute cooking window as it turns dark very quickly from this point on and can burn quite easily.  As soon as the syrup reaches the golden, honey color, add the lemon juice right away.   The lemon juice helps to suspend the syrup in its current candy state.  Add the lemon juice quickly and be careful as the syrup may splatter.

Stir the tapioca and water mixture before adding to the syrup as the contents tend to settle.  Again, as with the lemon juice, pour the mixture quickly into the pan and then stir vigorously.  The tapioca starch turns from opaque to translucent when it’s cooked.

For faster cooling, place the candy in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Store any uneaten candy in an air-tight container. The candy is good for up to 2 weeks.

This candy is a really popular sweet treat for Lunar New Year and you can easily make little goody bags or boxes for gift-giving.  Individually wrap the candies using plastic wrap or parchment paper to make tasty little bon bons.  Alternatively, use small cookie cutters to cut the candy into fun shapes and then place on mini cupcake liners for cute little treats.  As Lunar New Year often falls close to Valentine’s Day, I decided to turn these candies into little V-Day treats.

Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Peanut Candy (Keo Dau Phong) and Asian-Inspired Caramel Apples.

Ingredients

1/2 cup roasted roasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup water + 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

Directions

Add the tapioca starch to 1/3 cup water and stir until mixture is smooth.  Set aside for now.

Line a 9×6 inch pan with parchment paper.  Drizzle vegetable oil into the pan and then use a brush to coat the paper with the oil.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup sesame seeds into the pan.  Tilt and gently shake the pan to distribute the sesame seeds making sure to cover the bottom of the pan completely.

Place a small saucepan over High Heat.  Add vegetable oil, sugar and water.  Stir together dissolving the sugar while bringing the mixture to a boil.  (This takes approximately 2 minutes.)

As soon as the syrup starts to boil, stop stirring.  Cook the syrup for 5 minutes or until it thickens and turns a light honey color.  Reduce the heat to Low and cook for another 1 minute or until the syrup turns a honey color.   (Be careful with this step as the sugar cooks very quickly at this point and can get dark and burn if left too long.)  As soon as the honey color is reached, quickly add the lemon juice and stir together.  Stir the tapioca and water mixture and then pour into the syrup along with the vanilla extract.  Stir quickly to combine and cook for another 1 minute.  Add the peanuts and mix well with the syrup.  Cook for another 1 minute and then turn off the heat.

Pour the hot candy into the pan prepared earlier and spread evenly into the pan.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sesame seeds on top.  Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth out the top.  Allow to cool for 3-4 hours.

To serve, remove the candy from the pan, peel away the paper from the edges, cut off the edges (optional) and then cut into 1×1-inch squares.

Yields:  40 pieces

Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen

A delicious homemade treat for Valentine's Day!

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Braised Pork and Shrimp (Thit Kho Tep)

A classic Viet dish, it's deliciously savory and sweet!This Braised Pork and Shrimp dish is a delicious example of the bold flavors intrinsic to Vietnamese cuisine.  It’s an easy dish with simple ingredients but is truly unique tasting.  Braising or “Kho” is a popular Viet method for cooking savory meat dishes.  The cooking technique allows the meat and shrimp to absorb the savory and slightly sweet sauce as it is cooked.  Caramelizing the sugar first and then adding fish sauce produces a glossy sauce which adds beautiful color to the dish.  The best part about this recipe is how quickly you can make this dish.  (You can definitely add this to your 30 minutes or less recipe category.)  The prepping is minimal and you can often find the pork already cut to size.  For convenience, buy shrimp that’s already cleaned–peeled and deveined.  The rest is a breeze!

Want to make it a traditional Viet meal?  Serve this dish with Sour Soup (Canh Chua).

If you enjoy this braised dish, here are a few more to try:

Coca-Cola Braised Pork and Eggs (Thit Kho Trung)

Ginger Chicken (Ga Kho Gung)

Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To)

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

3/4 lb pork loin or pork belly
1/2 lb size 41/50 shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 green onions

Directions

Chop the tops of the green onions and set aside in a small bowl.

Finely mince the garlic.  Peel the shallots and finely chop.  Set aside in a small bowl.

Cut the pork into strips about 1/2-inch thick.

Heat a pan over Medium High heat and when hot add 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil.  Add 1/2 Tbsp sugar and quickly stir together.  After the sugar dissolves and turns a honey color (approximately 30 seconds), add the shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Transfer the shrimp to a clean plate and set aside for now.

Heat a clean pan over Medium High heat and when hot add 1 Tbsp vegetable oil.  Add 1 Tbsp sugar and quickly stir together.  Again, after the sugar turns a honey color, add the garlic and shallots and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add the pork and stir-fry for 1 minute coating the meat in the caramel sauce.  Add the water and combine.  Cover the pan and cook on Low heat for 5-6 minutes.

Add the shrimp and fish sauce to the pork and combine well.

Cook for another 5 minutes until most of the liquid is evaporated.

Finish with freshly ground black pepper.

Before serving, top with the chopped green onions.

Yields: 2-4 servings

A traditional Vietnamese meal of Sour Soup with Braised Pork and Shrimp

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Caramel Sauce (Nuoc Mau)

Caramel Sauce for Cooking--adds subtle flavor and color to braised dishes and more.  This ingredient is a pantry must-have!If you’re envisioning a sweet syrupy sauce to drizzle on top of ice cream and cakes, sorry friends, this is not that recipe.  This caramel sauce is made by cooking sugar to a dark molasses-like consistency that is slightly sweet and slightly bitter.  The sauce is then used to marinate meats or to add subtle flavor and color to dishes during cooking.  In Viet cooking, you see this sauce used most often in braised “kho” dishes as this gentle cooking technique is low and slow and allows the essence of the caramel sauce to permeate the food.

If you’ve followed my earlier posts, you may have noticed that I’ve shared several braised dishes traditionally requiring this caramel sauce.  I, however, have shared shortcuts and substitutes for the caramel sauce.  Why you ask?  Well, the reason is because this seemingly simple ingredient is quite tricky to make.  The sauce itself doesn’t take long to make but, the success of this recipe is all in the timing.  Cooking the sugar to achieve just the right color is tough especially if you’re not familiar with how quickly sugar burns once it reaches a certain stage.  Cook it for too long and the sauce is bitter and burnt tasting.  Undercook the sugar and the sauce is too light and isn’t balanced in flavor, more sweet than bitter.  I do want to say there is an element of personal preference with this recipe. Some people prefer a darker, more bitter than sweet sauce while others prefer more sweet and less bitter.  My recommendation is to practice and make a sauce that you like and then write down the time (to the seconds) and use that every time.  Enjoy!

A few notes on the recipe

A word of caution, cooking with sugar can be a dangerous thing.  Sugar is extremely hot when cooked to this stage so be really careful not to get any of the sauce on your skin.  Don’t touch the sauce with your fingers and be sure to use heat-proof utensils when stirring the sauce.  Also make sure to allow the sauce to cool adequately before transferring and storing.

Use a large saucepan to cook the sugar.  The sugar can boil quickly and overflow if you’re not watching closely.  If the sauce boils over, it’s one big mess to have to clean up.  So save yourself the hassle and use a generously sized pan.

Add hot water to the caramel sauce instead of cold water.  Depending on how hot the caramel sauce is, adding cold water could cause it to bubble vigorously and spill out of the pan.

Pour the sauce into a clean jar and then store in your pantry.  The sauce is good for up to a year.

Love braised dishes? Check out some of my other recipe posts:
Coca-Cola Braised Pork and Eggs (Thit Kho Trung) – In this recipe redo we substitute Coca-Cola for the caramel sauce.  If you’d like to use your homemade caramel sauce for this recipe, substitute the Coke with water and then add 2 tsp of caramel sauce.

Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To) – In this recipe shortcut , we make just enough caramel sauce for the recipe.  If you have the caramel sauce handy, just omit the sugar and add 1-2 tsp of caramel sauce.

Braised Seitan and Vegetables (Mi Can Kho Chay) – substitute 1 tsp of sugar with 1 tsp of caramel sauce for added flavor and color.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp water
1/4 cup hot water

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with  3 Tbsp of water.  Set the heat to Medium and start cooking the sugar.

After 3 minutes the sugar starts to melt and bubble.  Give it a stir and continue cooking.

After 4 minutes the sugars starts to turn a golden brown color.

After 6 minutes the sauce becomes a rich brown color.

After 7-8 minutes the sauce turns from a dark brown to a deep red color and the sugar starts to smoke.  Cook for another 30-45 seconds allowing the color to deepen further.  Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool on the stove for approximately 10 minutes.

If the sauce starts to bubble vigorously and the sugar smells like it’s burning, carefully immerse the bottom of the pan into a bowl of water to stop the sugar from cooking further.  Allow the pan to cool in the water for about 5 minutes and then return to the stove.

Add the hot water to the sauce and stir together over Medium heat.  When the sauce starts to boil again, turn off the heat and continue stirring for another minute.

Allow the sauce to cool for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a clean jar.  The sauce will thicken up further as it cools.

Store in a cool dry place.

Yields:  3/4 cup
Check out the Caramel Sauce Color Slide and compare with your sauce.

A look at these samples of Caramel Sauce will let you know if you've cooked the Caramel Sauce properly.
#1 The sauce is a rich, dark amber color but the sauce is thin indicating too much water was added.

#2 The sauce is a dark reddish brown color.  It was cooked a tad too long.  The taste will be more bitter than sweet.

#3 This sauce is a beautiful dark amber and is the desired result.  Notice how thick the sauce is as well.

#4 This sauce is a honey color and is too light indicating it was not cooked enough.  It will be sweet like a traditional caramel sauce and will be missing the bittersweet taste.  (This sauce is better suited for flan.)

#5 This sauce is again nice and thick and a lovely dark amber color.  This is the how we want our caramel sauce to look.

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Peanut Candy (Keo Dau Phong)

Candy is probably one of the things you’ve never attempted to make at home.  Perhaps you’re concerned about burning sugar or think you need a candy thermometer.  Perhaps it’s easier to just go buy it.  Well my friends, if you wish to change your mindset, here is a super easy candy recipe for you to try!  My shortcut is to use the microwave to cook the sugar into a delicious caramel.  As microwaves vary in power, please keep your eyes on the sugar during the second half of the cooking process.  Remove the sugar from the microwave once it reaches a light honey color.  (It will continue to deepen in color as it cools.)  As I mentioned in the video, prepare all the ingredients and utensils ahead of time and have it ready.  You have a very short window when working with caramel and so will need to work quickly.  My favorite flavor trio is peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut flakes but feel free to use any nut or seed variety you enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

[fbshare url=”http://youtu.be/9rz24yqMnn4″ type=”button” float=”right”]

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/3 cup roasted peanuts (salted if you prefer)
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup coconut flakes
1/2 tsp vegetable oil

Directions

Line an 8 X 8 inch baking dish with parchment paper.

Sprinkle 1 tsp of sesame seeds into the dish.  Set aside 1 tsp of sesame seeds in a separate bowl to use later.

Oil a large spoon with some of the vegetable oil and set aside.

Add peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut flakes into a bowl or measuring cup and mix together.

In microwavable bowl or measuring cup add the sugar, water and lemon juice.  Microwave on High for 2 minutes.  Swirl sugar around in bowl for 10 seconds.  Return to microwave and cook on High for another 2 minutes or until the sugar is a light honey color.

Add the nut mixture and quickly stir together coating everything evenly with the caramel.  Pour into baking dish and quickly press into the dish using the oiled spoon.  Sprinkle remaining sesame seeds on the top.  Work quickly as the candy hardens very fast.

Allow the candy to cool for 10 minutes.  While candy is cooling, coat a large knife with the remaining vegetable oil.  Remove candy from dish and cut into thin strips, approximately 3/4 to 1-inch thick.  Then cut into bit-sized pieces.  Allow to cool completely before eating.

Store any uneaten portions in an air-tight container.

Yields:  40–50 pieces

Peanut Candy (Keo Dau Phong)

Peanut Candy (Keo Dau Phong)

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Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To)

There are some classic foods that remind us of our youth and this is the dish that transports me back in time.  Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of this dish that makes it stand out in my mind or perhaps it’s when I think about this dish I am reminded of my Mom’s boundless energy and painstaking efforts to cook us the most delicious Viet foods.  Braised Fish in Clay Pot was her signature dish and one the whole family loved.  My Mom’s original recipe uses a homemade caramel sauce (nuoc mau).  She would make a big jar of it and have it ready for this dish.  If you’ve ever made caramel for braising meats, you’ll know that it can be tricky and it’s very easy to burn the sugar.  It’s all in the timing.  You want to get the caramel a rich amber color without scorching it.  (If you’ve ever burned sugar, you know it smells awful.)  Cooking caramel is an art and so many folks in my generation don’t bother making it.  Our local Asian grocery stores conveniently sell jars of caramel sauce ready for use.

My recipe adaptation is an homage to my mom’s homemade caramel recipe but you don’t need to make a big batch ahead of time like she use to do.  Instead, you make just enough caramel for the dish so it’s easier to time.  You still need to keep your eyes on it.  Once the sugar melts and turns a honey color, it can burn in a matter of seconds.  If you’re more experienced with making caramel, you can cook at a higher temperature.  If you’re a novice, I suggest you keep the heat on low.  It takes a little bit longer but will give you more time to react.  Another trick I use is to add the minced scallions and garlic to cool the caramel instantly and to stop it from cooking further.

If you don’t have a clay pot, you can use a saucepan or skillet.  Just make sure your cookware is large enough so the pieces of fish lay flat.   This will ensure they are evenly coated in the delicious caramel sauce.  The success of this dish is how well the sauce permeates the fish.  I use tilapia, a tender fish that cooks fairly fast.  To help infuse the fish with the savory sauce, you need to spoon the sauce over the fish as it’s cooking.  Sorry, this is not one of those dish where you set it and forget it.  Although the total cooking time is not long, you need to be diligent with all of the steps.  I promise, you will be rewarded with a beautiful and mouth-watering dish.  Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

12 oz of tilapia fillets
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced shallots
3 red chilies

for the Marinade:

2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Mix together all ingredients for the marinade and set aside.

Add oil and sugar to the pot.  Cook over Low heat stirring occassionally until sugar melts and turns a dark amber color, approximately 5-6 minutes.  Add minced shallots and garlic and combine with the caramel.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the marinade prepared earlier and stir together.  Add the chilies.  Lay fish fish fillets flat inside the pot.  Add enough water to cover the fish and cook on Low heat for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, spoon the sauce over the fish several times coating it well.  Cook for another 3 minutes.  Turn up the heat to Medium High and cook until more than half of the liquid is evaporated, approximtely 3-5 minutes.  Continue spooning the sauce over the fish as it cooks.  (Note:  If you prefer more sauce for dipping cucumbers or to spoon over rice, adjust the cooking time and don’t let as much of the liquid evaporate.)

Transfer the pot to a cool burner.  Cover slightly and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.  (If using a steel pot, simply simmer for another 5-6 minutes.)

Sprinkle more ground black pepper on top and serve hot.

Yields: 2-4 servings

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