Killing time, as in blasting it to bits, while I wait for Richard to finish packing....
Cooking with Diep brought back many memories of visits to Vietnam. On our first visit there, I fell in love with the crispy fried shallots they sprinkle on top of so many dishes. Such a simple thing, but a perfect condiment for salads, baked foods, soups. In the Dong Zuan market in Hanoi (and in most food markets in Vietnam) they are sold by the kilo in plastic bags, for a pittance. My friend Valerie and I bought a kilo and divided them up between various tour members who were interested in food.
Diep finds it difficult to believe anybody would purchase these things. She whacks up a bunch of shallots and dries them in the sun for a couple of hours, after which they're fried in about 1/4" of oil in a frying pan, drained and stored in a container with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator. They keep for a week or two. The drier and less oily they are the longer the shelf life.
If you suffer from fear of frying, you can purchase a plastic jar of ready-made fried shallots in the Asian markets. A bit pricy, 3 ozs. will set you back $5.95. They lend a sophisticated flavor and texture to Vietnamese food and seem to enhance and blend together the flavors of ginger, garlic and lemon grass.
Our American equivalent is a plain Jane in the culinary world - the French's canned fried onion rings everyone buys at Thanksgiving to make the traditional green bean, mushroom soup and fried onion casserole. The bean dish sticks like velcro to Thanksgiving dinners. What the heck, it fits the traditional dinner like a glove when eaten with buttery mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey and stuffing. I looked at the French's web site to see if there was anything new about it. They do have a "deluxe" recipe version posted using fresh mushrooms, half and half, (instead of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup), 6 cups of green beans and 2 cups of french fried onions PLUS (and I guess this is what shoots the dish upscale), 1 Tablespoon of white wine. ONE tablespoon of wine???? in 12 cups of food! They do say the wine is "optional" - I guess even a tablespoon might be too much of a leap for the average French's cook.
While Diep was here we used fried shallots on the Green Papaya Salad, the Banana Blossom Salad, Tamarind Beef and a bit on the Sour Fish Soup, which was my favorite recipe. The broth is made from tamarind paste. We used monk fish and the firm texture was perfect. Vietnamese use scads of dill with fish and I mean, a lot! We used just short of a bunch (about the size of a bunch of carrots) for three people. Vietnamese in general consume an eye-popping amount of herbs, straight; eating them like salad. Meals are served with heaping plates of mint, basil, cilantro, dill - diners rip off a few leaves to eat with each mouthful. It's not unusual for one person to consume with one meal, the equivalent of a package of each of those lousy little plastic herb things we buy in the market for $1.99. It would cost about $12.00 a person here to serve as much herb as one gets with a meal in Vietnam.
Can you imagine anyone buying 1/4 oz. of cilantro? We use at least a bunch, usually two in week.
I can remember during flavor schools some people saying that the aroma of cilantro reminded them of "Tidy Bowl". It's amazing to realize how differently we perceive things! The Tidy Bowl crowd probably buys the 1/4 oz. package if they ever purchase it at all.
Of course, my own mother held some kind of record for seasoning restraint. When she died, my sister and I found her bottle of Tabasco sauce up on a high shelf. Dark brown in color, there was about one inch still left in the bottle. She'd received it at her wedding shower. The bottle was at least 50 years old. She used 1 single drop in the potato salad she made every summer. Pretty daring for Winnipeg in the 50's. Actually, at her rate of usage, I could have kept using the bottle and bequeathed it to my grand niece in my will.
When I did a job for Tabasco years ago, my clever friend Hal suggested they make the hole in the Tabasco bottle bigger. Had they done so, people like my Mom would buy a bottle every 25 years!! Imagine the impact on sales! They didn't think it was a good idea, but I still think it was brilliant.
Sort of like the "repeat" instruction on the shampoo bottles.
I just heard a suitcase zipper zip....we're on home stretch.