Thursday, May 31, 2007

Goi Xoai Xanh (Vietnamese Green Mango Salad)

Goi Xoai Xanh (Vietnamese Green Mango Salad) 1

Since I discussed the basics of Vietnamese "dressings" in my post about cucumber salad, you can take that same principle and apply it to most any Vietnamese salad.

A green mango is tartly sour and if used in a salad is similar to a Thai green papaya salad. Except, whereas the Thai papaya salads use either shrimp or crab, this salad relies upon dried squid. Of course, you can use shrimp or crab if you wish. The flavor you're trying to get with the seafood is that salty, briny taste.

My second-youngest aunt made this salad once with shredded squid and I just thought the amalgam of flavors of sour, salty, sweet, was just so wonderful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cucumber Salad

Do you like lil' sis's presentation?
After enjoying the cucumber salad at Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City, I had to make my own, but with a Vietnamese twist, of course. The main flavor that stood out was vinegar.

Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) is the base of all Vietnamese sauces. Adding vinegar, lemon or lime juice, sugar, chili peppers, and garlic and you get nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), but most Vietnamese say nuoc mam for all sauces. Incidentally, nuoc is also the word for water and nation, so you know it's essential to Vietnamese food. Portions are adjusted for various dishes so something like banh beo (Vietnamese steamed rice discs with shrimp) gets a little more sugar for a sweeter nuoc cham.

For this salad, I decided to omit the garlic and chili peppers because it's a little too overpowering. I wanted it to be tart but refreshing, sort of like pickles before they became pickled.

Cucumber Salad

You'll need:
As many cucumbers as you'd like of any kind you like. I've made this salad with English, Japanese, and plain old American seeded cucumbers.
fish sauce, to taste
vinegar, to taste
lemon/lime juice, to taste
sugar, to taste
salt, to taste

Wash the cucumbers and then peel them in stripes. I like to keep some of the skin for color, but not so much that it becomes too bitter.

Remove seeds if you don't like them. Cut the cucumbers into 1-inch chunks. You want the pieces substantial enough to hold up to the vinegar. I've tried making this salad with cucumber slices and it becomes rather mushy. Chunky is better. Salt the cucumbers and leave them in a colander to drain.

In a bowl, add the fish sauce, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and sugar and adjust if necessary. When I was teaching lil' sis how to make this, she kept asking me for proportions. But part of teaching her how to cook is to trust her instincts and tastebuds. Once you learn how to eyeball what works for you, you can just add all the liquids to a bowl with the cucumbers instead of mixing it separately.

Allow to chill in the fridge for about half an hour before serving.

The cucumber salad is meant to be a side salad but lil' sis and I, as well as several of our cousins, like it so much that we literally eat the whole bowl. In fact, one of my cousins was just rooting around in my fridge in search of a bowl of this cucumber salad. But since I didn't have any left and she had requested the recipe, now she can make her own.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mandarin Noodle Deli - Temple City (Closed)

Are you missing my dumpling posts? I did say I had a few left... This one was discovered purely by accident. Lil' sis and I wanted dumplings. I thought I remembered Jonathan Gold mentioning something about big crispy potstickers at a noodle/dumpling restaurant on Las Tunas Drive in Arcadia. So we drove down Las Tunas in San Gabriel and kept going when there were no more Asian restaurants. Then the street became Temple City and the Chinese photo studios and restaurants started popping up again, and just when we were about to give up, we saw the awning to Mandarin Noodle Deli. (Later, I looked it up and I was actually thinking of Noodle House!)

It was a pretty hot day so we decided to get a cold salad but couldn't decide between cucumber or seaweed. The waitress said we could do a half and half since they were both $2.69. The seaweed salad was good, but the cold, vinegary tart cucumber was just so much better.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ga Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass)

Ga Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass) 1

As I mentioned in my previous post about our Memorial Day barbecue, my brother made grilled chicken with lemongrass per my instructions. Hehe, so technically it's my recipe right? :) Lemongrass, also known as citronella grass (yes, the same as the mosquito repellant), imparts a lemony fragrance. It's perfect for barbecues as the aroma gets released on the grill. You can find stalks of lemongrass in most Asian grocery stores. I get mine free from my youngest uncle. :)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Barbecue

For most Americans, the Memorial Day weekend opens summer barbecue season. So for my cousin's graduation dinner, one of my other cousins requested Carne Asada (Mexican Grilled Meat), but I've also updated that post with pictures from this time because they were so much tastier-looking. See? I made the salsa too. My brother made Vietnamese lemongrass chicken drumsticks per my instructions, so technically it's my recipe right? ;)
Ga Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass) 1
More chicken, banh beo, Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls), mi xao (Vietnamese stir-fried noodles.) There's my carne asada with fixins', homemade Salsa Fresca, cucumber salad. There's also lotus root salad, pork skewers, and pasta salad. Cream and red sauce pastas. Stuffed shells. Really, really thick burgers. Hot dogs, of course. My brother's girlfriend brought this mango cake from Olympic Bakery in Temple City. Pretty isn't it? I was slicing it for everyone and it all disappeared before I could get a slice myself. :( The homemade desserts table. Lil' sis made the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. My cousin even stuffed the cupcakes with whipped cream. My cousin's friend brought the Marie Callender's custard pie... ... and strawberry pie. And fruit salad. Too full!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice)

Cute huh? :)

Bibimbap (Korean mixed rice) is simply a bowl of rice served with a meat and various vegetables. A variation is dolsot (stone pot) bibimbap, where the stone pot creates a crispy crust to the rice and a raw egg is cracked and gets cooked as everything is mixed together. I didn't have a stone pot but I have these lovely large Japanese earthenware bowls and with the bulgogi I made the other day, bibimbap seemed like an obvious choice. Substitute with any other kind of meat you like, or omit entirely for a vegetarian version.

You can use any type of vegetables but frequently I see this served with spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and carrots. You'll want colorful vegetables to make this as pretty as possible. I have going clockwise from the bulgogi, kimchee, collard greens, carrots, jicama, topped with a sunny-side up egg and strips of nori seaweed.

Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice)

You'll need:
Bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef)
Any variety of vegetables you wish including mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach, carrots, etc.
1 egg, sunny-side up

Optional for topping: Strips of nori seaweed, chili paste or hot sauce.

Julienne or slice thinly whatever vegetables you have on hand. Saute the vegetables.

Then to serve, put rice on the bottom of a large bowl, in sections add your vegetables, put a sunny-side up egg on top, cut strips of nori seaweed on top of that. Then draw a nice happy face with hot sauce.

A happy and pretty presentation!

To eat, you'll have to mess up that lovely face by stirring everything together so that it's like fried rice.

Yum! Lil' sis thought this was the cutest dinner!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Bulgogi and Kalbi/Galbi (Korean Barbecued Beef and Short Ribs)

The Memorial Day weekend is coming up and everyone knows what that means ... barbecue! And I just happened to have some nice barbecue recipes sitting in my queue just for you.
Bulgogi (fire meat) and Kalbi/Galbi (short ribs) (Korean Barbecued Beef and Short Ribs) both use the same marinade. Except that bulgogi is thinly sliced beef, often rib-eye but any cut will do. (Psst! The picture is actually venison but it tastes like beef to me.) And kalbi is short ribs, sliced cross-wise through the bone like you see above or sliced thinly around the bone like it's pictured here.

The meat may be barbecued on a grill or pan-fried. What's really important though is the pureed Asian pear. The pear gives the meat its distinct sweetness, but it also works to tenderize the meat. You can also substitute with any other pear, apples, peaches, nectarines, or kiwis. I'm not sure about whether other fruits will work though. Allow a few hours for the fruit juices to do their work on the meat, and for the marinade to sink in. You can add Korean chili peppers to make spicy bulgogi, which I think works much better on pork.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Geraniums in Flower Pots

Is there anything more welcoming than a front porch with bright red geraniums in flower pots?
(Just an FYI: They're on sale right now at IKEA for $2.50 in case you've always wanted to have flowers in window boxes too.)

I had to move all my houseplants outside because there's no room inside. They're going through a little shock with too much sunlight. I had them just sitting around on the porch until I could figure out what to do with them. But then luckily last weekend, one of my neighbors threw out this shelf. It's got thick coatings of paint so it should be able to withstand the outdoors. Plus, it blocks direct sunlight from burning my many African violets. Serendipitous, no?

I'm like a bird, building a nest where ever I go. It wasn't until this past weekend when I got my porch to look exactly the way I wanted -- a little barrier of plants to block the view from the street and to give me privacy, bright red geraniums in pots along the railing and along the steps, and a little bistro table and chairs to sit and watch life go by.

I haven't started on the backyard yet. Not sure if I want to for a long while. It sure is a lot easier to water a bunch of flower pots, than to weed a whole backyard. So this is my garden for now.

I thought a little break from my dumpling posts was appropriate since ya'll evidently think I'm quite the glutton. Well, I am, or else I wouldn't be so obsessed about food. :) But I do other things too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dumpling 10053 - El Monte

So on the heels of my waxing poetic about Luscious Dumplings several months ago, Rasa Malaysia and KevCheng of 50 Meals offered up their favorite dumpling house - Dumpling 10053 in El Monte (So named because of its address). Luckily it was just around the corner from one of my many cousins so we gave it a go. Otherwise, it's located way, way east on Valley Boulevard a goodly distance from the majority of the Chinese restaurants in San Gabriel and Rosemead. On a weekday during lunch it was completely full and we had a little wait. That's always a good sign. The interior with its green colors and dark wood was also a lot nicer than what I expected from the outside of the strip mall. Based on some Googling beforehand, I knew to avoid the rock cod and salmon dumplings. And while I like cod in my fish and chips, and salmon in general, I figured they'd be too dry for dumplings anyway. Also, no xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings) here. Just your basic steamed or is it boiled? dumplings. We decided on the sole fish and leek dumplings. An order of 10 was $6.50. The fish was really moist, the stuffing quite full. The wrapper wasn't too thick or too thin, which worked well for seafood because you don't want a thick dough overwhelming the taste of the fish. The first initial dumplings were really tasty, but then after that, they seemed a little bland. The taste was a little too same-same, especially after the other dumplings started coming out. We also got shrimp and tender leek dumplings. An order of 10 was $6.50. These were by far my favorite. The dumpling was the size of my spoon so each one was packed with several large shrimp. The shrimp themselves had a nice crunch. I thought it'd be a bit excessive to get two leek dumplings but these were tender leeks so paler and lighter tasting. And then finally, an order of 10 crab, pork, and sea cucumber dumplings for $6.50. As you can see, the pork flavor was all that really came through. The crab was imitation. The sea cumber bits were unevenly distributed so some dumplings had them and some didn't. The Chowhound boards were all crazy about this dumpling but the sole fish and shrimp dumplings were much better in my opinion. All in all, I'd say Dumpling 10053's shrimp dumplings were really stellar as they were basically just whole shrimp. But then, if I were going for shrimp dumplings, I much prefer them in har gow with its nice chewy tapioca skin. The sole fish is nice for a healthy and light-tasting alternative. I'd skip the three-flavor one and opt to try one of their noodle dishes instead. But that's just me. The only downside is that it's located so very far from the main drag of Chinese restaurants on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel, or even the other strip of restaurants on Garvey in El Monte. Anyway, as I've said, I tend to go to the northern Chinese restaurants that feature dumplings specifically for the dumplings, and their other dishes are just a side for me. Update: June 10, 2007 My cousin suggested we go back for noodles and potstickers. So we did. I had forgotten to take a picture of the complimentary pot of tea so yes, there's free tea. I ordered the homemade sweet plum juice for $1.75. It didn't taste like plums at all. More like dried longans that had been boiled into a tea? Refreshing on this hot day, but just not quite what I was expecting. The cold cucumber salad for $2.50 had way too much sesame oil. I like my cucumber salad tart, like what's served at Mandarin Noodle Deli. I was so hungry though that I scarfed them down anyway. We ordered stewed beef and beef tendon noodles in spicy soup for $6.50. The soup wasn't spicy. But look at those tendon! They were incredibly soft. The broth wasn't flavorful without being gelatinous. Here's another angle so you can see the noodles. The soup came with this small jar of pickled mustard greens. I love pickles. I ate about half the jar. Mmm! The potstickers, an order of 8 for $5.75, looked golden didn't they? But they were so disappointing. Not crunchy at all. Anyway, overall the shrimp dumplings and tendon noodles were the best items here. Who else ate at Dumpling 10053? KevCheng of 50 Meals loved their dumplings and beef tendon noodles. Kirk of Mmm-yoso liked their three flavor dumplings but didn't like their rock cod. Dylan of Eat, Drink, & Be Merry ate a bunch of other dishes as well. Dumpling 10053 10053 Valley Blvd Ste 2 El Monte, CA 91731 626-350-0188 Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays Cash Only

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mei Long Village - San Gabriel

As I was leaving the strip mall after eating at J & J (Jin Jian) Restaurant, I noticed the sign for Mei Long Village. They're literally only two doors apart, but because I had walked up from the underground parking garage, I hadn't noticed the restaurant's sign. And remembering this post by Kirk of Mmm-yoso, I knew they also had xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings). So I made a mental note to go back for comparative purposes. And while I try to judge each restaurant on its own merits, the fact that the two restaurants are so close, with similar menus, just begs for comparison.

First impression, Mei Long Village was much larger and cleaner than J & J. The wait staff spoke better English, which comes in handy if you don't speak Chinese and have questions about food. I went with my cousin and her baby, and the waitress immediately brought out a high chair. She also gave the baby a styrofoam bowl and dish, which made great toys to keep baby occupied since she doesn't have any teeth to eat dumplings yet. I liked that the waitress was attentive. On another occasion, I had dropped a chopstick, and the waitress immediately grabbed a clean pair from a nearby table to replace mine.

We got free hot and sour soup. It wasn't spectacular hot and sour soup, but it was free! And it was properly sour enough for me.

On another visit, I got egg drop soup for free. No free soup at J & J.

The soy sauce dishes were also much bigger here.

My cousin and I knew we were going to get dumplings so we decided to get some vegetables to balance that out. The $4.95 baby bok choy and mushrooms were a bit on the overcooked side. Very soft, and I like my vegetables crunchy. But it was tasty, and in all honesty, there's only so much you can do with bok choy.

The crab XLB were 8 to an order for $6.50. The top of the dumplings weren't as nicely done as J & J, but I could see little pools of soup at the bottom of each one. These dumplings were also slightly larger than J & J's, but not by much.

Here, you can see the soup fills up more of my spoon. The dumpling skins are also thinner, so the soup and filling are more dominant than the dough. Taste-wise though, there's not as much crab. So if you're going specifically for crab XLB, then J & J is better for flavor. If you want thinner skin, more soup, and a more flavorful broth, I think Mei Long Village comes out ahead.

If you don't care about the crab, then regular pork XLB is a better option. For $1 less, you get two more. So an order of 10 pork XLB is $5.50. And again, the dumpling skin is thin enough and the broth is plentiful enough that you can literally see the soup pooling at the bottom of each dumpling.

So between the two restaurants, I'd say Mei Long Village has a slight edge over J & J, because of the thinner skins, more soup, and flavorful broth. To prove me wrong, or to see if I was right, Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos, who recommended J & J to me, went to check out Mei Long Village. His verdict? Although he agreed with my assessment, he preferred J & J. :P You can see what he has to say here.

The potstickers were $5.95 for an order of 8. They were nicely golden, just juicy enough. But I'd have to say Luscious Dumplings is still hands-down my favorite restaurant for potstickers.

I also ordered wu xi spareribs for $5.95. The meat had been braised for so long and was so tender that even the cartilage was soft. This is the lunch special price, dinner price is $9.95, I believe.

Again, the Shanghai noodles for $5.95. Although J & J's version looked more golden, I'd say they tasted the same at both places. Bland to me. But Henry really liked these noodles, and said Mei Long Village's version is better because it's less oily.

As the two restaurants are in the same strip mall, and only a couple of doors apart, you can check out both places and compare for yourself.

Because I really just go here when I crave XLB, there's lots of other Shanghai specialty dishes and pastries that I didn't order. So you can go here to read what Kirk of Mmm-yoso said about those other dishes, as well as his assessment of the XLB.

Happy eating! I've got 3 other dumpling houses coming up. And yes, I know, everyone has their favorite places. Can't go wrong with any dumplings in my estimation, but I do go to different ones for different cravings.

Mei Long Village
301 W. Valley Blvd. #112
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Sunday - Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.