Vietnam: A Vietnamese Appetizer Buffet

We had visitors last night! My future sister and brother-in-law and their beyond adorable baby came through on their way back home from Wisconsin. We had a great visit with them. I was happy to cook for people I adore--and even happier to hear yummy noises instead of gagging. ;)

This will sound like I'm switching subjects, but I'm not. I was at the library last week, browsing through the three aisles of cookbooks, when I happened upon what seemed to be an ethnic cookbook section. Well. I don't know how it hadn't occurred to me before then that the library would have lots of cookbooks detailing ethnic cuisine, but it hadn't. Even better, there was a Vietnamese cookbook! A few, actually. I've had a hell of a time finding reliable sources online for Vietnamese recipes. I grabbed one full of pretty pictures and ran home squealing with delight.

And this is how the idea of making a Vietnamese appetizer buffet for the big visit came to be. Aren't you glad that you know? Now! Let's see some crappy flash photography of the spread once it's all laid out:

Vietnamese Buffet: More effort than the recipes would lead you to believe.

Mmm...piles of tasty.

All recipes from this buffet came from the cookbook "Quick & Easy Vietnamese: 75 Everyday Recipes" by, Nancie McDermott.

Lemongrass Shrimp
- Tom Nuong Xa
-3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh lemongrass
-1 tablespoon chopped garlic
-2 tablespoons fish sauce
-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
-1 tablespoon soy sauce
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil
-1 tablespoon brown sugar
-1 tablespoon sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
-About 30 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (I only needed 8-10 large skewers)

1. In a food processor, combine the lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, vegetable oil, brown sugar, sugar, and salt. Blend until fairly smooth, adding water if necessary to move the blades. Transfer the marinade to a medium bowl, add the shrimp, and toss to coat well. Allow to marinade 20-30 minutes.

2. Build a hot charcoal fire, preheat a gas grill or broiler, preheat the oven to 425, or lightly oil a skillet or grill pan and heat until very hot. Thread the shrimp onto skewers, 2 or 3 per skewer, and cook on the hot grill, turning once, until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, 2-4 minutes. Or, place in a lightly greased pan and cook under the broiler for 2-4 minutes, or roast in the oven 3-5 minutes. Or, saute quickly in the skillet or grill pan for 2-4 minutes. Serve the shrimp, hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Grilled Leaf-Wrapped Beef Kebabs - Bo La Lot
-1/2 pound ground beef
-2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass
-1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or onion
-1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
-1 tablespoon fish sauce
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
-30-40 la lot leaves, grape leaves, flat spinach leaves, large basil or perilla leaves
-10 long bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 30 minutes
-Everyday Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

1. In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, vegetable oil, sugar, black pepper, salt, and turmeric; mix well. Divide the mixture into generous tablespoons of meat. Shape each portion into a plump cylinder about 2 inches long. (**NOTE: In order to save counter space, I just formed the cylinders on each individual grape leaf.**)

2. Place a leaf vein-side down with the stemmed edge toward you. Place a meat portion at the edge nearest you. Roll it up in the leaf and place it, seam side down on a platter. Leave the ends open, unless you're using grape leaves, which need their sides tucked in due to width. Continue rolling until all the meat is wrapped in leaves.

3. Build a hot charcoal fire, preheat a gas grill, or preheat the oven to 400. To grill the kebabs, thread 3-4 rolls onto each skewer, bunching them up near the pointed end and taking care to pierce each roll through the seam. Place the skewers on the oiled rack of the hot grill and cook until done 2-3 minutes per side, turning once or twice. To bake them, place the rolls (without skewers) seam side down in a 13x9" baking pan. Bake until done 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with dipping sauce.

Pork Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Rice Noodles in Lettuce Cups - Nem Nuong
-1 pound ground pork
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil
-1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
-1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
-2 tablespoons fish sauce
-1 tablespoon soy sauce
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper

-1/2 pound thin dried rice noodles, softened in warm water for 15 minutes
-About 36 small, cup-shaped lettuce leaves (**I used green Boston lettuce**)
-1 1/2 cups fresh chopped cilantro, mint, or basil leaves--or a mix of all three
-1 cup thinly sliced green onion or chives cut into 1" lengths
-Everyday Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
-12-15 bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 30 minutes

1. To begin the meatballs, combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well with your hands. Cover and chill for a few minutes while you prepare the accompaniments.

2. to cook the soaked rice noodles, drain them, drop them into boiling water, and immediately remove from the heat. Let stand 10 minutes, and then drain well. Pile the noodles on a large serving platter, and place the lettuce leaves beside them. Put the herbs and green onion in small bowls and arrange them on the platter. Place a bowl of dipping sauce in the center of the platter, leaving room for the meatballs.

3. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs, using about 1 tablespoon each for large, walnut-sized meatballs.

4. If grilling, build a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Thread 3-5 meatballs on each skewer, and place them on a plate. Cook on the hot grill, turning now and then, until nicely browned and cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. To pan-fry the meatballs, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pain is hot, add the meatballs and cook, shaking the pan now and then to brown them evenly and cook through, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and thread onto skewers if you'd like, 3-4 per skewer.

5. Transfer the grilled or pan-fried meatballs to the prepared serving platter and serve hot or warm. Make little packets by tucking a meatball, a small tangle of noodles, and a pinch of herbs and green onions into a lettuce leaf and rolling it up. Dip the bundle into the sauce as you eat.

The photo is crap, but I was trying to show you an assembled product. Oh well.

Everyday Dipping Sauce - Nuoc Cham
-1 tablespoon chopped garlic
-2 tablespoons sugar
-1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce, finely chopped fresh hot chiles, or 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
-3 tablespoons fish sauce
-3 tablespoons water
-2 tablespoons freshly squeeze lime juice

1. Combine the garlic, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce in the bowl of a mortar and mash to a paste. If you don't have a mortar, combine them on your cutting board and mash to a coarse paste with a fork and the back of a spoon.

2. Scrape the paste into a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, water, and lime juice . Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to small serving bowls for dipping. Or transfer to a jar, cover, and refrigerate up to 1 week.

Verdict: This was one satisfying and yummy buffet. Everyone oohed and aahed over its prettiness and deliciousness, myself included. I think the winner may have been the Grilled Leaf-Wrapped Beef Kebabs. They were SO GOOD. I would totally make them again for dinner (perhaps with some lemony rice). Ultimately, I don't know why I underestimated the amount of work that would go into this dinner. Everything looked so quick and easy (like the book's title promised)...and while it was technically easy, there was a lot of chopping, mixing, wrapping, washing, grilling, baking, and boiling to do. Live and learn (and eat noms).


whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

Great recipes, I;ve been looking for a good Vietnamese cookbook. I'll have to see if they have that one in my library!

Lawyer Loves Lunch said...

Props to you! That looks like a LOT of effort! But man, what delicious, delicious effort indeed :)

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