A traditional, healthy but yummy Viet food for every occasion, even just to treat yourself…
It’s time to update something on my blog now. This will be the first post of the Year of the Snake. Every Lunar New Year, my family and I used to search the house for every single thing to clean and polish up to prepare for new year. And by family I really mean my Mom… Even though it always felt so tiring and boring and exhausting at the same time, it was all what Tet is all about. It’s time you take care of your home and dress up for the New Year. We would have a big yellow flower tree to display in the house. It’s the kind of flower that only blooms around the Lunar New Year. We call it “hoa mai”. Along with cleaning the house most Asian family would cook a large amount of food and store away to consume suring the first few days of the holiday, simply because there was no groceries store open. They do want to spend the holiday too!!!
My Mom would cook a big pot of braised pork belly and boilded eggs and give some to by aunt and uncle’s family. She would also pickle some leeks to serve with our traditional Vietnamese rice cake (Bánh Tét, Bánh Chưng). We also had dried sausage, steamed ham, cold meats, and so on and on and on. The amount of food we would consume during Tet holiday made us stay away from any sort of meat for about a week after that.
And so it’s been 4 years away from home, missing 4 Tet holidays. Yet so, every year, I still make the braised pork and eggs that my Mom taught me, only with not-so-fresh ingredients. It’s better than nothing anyways!!! I also clean my cave-like basement. And every year, al the Viet friends of mine would gather together and celebrate the Tet holiday with pot luck dinners. This year is no difference, only with a smaller group of friends, since everybody live far away now, scattered all around Toronto and the GTA, from Markham to Vaughan, to Missisauga. This year, we came to a couple’s house near my place, and I made the lotus stem salad. It’s one of the traditional salad that Viet people have on their table in any event, from birthday to wedding, to any kind of aniversaries.
Fresh lotus stems
The ingredients I found in Toronto were quite good and premade, so it speed the process up quite nicely. The lotus stem is the actual body of the lotus. It is really really short and is way under the water. The green thing that is connected with the flower is actually the branch, not the body of the tree (tree ?!?). The stems can be found as pickled stems at any Asian or ethnic groceries around Toronto and the GTA. The lotus stem salad looks like there’s a lot going on, but is really easy to make. It’s a healthy and delicious dish combined in one.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Servings: 8
Finger mint
– 3 jars of pickled lotus stems (about 300 – 400gr)
– Half a carrot
– A handful of finger mint
– 100gr pork belly
– 400gr shrimp
– shalots, cilantro, and taosted peanuts for garnish
– Fish sauce, sugar, lime, chili for dressing
Pickled lotus stems will look like this
– Boil the pork and shrimp, let cool. Thinly slice the pork and cut the shrimp lengthwise. Set aside
– Take the lotus stems out of the jars, squeeze out the excess pickle water, and tear them apart, lengthwise (trust me, it’s the easy part).
– Shred the carrot into small strips. Wash the finger mints and chop in small pieces
– Thinly slice the shallots and fry til cripsy over low heat
Dressing: Cook fish sauce and sugar in 1:1 ratio (100gr sugar : 100ml fish sauce) until the sugar dissolve into the fish sauce and create a thick and honey-like  liquid.
Mixing: In a large bowl, put together pork, shrimp, lotus stems, carrots, and finger mints. Pour the dressing by taste. Mix well. Squeeze in lime juice and  put in chopped chili to taste. The salad should absorb all the flavours from the dressing, salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and savory.
– To serve, garnish with crushed toasted peanuts, chopped cilantro, and crispy shallot chips.
– The dressing might look thick and really sweet at first, but once you mix them with the pickled stems and the lime juice, it will lighten up a lot, so no worries on that matter.
– The boiling water for the pork belly should be seasoned with salt, sugar, and a bit of pepper so that the meat has a nice taste. The sugar in the water will help make the fat part clearer and crunchier. You can leave out the fat part after boiling, but don’t cut it out before boiling as that might dry up the meat.
– For shrimp, you can just put them in a pot, and the the heat increases, the juice will come out of the shrimp, so no need for water.
– If you have fresh stems, clean out all the mud, and mix them with a bit of vinegar and sugar for an hour. They will be as good as the pickled ones.
Bon Apetite !!!

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