Quick Weeknight Dinner

9 Jan

You just got home from work, it’s dark and cold and think: the Jetsons “food-a-rac-a-cycle” or Rosey the Robot would be really amazing. But unfortunately this is not my reality. Fortunately I did have healthy green veggies and leftovers on hand for a quick meal.

From chop to chow, these two dishes took just over 30 minutes.

Canh Bau Tom (Squash Soup with Shrimp)

1/2 – 1 lb Shrimp – peeled and deveined (get shrimp with the head on and keep the fat after you pull them off to mix with meat – adds more flavor)

1 Opo Squash (AKA Bottle Gourd)

1 shallot quartered and sliced

1 tbs EVOO

2 – 4 tbs Sugar (vary depending on preference for sweetness)

1 tbs Fish Sauce

2 – 3 tbs Vegetable/Mushroom seasoning

1 tsp Ground White Pepper

6 – 8 cups water

Half a bunch of cilantro and 1 green onion (sliced)

Chop shrimp to small pieces and toss with fish sauce and pepper. Cut squash as half circles, matchsticks, etc. The thinner you slice them, the mushier they are likely to become after cooking.

Add the EVOO to soup pot and saute the sliced shallot until fragrant – about 30 seconds. Add the chopped shrimp and stir until they become pink and opaque. Quickly pour in the water and bring back to a boil. Add Sugar and Vegetable Seasoning and allow the flavors to develop. Vegetable Seasoning are these whitish pellets that are like fake MSG. It’s salty and adds richness to the broth, but isn’t just like salt. Make sense? No. I know. Mẹ gave me a package when I started experimenting with Vietnamese cooking.

Unfortunately I’ve yet to find or talk to anyone with an explicitly written recipe that turns out how we like it. So there is a lot of tasting. Start small and add more sugar or seasoning or fish sauce until you figure out your ratios. We like a lot of dishes like soups and stews with a little more sugar than other blogs use, so I know to cut down on the salt and up the sugar a bit. Just don’t do what we did in our first attempt of making Chao Ga (chicken rice porridge) adding – all at the same time – big tablespoons of sugar and salt and fish sauce without letting the flavors blend. Give it some time.

Anyways. Once you’ve found the balance, the squash may already be overcooked but who cares. Easier digestion, no? In all this took 30 minutes max.

Add green onion and cilantro just before serving and enjoy!

Canh Bau Tom – I added Chili Powder after seeing a blog add to the dish but didn’t like it. Will leave this out next time.

The other dish for our quick meal is a variation of Rau Muong Xao Toi Chao (Water Spinach with Garlic and Fermented Bean Curd), which is straight forward,but I found Wandering Chopsticks recipe to verify. I say variation because I’ve yet to find water spinach in any of the international markets nearby. So I grabbed a bag of normal spinach. Was ok…but may substitute Watercress next time if it still proves elusive. This is one of those dishes that you will either love or hate (much like Canh Kho Qua – Bitter Melon Soup). We order this at Mark’s Duck House with our noodle soup. Recipe after the jump!

“Rau Muong” Xao Toi Chao (Water Spinach with Garlic and Fermented Bean Curd)

Serves 2

1 bunch fresh spinach, ends cut off

2 garlic cloves (more or less to taste)

3+ squares Fermented Bean Curd (find this in Vietnamese banh mi shops or other food stores and international markets)

1 tbs EVOO

Rau Muong Xao Toi Voi Chao ingredients

Rau Muong Xao Toi Voi Chao ingredients

Heat oil in wok and add garlic until fragrant. Add the fermented bean curd squares and smash to melt – start with less and add more until you get the level of pungent goodness you prefer. Once this is melted and happy, add your spinach and toss until wilted. This happens pretty fast and cooks way way down, leaving you with the fermented bean curd sauce that is good with rice.

Banh Bau Tom, Rau Muong and Nem Nuong

Banh Bau Tom, Rau Muong and Nem Nuong

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