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Herbs and leaffy green vegetables in Vietnamese Cuisine September 15, 2007

Posted by adrien in Food facts, Fruits & Vegetables, Ingredients, Vietnamese Cuisine.
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Although I love both Thai and Vietnamese food, I however think that the latter is lighter and more refreshing than the former, using crisp, uncooked vegetables, subtle seasonings, unique flavor combination and a lot of raw herbs. It is textural, with fresh and sharp taste.

Actually, the pervasive use of fresh leaves and herbs sets Vietnamese Cuisine apart from other and seems unique in its kind. While Vietnamese restaurants in other regions of the world rarely manage to offer more than one kind of mint, basil or cilantro, there is in Vietnam a remarkable variety of herbs, used in many ways: wrapped around cooked meat as a guava leaf does in nem chua; chopped, as dill in Cha ca (fish cake) or fingermint does in numerous salads; stirred into the steaming noodle soup as do Thai basil and saw leaf cilantro in Pho; BBQ wrap as betel leaf in Bo la lop; main ingredients in soup or sautee’d as morning glory, spinach, yute leave; as wrappers with lettuce and rice papers; and in drinks as rau ma

Certainly the use of these fresh herbs and leaves is part of the appeal of Vietnamese food, providing fresh flavors, beautiful aromas and many interesting textural variations.

My wife’s conclusion is: “now I understand how Vietnamese women are sveltes without diet or worrying about what they eat.”

I will write a post for each herbs that we grow and use at Bai Sri.

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Soursop or guanabana September 13, 2007

Posted by adrien in Fruits & Vegetables.
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I found this morning on the market of Palmar de Aramara near Sam’s Club a very nice soursop. It is not easy to find good soursop, they are often too green or with lots of bruises. And I enjoyed all day long a fresh and delicious soursop water while my 6 years old son prefered a milky champola (a cuban version of soursop water where the milk replaces water).

I don’t like that much to eat soursop with a spoon, but it is one of my favourite fruit to make juice, smoothies, water, desserts, sorbets, mousse..etc.

Soursop derives its name from the Dutch zuur zak or sour sac. Sop is an English word meaning something which soaks up liquid; as the flesh of the soursop is saturated with juice, the name is not inappropriate. In spanish, it is called guanabana, mang cau in Vietnamese, corossol in French and thu rian khaek in Thai (some would ask where is the point to know the name of this fruits in those languages? Well, there is pointless, it is just the price to pay when you are a Vietnamese native with French citizen living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (where English is almost a second official language) and owning a Thai restaurant. It is all about credibility, maybe!)

The slightly bumpy thin skin of this irregularly shaped fruit is green even when it is ripe. Inside, the flesh is white and pulpy, full of shiny black seeds (the most complicated part in the preparation of this fruit: taking the seeds out), with a central pithy core running its length. The soursop bruises easily when it ripens, so buy it while still firm and wait until it yields slightly to gentle pressure. Then eat it immediately.

The flavor is somewhat acidic (that’s why it is better in desserts and drinks when the acidity is counteracted by added sugar). It is refreshing, with a faint fragance and an elusive but irresistible taste.

The soursop found in South East Asia is much more sweeter, juicier and better quality then the ones found in Mexico, specially in Bahia de Banderas where is one of the most pest-infected regions in Mexico. And soursop is a very high prized fruits for all kinds of bugs.

If you are in South East Asia, try the raw fruit or some soursop smoothy. If you travel to Mexico, try agua de guanabana, it is very refreshing. Soursop sherbet made in Oaxaca style (nieve de garafa) is one of my favourites. At Bai Sri we will offer home made Soursop sherbet and Soursop souflle this coming season.

La Pitahaya or the Dragon Fruit July 2, 2007

Posted by adrien in Fruits & Vegetables.
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Finally the rain has come (with almost a month late) and so has come a bit of freshness. Thanks God because it started to be very, very hot those last days.

Along with the rains has come also the first dragon fruits of the season.
The Pitahaya is a fruit of a cactus belonging to the Hylocereus family and originated from central and South America. I’ve heard that a French naturalist brought it with him to Indochina in the 19th century. (I remember there was a Hylocereus cactus on the balcony of my Grand-Ma’s house in Nha Trang, and we kids were forbidden to go near the cactus and touch the fruits, which were destinated to be on the ancestor’ altar. And what is on the ancestors’ altar is sacred). Now a day, Vietnam is the first dragon fruit producer and exporter of the world. Actually, the Pitahaya name in Vietnamese is Thanh Long, which means “fruit of the Dragon”. Some also call it in English strawberry pear.

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We started to make our pitahaya field five years ago. Natives of Bahia de Banderas know better Tuna (the nopal cactus fruit) or Pitaya (which is like the dragon fruit but smaller and yellow outside) but there was almost no dragon fruit here. I have seen a few times Hylocereus Cactus in the jungle but it will cost us a lot of works to get the fruit, unless we are monkeys or birds. As a matter of fact, the hylocereus cactus is thin and flexible so it needs a tutor to grow up to reach the sun. Thus, the flowers and fruits are up to 100 feet high in natural state.

The flower of the Dragon Fruit is precious. It is about 15 cm long and can reach 30 cm of diameter. But as all beauties are ephemeral, the hylocereus flower blossoms at night and start to die with the first sunrays. So the best time to go on a Dragon fruits field is at 6 in the morning.

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You can find Dragon fruits in Vallarta from the end of May to November in Fruit Forest (the mother company of Fruit Forest in Guadalajara: H&C Global distributes our Dragon Fruits) but I have notices some pitahaya this year at Soriana in front of Sam’s Club.

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In our fields, there are 3 cactus which give fruit with red pulp. The taste is lightly sweeter then the regular fruit but it is aesthetically less interesting.