Popular Vietnamese Spices

Vietnamese cooking without spices is like wine without the grapes. It’s just not the real thing. This article will list all the main spices that give Vietnamese cuisine its hallmark spicy footprint and invite the newcomer into this particular eastern brand of cooking.

The good news is that one needn’t go much further than the local supermarket to find these spices.

The shallot is the most popular spice in Vietnamese cooking from yesteryear as well as today. It is petite and can be confused for a small onion, used for its sweet spicy kick and grown all year round. The cooking heat releases a sweetness from shallots that tends to round off the Vietnamese dish, fried for stir fries and crushed for stews and grilled dishes. The spice can be used fresh or frozen, but is useless when it is dried or forgotten outside of the refrigerator. Onions can be used as a substitute if shallots can’t be found at the supermarket. Onions may be more bitter than shallots, but they are also frequently used.

Garlic, the old trusty favourite. In Vietnam, garlic is used fried, raw and grilled in almost every dish. Since it compliments almost every ingredient and strongly seasons the rest, one can add it to stir fries, braised or grilled dishes, as well as stews and marinades. Raw garlic is used to make dips and salads. As they tend to have a sweeter taste, small fresh cloves are more often used than the larger ones. 

Annatto seeds have an earthy and peppery flavour but are used mainly for the orange to red dye it produces during the cooking process. These ground up tiny seeds are normally used with vegetable and rice dishes.

Caramelized cane sugar gives a deeper, richer taste to sauces and marinades while lightly toasted or crushed peppercorns add some bite to stir fries and braised dishes. Cinnamon is another popular spice used in Vietnamese cuisine, especially in stews, soups and desserts and is used in all its forms; dried, ground or as folded sticks.

The ginger root is important as well as popular in Vietnam. It doubles as herb and spice, providing both flavour and health benefits to poultry and seafood dishes as a marinade. Ginger sooths diarrhea and warms the body and helps to keep a person healthy during winter times. This pungent spice can be used fresh or grilled for noodle, braised dishes and herbal teas as well.

Another similar looking spice to ginger with healing properties the Vietnamese use is turmeric. Its main use is as colour giving marinade, infusing ingredients with orange and a mild acidic flavour. It can cloud unwelcome smells of seafood that tends to be too ‘fishy’ and is one of the main spices blended together to create curry powder. Curry powder’s warm colour comes from turmeric. An old Vietnamese home remedy is to apply turmeric juice to torn skin for scar-free healing.

Stewed and grilled fish, even other fried seafoods, enjoy the touch of lemongrass and galangal. Both are used to season poultry, pork and broth dishes.

Star anise tastes like licorice and like their name suggests, appears in the shape of eight-pointed stars. Ground or used whole, this spice is as versatile as can be, rounding off sweet desserts as well hitting all the right notes in main courses and soups. Star anise is one of the ingredients in the country’s strong ‘five-spice’ powder. Cloves, fennel seeds, licorice and cinnamon complete the blend that gets added in moderate amounts to meat, stews and marinades.  

Chilies appear to be a matter of personal taste and choice in Vietnam. Some like it, some don’t. Those who savour the bite that chilies can bring prefer the particularly hot bird’s-eye chilies when cooking or marinating ingredients. The spice can be used dried and whole, frozen or added as flakes.

Vietnamese spices are exceptional in the sense that they are unapologetically Eastern, their flare coming not only from flavour but also their beautiful shapes and shades. Genuine Vietnamese cooking may take some getting used to for the beginner but once accepted, it will be a lifelong love affair.  

Pennsylvania Dutch New Year’s foods

The Pennsylvania Dutch are people who are of German decent who came to the York, Lancaster, Lebanon and surrounding areas of Pennsylvania during the 18th century. William Penn’s Quakers offered other groups religious freedom when they moved here. The first group of Germans to come to America didn’t really get along with the English. However, they eventually accepted each other and the Germans were much help during the revolutionary war.

The Pennsylvania Germans (also known as the PA Dutch) contributed a lot to the culture of central Pennsylvania. The PA Dutch language blends several dialects with English and standard German.

PA Dutch foods are diverse and include bits of North German, Southwestern German and also Swiss fare, but transformed into essentially American.

The Pennsylvania Dutch have many long standing traditions, one of which is the meal served on New Year’s Day. Pork and Sauerkraut are served for prosperity in the New Year. As the saying goes, “A pig roots forward, but a turkey or chicken scratches backward.” Pigs are also associated with getting plenty to eat and plumpness. Sauerkraut is for wealth and cabbage is for luck.

To make the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Pork and Sauerkraut you will need the following for a meal for six people.

A pork roast of four or five pounds, two jars of sauerkraut, salt and pepper to taste.

Depending on your preference, some people add an apple or one to two tablespoons of brown sugar to make the sauerkraut not as strong. Something else that can make a difference is the type of sauerkraut you use. The canned type is usually the strongest and the bagged sauerkraut is typically the mildest. Silverfloss is a great choice.

The meal itself is relatively easy to prepare. You can make it in a crock pot or in a soup kettle on top of the stove. Fill the crock pot or soup kettle half full of water. Put in the pork roast and sauerkraut. If doing it on the stovetop cook over medium heat for approximately four to five hours. If doing it in the crock pot (on high), cook it for about six to eight hours. If you prefer sour sauerkraut, don’t add it until the last two hours of cooking.

As the Pork and Sauerkraut are nearing the end of their cooking time, you can prepare the mashed potatoes. You will need 2 1/2 pounds of Russet potatoes, about a 1/2 cup of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of butter.

Peel the potatoes and wash them off with cold water. Dice potatoes and add to a Dutch oven or similar sized pot. Cover the cut potatoes with cool water. Bring them to a boil, then reduce heat to continue with a low boil for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and put back into the pot or another container you don’t mind using an electric mixer in (no metal utensils in non-stick pans). Add the butter and mix for several minutes, then add milk and continue to mix until smooth. Try not to over-mix them as they get a gluey texture.

When the Pork and Sauerkraut are finished, you might need to remove the pork and use a fork to pull the meat apart. You can add it back to the sauerkraut or put in on a separate plate. Dish the potatoes out accordingly and put the sauerkraut on top. 

Reasons why the Cuisine of Goa is Special

The state of Goa lies on the Arabian Sea along India’s west coast, and it boasts a wide variety of fish and seafood dishes. Goa is a popular tourist destination and for this reason it caters to the world. Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Thai restaurants can be found here. Nevertheless a trip to Goa would not be complete without sampling the Goan cuisine.

Over the ages the people of Goa have lived under a number of different empires. This particular Indian state has been significantly influenced by Portuguese, Hindu and Muslim culture. For this reason, Goa differs from the rest of India, and this includes the cuisine.  Potatoes, tomatoes, chili, pineapple, guavas, and cashews were brought by the Portuguese from Brazil into Goa, and in general, the flavors within Goan dishes are intense. 

Nowadays, a variety of cultures live together in harmony. All festivals are tolerated such as Christmas and Eid, Diwali and the Mardi Gras to name but a few. In any case, people of the Catholic and Hindu faith make up the majority of the population. For this reason, the food is mainly divided into the cuisines that pertain to these religions. Each has different flavors and methods of preparation and cooking.

Goan food has been heavily influenced by the hundreds of years of Portuguese colonialism, in particular the dishes belonging to Catholic cuisine. These recipes are hot and pungent and comprise of meat based dishes. Pork vindaloo is a favorite of Goan Catholics, and the traditional dessert known as bibinca is a popular Christmas recipe.

Within the Hindu cuisine the flavors tend to be much milder than those found in the Catholic recipes. Hindu cookery is far less spicy, and a much smaller amount of oil is used within the dishes. Furthermore, Hindu recipes tend to require the minimal use of onions and garlic. Lentils, vegetables, shoots and roots are eaten in abundance. The food is usually sweetened with jaggery and soured with tamarind or kokum, a deep red fruit which is particularly sharp.

Throughout the ages, Hindu cuisine has been strictly vegetarian. In other parts of India, it mostly remains this way. In Goa, however, the modern generation has broken with tradition. Fish is eaten here and occasionally so is meat. Nevertheless within Hindu households beef remains taboo because the cow is seen as a sacred animal. For this reason, Hindus will limit meat to lamb and chicken. Catholics prefer pork. Nevertheless, the majority of Goans, regardless of religious faith, prefer fish and seafood to meat.

Most Goans, whether Hindu, Catholic or otherwise, enjoy the vegetable stew known as khatkhate. The dish comprises of at least five vegetables, coconut, and a variety of spices. Coconut and coconut oil are widely used in Goan cuisine including the famous alcoholic drink known as feni. This drink is made either from coconut or from the fruit of the cashew tree.

According to Hindu legend, Lord Parashuram is responsible for the creation of the Indian state of Goa, and the cuisine is considered by many to be the best that India has to offer. Although Goa is India’s smallest state, it is by far the richest and for this reason an abundance of food is available.