A couple of weeks ago, I went mad at the vegie stall in the local market, bringing home a sackful of herbage and vegetation for some kitchen treatment. The street eat blues had set in, due largely to the drop in temperature in Hanoi. Managing the chopsticks while wearing woolen gloves ain't much fun - don't know whether to eat or knit!
So...to the kitchen. After polishing off most of the greens and roots in our normal day to day eating, I was left with my trusty plastic bagful of aromatics, half a pumpkin, some spuds and a bunch of the best green veg in 'Nam - rau can tay. The Viet-English dictionary reckons it's celery but it throws up dyslexic translations all the time. It is a subtle lemon on the tongue and, when steamed and eaten simply, should have crunch. Like with most vegetables, overcooking this little number would be a sin. Anyway, have a gander at it.
So, what to do with this miss-mash of veg? Make a bloody soup, I say. A week before, I'd blended far too much Thai curry paste, so that went in with half a tin of coconut cream and an inch of smashed ginger to start off proceedings. The spuds were peeled and drowning in water to avoid the big brown, the pumpety-pump had been murdered and was sitting in clumps on the chopping board as I threw a diced onion and half a dozen thin stems of chopped celery into the pot of spluttering aroma. Next in were the pumpy and half of the potatoes, followed by a kettle full of hot water and a pho ga stock-cube. In our poxy little oven which nonetheless packs a punch of heat, I roasted the remainder of the spuds.The one-two-three of boil-simmer-blend finished off the show.
Serving was simple: I'd cut the rau can tay into 5cm lengths and blanched them momentarily, plonking a scissored-into-bite-size pile of them into each bowl before ladling the soup over (good way to suck the kids into eating their greens, hey what?). Prettified with a few roasted spud chunks, coriander, celery leaf and cracked pepper, the bowls were whacked on the table with a basket of toasted banh my and spooned down as we looked out the kitchen window at the drizzle and grey sky that is Hanoi in winter AND spring.
With renewed confidence in my cooking skills - I haven't really put knife to chopping block much in the last two years - I hit the market again for more soup vegetables. The following is the creation of Cauliflower and Coriander Soup, made following much of the above vague method without the roasted potato palaver and with a slightly different paste, heavy with Vietnamese mint (rau ram).
The third soup of the title is bun rieu, this one made out the front of a family home and eaten in their living room, after I'd bought the veggies and was wandering around the alleys behind the market so ravenous I could've eaten the crotch out of a low flying duck!