Canh Chua Tom, Sour Soup with Shrimp

Yesterday was a Friday in our house. It was the last day of my husband’s service week and now he deservingly gets a few days off… which means a bit more help at home for me! yay.

I’ve been making Canh Chua more often lately. It’s so simple and comforting. I definitely didn’t appreciate the soup as much when I was younger and now that I’m older (and wiser) I can appreciate it for it’s nutrition and the memories of my parents making it for us. I’m trying to introduce as much foods to my kids while they’re young in hopes of having them appreciate it also when they’re older.

My parents and my husband’s parents as well, didn’t put fried garlic on the soup but I really enjoy the extra note of flavor that it adds. This soup is so versatile in that you can add as much or little protein or vegetables that you like. I like a lot of broth in my soup so I tend to be cautious with how much vegetables I put in. But if you like more, feel free to add more, and if you think I’m adding too much..feel free to add less! ahh the beauty of cooking for yourself =)

Typically served with Braised Claypot Fish (which is really good too), but my dad usually did fried salmon and I like doing the same. Served with some fresh or pickled veggies and dipping sauce….it’s nearly a perfect Vietnamese meal!

Canh Chua Tom
6 cups water or chicken broth
2-3 roma tomatoes quartered  (about 1/5-2 cups) (1/2 cup for stir-frying)
1 1/2 cup pineapple
2 Tbs vegetable oil
3 Tbs minced garlic
1/4 chopped shallots
1 cup ngo om
1 cup culantro
1 1/2 cup chopped okra
1 1/2 cup elephant ear stem (peel, cut in small slices and soak in salt water)
1 lb shrimp
4 Tbs tamarind concentrate
3 Tbs fish sauce
1 inch rock sugar (30 grams)
2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt (1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 stalk lemon grass, bruised (optional)
2 slices of ginger
1 kaffir lime leaf

Marinate shrimp with 1/4 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, and back pepper
Fry garlic, remove for later
Using garlic oil, sauté, shallots and lemongrass, ginger
Add shrimp and sauté for 1 minute, remove to plate
Add pineapple and sautee for 1 minute
Add tomatoes and sautee for 1 minute
Add water and sugar and bring to boil
add tamarind and lime leaf, stir
Bring to boil
Add fish sauce and salt, 
Simmer 5 minutes
Add okra and elephant ear steam
Simmer another 1 minutes
Simmer 3-5 minutes
Add tomatoes
Add shrimp
Once shrimp is cooked taste broth and adjust as necessary
And add herbs and bean sprouts.
Add fried garlic (remove lime leaf and lemon grass stalk)

Ragu Ga, Chicken Ragu

This is one of the most simple stews you can make. But despite its simplicity it still has depth, warmth and heartiness. It is absolutely perfect for cold winter days, although that hasn’t stopped me from making it other times of the year as well. I’m actually making this stew again for Valentine’s/Lunar New Year weekend, that’s how much we enjoy it. I always serve this with toasted baguette to soak up the broth. My kids enjoy this soup, but I honestly think it’s the bread they like the most.

I highly recommend using bone-in chicken chicken for this recipe (chicken thighs are my recommendation), but if you prefer breasts or using boneless then use chicken broth instead of water so you can achieve the depth of flavor we will want. I also remove the skin but you can always leave it on if that’s your preference!

Ragu Ga, Vietnamese Chicken Ragu (6-8 servings)
8 bone-in chicken thighs(skin on or skinless), about 4 lbs.
1 onion cut into slices
1 Tbs minced garlic
3 carrots cut into chunks (3-4 cups chopped carrots)
1-2 large potato cut into chunks (3 cups chopped potatoes)
1.5-2 cup frozen green peas
6 ounces tomato paste
2 Tbs ketchup (optional but recommended)
1 Tbs + 4 tbs fish sauce (or to taste)
4 cups water
1.5-2 cup coconut juice or soda
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Black peper to taste
French bread
Cilantro for garnish

Put chicken pieces in bowl. Add 2 tsp  sugar, 1 Tbs fish sauce, ½ tsp salt, black pepper, half of the minced garlic and onions.
Marinate for at least 30 minutes over night.
In a pot add oil over medium heat and brown chicken. Add the rest of the garlic and onions and saute for 1 minute. 
Add tomato paste and stir thouroughly.
Add coconut juice and water and bring to boil.
Add fish sauce and black pepper and lower to simmer.
Simmer for 15 minutes and add carrots and potatoes.
Simmer for another 20-30 minutes until vegetables are tender. 
Add peas and ketchup.
Simmer another 10-15 minutes or until ready to serve.
Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Served with toasted bread and lime on the side.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Grilled Pork, Thit Heo Nuong Xa

Reading my last post, I can’t help but laugh, “It’s suppose to storm this week in California and I’m ready for it.” 😂 Well I thought the “storm” would be just some heavy rainfall, I didn’t expect it to knock down two of our fences as well as break off a huge limb from our protected pine tree, and wreak havoc on our yard. Some people, including my poor sister, were left without power for hours. Luckily we weren’t among those that lost power for a significant amount of time. I think in the future I will be more careful with what I decided to say to nature. All in all, we are fine and our property will be fine, and life moves forward.

Last week was my husband’s birthday and I wanted to make a special dinner for my family, Com Tam Thit Nuong, which translates to Broken Rice Grill Pork. This is a recipe I only make for special occasions, mainly because it does use a lot of sugar, but indulging every once in a while is ok, right? The amount I make is usually shared with other people so at least it’s spread out a bit. The moment I announced the menu to my family, I had a little bit of uh-oh maybe I should back track. It was A LOT of work preparing everything, but at the end of the day, I never regret the work I put in when I see the family gather for a wonderful meal. At least I decided to forego making the cake myself (good decision on my part).

The grilled pork itself is not hard, but to make it a wonderful meal, you need to accompany it with dipping sauce, scallion oil, pickled veggies, salad…etc, which acutally ends up taking a lot of time. On top of that I added egg rolls, and that is a whole venture in its own. The good thing was I had the dipping sauce, scallion oil, and pickled veggies already made and so that left me with only the pork and egg rolls.

Just a couple notes for Vietnamese grilled pork, scallion oil is very important. It’s adds a nice flavor to the meal that I think it essential for Vietnamese rice plates and noodle dishes. Nuon mam dipping sauce is also necessary. All these flavors layer together and create a very authentic, unique, and tantalizing meal!

For the pork (enough to feed about 6-8 people)
2 stalk lemongrass
2 shallots
3 green onions white only
5 cloves garlic (2 tbs garlic)
5 Tbs caramel sauce (nuoc mau)
5 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs vegetable oil
4 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs dark soy sauce
1 Tbs oyster sauce
1 Tbs black pepper
2.5 -3 lbs pork tenderloin or shoulder,  sliced 1/4 inch thickness
or 4 lbs thin-cut pork chops

3 tbs caramel sauce, 1 tbs water, 1 tbs oil 1/2 tsp salt

Blend all ingredients from lemongrass to black pepper in a food processor until smooth.
Add to the pork and marinate for 24 hours.
Grill on medium heat about 5 minutes per side or until pork is cooked through.
Apply glaze to each size about 1 minute before pork is done cooking.

Bo Luc Lac | Vietnamese Shaking Beef

Happy Monday! Here’s to another week. It’s suppose to storm this week in California and I’m ready for it.

I wanted to share a special recipe today, Shaking Beef also known as Bo Luc Lac. This dish was my absolute favorite growing up. Since I’ve learned how to make it myself, I’ve made it so many times with many versions to see what our family liked most, and it always came back to the simplest version. A lot of recipes use oyster sauce which I’ve used also, but our family just preferred this dish without it. Feel free to explore different recipes and try different versions and see what fits you and your family’s taste best!

For the meat, since I make this fairly often, I typically use flap meat from Costco. It’s cheaper than ribeye and filet mignon but it still works for us. If you’re making this for the first time or if your budget allows, get yourself a nice ribeye or filet, you won’t regret it! But for me, I just use flap meat and it works. This dish is all about how tender the beef cubes are. I think tenderness is even more important that flavor for Shaking Beef. If you do get flap meat, get the best quality you can get. Costco has always been pretty good for us. I’ve learned that adding a little oil and cornstarch while the meat is marinating helps produce a more tender product. I do think the oil and cornstarch has to go in after the rest of the ingredients are mixed. I don’t know why, but that’s what I found worked the best.

You have to serve this dish with a fresh salad. The crisp greens goes very well with the flavorful beef cubes. Watercress is very authentic with the dish, but any lettuce will do. I have done romaine and butter leaf lettuce and enjoyed it both. You can also add onions and sweet bell peppers to the frying for some more color and vegetables if you prefer. The possibilities are endless once you have the basics of it. So here is my recipe and I hope you enjoy it.

Have a great week!

Bo Luc Lac
1 Lb beef cut in to 1 inch cubes
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt and black pepper
1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 Tbs minced garlic
1/2 tsp corn starch

For the Salad
6 cups watercress
1 cup thinly slice red onion
2 tomato, sliced into pieces (2 cups tomatoes)
5 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3  tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp black pepper

Add beef, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper to a bowl and mix.
Add half of the garlic and 1/2 tbsp oil and mix.
Add cornstarch and mix. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare you salad.
Combine vinegar, oil, salt, sugar, black pepper.
Add sliced onions to the vinegar dressing
Toss watercress with dressing and arrange on plate.
Add tomatoes slices.

Heat pan over med-high heat
Add 1 tbsp oil
Add beef
Sear 1 side for 1 minute
Turn over sear other side
Add garlic cook for another 2-3 minutes
Transfer to serving plate on top of salad
Enjoy with a salt and pepper lime dipping sauce and rice!

I leave you with some beautiful flowers from this weekend that greeted me whenever I walked out to my kitchen. I’m learning to appreciate the value of balance and aesthetics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while aesthetic is not everything in life, it is important because it can create a mood, a feeling, an inspiration that can impact that very moment in your day or even in your life.

Vietnamese Pork Spare Rib Soup

This simple, light yet flavorful, and hearty soup is a soup I enjoy making whether it’s in the cold of winter or warmer days of summer. I usually add some kind of pasta noodle like fusili pasta to make it a meal, but since I’m watching my carb intake I only added it for my daughter and my husband’s bowl this time.

The great thing about this soup is as long as you have potatoes, carrots, and onions you’re good on the veggies. But it’s also very customizable to your preference. Sometimes I add corn, cabbage, or cauliflower depending on what I have in the fridge and what I feel like eating.

For a cleaner flavor, I prefer using water to make the broth, but if you wanted to use chicken broth or some other broth you can definitely do that. For this soup, I used pork (hence the name 😛) but I’ve done this with bone-in chicken and it always turns out great as well!

Vietnamese Pork Spare Rib Soup (Serves 4-6)
2 Lbs. Pork Spare Ribs (cut into 1-2 riblets)
2 cups of cubed potatoes
2 cups of sliced carrots
1/2 onion
3 Tbs of fish sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cups cooked pasta
For broth
2 celery stalks (optional)
1/2 cup carrots (i usually keep the ends of carrots I’ve grated in the freezer to make broth later)
1/4 cup sliced onions
8 cups water

To cleaned pork spare ribs well:
1. Soak in cold salted water for about 30 minutes and rinse.
2. Parboil the ribs.
3. Bring enough water to cover the pork to boil.
4. Add pork and let cook in boiling for about 2 minutes.
5. Remove and rinse pork and set aside.
6. Drain water and rinse pot.
Make the broth:
7. Add 8 cups of fresh water to pot, add pork, celery stalks, 1/2 cup of carrots, 1/4 cup of sliced onions.
8. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer.
9. Simmer for 1 hr to extract the most flavor as possible from the meat and vegetables.
10. Use a strainer to strain out carrots, celery and onions.
Make the soup:
11. Add in potatoes, carrots, and rest of onions.
12. Season with 2 Tbs fish sauce (add the last Tbs at the end of cooking if needed), 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper.
13. Bring back to boil then simmer until potatoes are tender.
14. Adjust seasonings to preference.
15. Add some pasta to a bowl and ladle soup on top.
16. Garnish with green onions.

Enjoy and have nice weekend!

Vietnamese Beef Stew || Bo Kho


There are a handful of dishes I consider Vietnamese comfort food, Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) is one of them. Aromatic, savory, full of flavor, it’s one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes in general. I’m sure every family has their own recipe and preference of how to make it and eat. Some enjoy it with rice noodles while others prefer having it along side toasty french baguette. I have grown up with the latter, enjoying this stew with a nice crusty piece of bread to soak up the aromatic robust broth. We already had Hawaiian Rolls at home so we just had the rolls, but definitely get the baguettes if you can. My parents have always used the packet of pre-made marinade/seasoning found at any Vietnamese or Chinese grocery store, but over the years I developed my own recipe that I feel taste just as good and dare I say better than using the pre-made packet seasoning. It’s a recipe that I’m pretty proud of!

Like most recipes, you still have to adjust seasonings according to your preference, but the basis of the recipe will result in an extremely flavorful, deep broth for a delicious Bo Kho. Traditionally, Vietnamese beef stew is made with beef shank and tendon. I’m not a huge fan of tendon and I find using beef chuck gives me the most tender and soft meat, so I always use beef chuck, but you can definitely use shank and tendon if you want! With this recipe, simmering for 2 hours is the minimum, the longer you can let it simmer the better. I think it even tastes better the next day. This recipe makes enough for my husband, me, and my daughter, but she’s 3, so she doesn’t count as a full portion😛, with a little left over for the next day. If you’re making this for at least 4 adults (and you want leftovers) I would double the recipe. The herb that typically gets served with this stew is Thai Basil, but I really enjoy eating an herb called Tia To, a Vietnamese Perilla. Also don’t forget a slice of lime for a little tang. The citrus cuts the richness of the broth very nicely.

Bo Kho Recipe (about 4 servings)
2-3 lb beef chuck cut into 1.5 – 2 inch pieces
1.5 Tbs annatto seeds
¼ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion cut into slices
1 Tbs of minced garlic
4 large carrots cut into 2 inch pieces
2  Tbs frozen lemon grass or 3 stalk of fresh lemon grass bruised
1  Tbs grated frozen ginger or 3 slices of fresh ginger
3 ounce of tomato paste
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbs five spice powder
2 tsp curry powder
½  Tbs paprika
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 Tbs fish sauce
1-2 cups coconut juice or water
4 cups beef broth, chicken broth, or water

  1. In a small pan heat olive oil and annatto seeds until color has bled and oil is red about 1 minute. Remove seeds and keep oil.
  2. Marinate beef with ½ tbs of fish sauce, garlic, onion, salt, five spice powder, curry powder, paprika and 1 tbs of the annatto oil.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight.
  3. In a large pot add in about 2 Tbs of annatto oil over medium heat, add lemon grass, star anise and cinnamon stick, ginger and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Add meat and brown for about 1 minute on each side.
  5. Add carrots, coconut juice, broth and more water (if necessary) until meat is covered by about 1 inch.
  6. Add tomato paste and bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours until meat is tender.  Add rest of fish sauce and adjust seasonings if needed.
  7. Serve with Thai Basil or Vietnamese Perilla and lime.
    IMG_5468Beautiful red annatto oilIMG_5469IMG_5476IMG_5478

    This broth is packed with flavor.


It’s Good to Be Home and Opo Squash Soup with Shrimp



Moving back home has a been so nice. Being near my parents has made a huge difference in our daily lives. A major benefit of being near my family has been the abundance of family support and company they have offered us the minute we got back. From cooking to unpacking, they’ve added so much more enjoyment and warmth to our day.

Aside from the company of our family, the abundance of vegetables and herbs from my dad’s garden has been so enjoyable.  I know we’re adults with our own daughter, but it feels nice to have our parents nearby and feeding our bellies every so often. Opo Squash and Kabocha Squash are two abundant vegetables in my dad’s garden and I’ve been happily accepting them when I’m offered. One of the easiest ways to use it is in soups.

The method is very easy and a trick I learned from my mom is to not add too much water  when making soups because a lot of vegetables release their own liquid so it will make your soup that much sweeter if you don’t dilute it by adding too much water. So for about 4 cups of chopped up Opo Squash or Kabocha Squash I’ll add about 2.5 cups of water.

I usually use water because I prefer the milder flavor for this soup compared to using chicken broth but you can definitely use chicken broth if you prefer! You can use any protein you want to add to this soup, pork ribs are very common addition, but I like using shrimp.

Ooo Squash Soup with Shrimp (Canh Bau)

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup -1/2 cup of onion, minced
4 cup of opo squash, peeled and chopped in 1/2 inch to 1/3 inch pieces
1 cup of peeled shrimp, chopped and season with a pinch of salt and pepper
1 Tbs fish sauce (You can always start with 1/2 Tbs and add more later, but I like more salty flavor)
2.5 cups of water (If using chicken broth use less fish sauce to start)
salt and pepper
cilantro for garnish
2 tsp vegetable oil

In a medium size pot add oil over medium heat sauté onion and garlic untill onions are translucent. About 2-3 minutes
Add shrimp and sautee untill shrimp turns pink.
Add water cover and bring to boil.
Once boiling add the squash and slight cover with lid.
Once water comes back to boil, add fish sauce, pinch of salt, and pepper and lower to medium low.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes until squash is soft.
Taste and adjust season as necessary.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.


Peanut Sauce for Summer Rolls


If you like eating Vietnamese Springs Rolls, also called Summer rolls, aside from the everyday fish dipping sauce, peanut sauce is a recipe you should have in your repertoire. There are many different variations of this sauce but the two basic and essential ingredients are peanut sauce and hoisin sauce. After experimenting a few times, I’ve added coconut milk for a creamy and subtle coconut flavor.

Once you make this a few times, you will find the proportions of ingredients that’s right for you. If you’re not sure how much peanut butter flavor you want, start with 2 Tbs and add more as desired. For me 3 Tbs is usually good. I always use smooth peanut and add the peanuts later, but if you want to use crunchy peanut butter you can absolutely do that. Before adding sugar, give it a taste to see if you need or want more sweetness. I usually add a little sugar, but sometimes it’s not even necessary.


Peanut Sauce
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs minced garlic
½ cup Hoisin sauce
1/2  cup water (thin to desired texture)
3 Tbs peanut butter
1 Tbs brown Sugar (to taste…not needed)
1/4 cup coconut milk (the thick kind that usually comes in a can)
1 Tbs of crush toasted peanuts

1. In a small sauce pan heat up oil over medium heat.
2. Saute garlic until fragrant.
3. Add hoisin sauce, peanut butter, water and stir until well mixed.
4. Add coconut milk then sugar if necessary.
5. Continue to stir on low heat until all ingredients are combined and smooth
5. Garnish with crushed toasted peanuts and serve will chili-garlic paste


Vietnamese Caramelized Braised Pork, Thit Kho Tau

This dish is so simple to make, but you’d never be able to tell by it’s complex flavors. It’s savory and sweet and has a such a deep and satisfying flavor, it’s no wonder many Vietnamese consider this a comfort food, I certainly do. I love making a pot of this and having leftovers. The flavor just continues to intensifies as it reduces. Along side a steaming bowl of rice…foodie heaven!

Vietnamese Caramelized Braised Pork (Thit Kho Tau)
1.5-2 lb. pork shoulder or belly
1 Tbs garlic
2 Tbs minced shallot
2-3 green onions (white part for marinade, green for garnish)
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ black pepper
1 tsp fish sauce
1-2 cup coconut juice
2 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs soy sauce
4 hard boiled eggs

1. Cut pork into 1.5 inch pieces
2. Marinate with garlic, shallots, white part or green onion, sugar, salt, fish sauce, pepper for at least 1 hr
3. In pot add on medium heat, add 1 Tbs oil and 2 Tbs sugar and caramelize
4, Add meat and stir
5. Add coconut juice and water to cover meat
6. Bring to boil
7. Add 2 Tbs fish sauce, 1 Tbs soy sauce, eggs,  and simmer for 2 hours uncovered (if liquid is getting too low then can loosely covered)
*The liquid and meat will continue to darken in color as it simmers
8. Adjust seasonings as necessary
9. Add green onions


Vietnamese Caramel Sauce:::Nuoc Mau

IMG_5325 copyLearning to make caramel is almost as important as making everyday fish sauce for Vietnamese Cuisine. For braised dishes, I typically just caramelize the sugar right in the pot I’m cooking with, but when I want to marinade meats I like to have a lot available. It’s fairly easy to make once you have the science down. You need to use hot water at the end not room temperature or else your sugar will just solidify. It’s also important to be very careful because hot sugar will splatter and you can easily burn yourself and anyone else standing nearby.  When letting the sugar caramelize you let the sugar darken until it reaches the color you like. Anywhere from golden brown to a dark brown is good. For me, I prefer very dark brown. To reach my preferred color my sugar cooks on medium heat for about 23-25 minutes. Check out my video below for making Vietnamese Caramel Sauce!

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce, Nuoc Mau
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup room temperature water
1/2 cup hot water

1. In a pot on medium heat combine sugar and 1/4 cup water.2. Stir until there are no clumps of sugar.3. Let heat stirring every now and then.4. When the sugar turn dark brown or your desired color, carefully add in the hot water. 5. You may have to do this in two steps to avoid getting hit with hot burning sugar!6. Stir again, let cool, and transfer to jar.