Pandan Chiffon Cake

10 to 12 ounces frozen pandan leaves, thawed
1/3 cup coconut milk
8 ounces cake flour, or 7 ounces all-purpose bleached flour plus 1 ounce cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
10 1/2 ounces sugar
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F degrees. Have an ungreased round tube cake pan handy.

Use scissors to cut the pandan leaves into short pieces, no more than 1 inch long. In 2 batches, blend the cut leaves with the coconut milk (use half of the milk at a time) in a food processor until it looks like bits of grass. Pause and push it down as needed. Transfer to a thin cloth, such as a piece of muslin.

Firmly squeeze to render the opaque green liquid into a measuring cup. Discard the solids. When done with both batches, you should have about 14 tablespoons total. Add extra water, if needed to get that quantity. Or, remove some of the liquid if you have too much.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and all but 1/4 cup of the sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the pandan-and-coconut liquid, egg yolks, and oil. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth. Taste the batter, and if you like, add the vanilla. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the egg whites for about 15 seconds to break them up and get them a bit frothy. Then sprinkle in the cream of tartar as the machine runs. Increase the speed to medium, then gradually add the sugar.

When the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and beat the egg whites until stiff peaks start to form. Stop the machine to check.

Take about 1/4 of the egg whites, and swiftly stir with a spatula to blend and lighten the batter a bit. Now scoop the remaining egg whites onto the batter. Use cut-and-fold motions to combine the ingredients. A few thin streaks of white in the batter are okay.

Pour the batter into the pan and shake it a bit to smooth out the top. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a bamboo skewer inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes. Meanwhile find two bowls or jars that can be used to support the can pan in an upside down position. They have to be at least as tall as the part of the tube pan that extends beyond the rim!

Without much hesitation take the pan and invert it, positioning the rim on the bowls or jars so that the pan is elevated. Let the cake cool for 1 hour, before running an icing spatula around the edges (inner and outer) and unmolding. Slice and serve.

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Wok-seared “Shaking” Beef (Thit Bo Luc Lac)

1 1/4 pound tri-tip (bottom sirloin/culotte) steaks

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce, or 2 teaspoons light (regular) and 1 teaspoon dark (thick) soy sauce

1 shallot, thinly sliced (1/4 cup total)
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 or 2 pinches salt
3 to 5 cracks black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water

4 cups watercress, use only the tender leafy parts
2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil

Trim excess fat from the steaks and then cut each into 3/4-inch cubes. In a bowl, combine the pepper, sugar, garlic, oyster sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce. Add the beef and toss well to coat. Set aside to marinate for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.

For the dressing, put the shallot in a mesh strainer and rinse under water for about 10 seconds to reduce some of the harshness. In large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the shallot. Put the watercress on top but hold off on tossing.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the beef and spread it out in one layer. Cook in batches, if necessary. Let the beef sear for about 1 minute, before shaking the wok or skillet to sear another side. Cook for another 30 seconds or so and shake. Cook the beef this way for about 4 minutes total, until nicely browned and medium rare.

In between shakes, toss the watercress and transfer onto a platter or serving dish. When the beef is done, pile the beef on top of the watercress and serve immediately with lots of rice.

Use both the light and dark soy sauces if you want a little extra deep color. Feel free to dress up the final platter with some tomato wedges. If serving without the watercress, opt to present the beef with a side of salt, pepper, lime dipping sauce (muoi tieu chanh) for guests to dip the cubes in.

Red Bean Ice Cream

15-ounce can adzuki beans, drained (1 1/2 cups)
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (1 2/3 cups)
8 to 9 tablespoons sugar
2 big pinches of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use a blender to puree the beans and coconut milk to a very smooth texture. Aim for a milkshake smoothness. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Briefly set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk in the coconut milk and bean mixture.

Cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom, for 5 to 8 minutes, until thickened. Coat the back of a spoon, run your finger through the mixture and the line should hold well. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

If you suspect lumps, pass the mixture through the mesh strainer again. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to avoid a skin from forming at the surface. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours to chill well and develop the flavors.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.

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Vietnamese Red Rice (Com Do)

4 cups cooked long-grain rice
3 tablespoons butter or canola oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Scant 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Maggi Seasoning Sauce or light (regular) soy sauce

Put the rice on a baking sheet and refrigerate it, uncovered, for 8 to 24 hours, until it is dry enough for you to gently crumble in your hands. Midway through, turn the rice to ensure even drying. Before cooking, return the rice to room temperature.

To make the rice, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the frothing subsides, add the garlic, and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until the garlic no longer smells raw and turning blond. Add the rice and stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the rice and turn it red. Increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, until the rice is heated through.

Sprinkle in the salt and Maggi Seasoning Sauce and stir to combine well. For extra richness, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Continue to gently fry the rice for another 1 to 2 minutes, to sear in the flavors. Remove from the heat, taste and add extra salt, if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.

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Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork (Thit Heo Nuong Xa)

1 pound boneless pork shoulder steak, about 1/2 inch thick

11/2 to 2 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallot or yellow onion
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped (3 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon dark (black) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oil

Cut the pork shoulder steak into pieces about 3 to 4 inches big. Set aside.

Put the sugar, garlic, shallot and lemongrass into an electric mini chopper and process to a fine texture. (Or, mince the garlic, shallot, and lemongrass individually, put them into a bowl, and add the sugar.) Add the pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, and oil and process to combine well. Aim for a relatively smooth texture. The marinade will be chocolate brown. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the pork, and turn to coat well. Cover and set aside at room temperature to marinate for 1 hour. Or, refrigerate up to 24 hours, letting the meat sit out at room temperature for 45 minutes to remove some of the chill before grilling.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Nick with a knife to test. Transfer to a plate, loosely cover with foil or an inverted bowl for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Vietnamese Grilled Beef over Noodles (Banh Hoi Thit Bo Nuong)

1 1/4 pounds well-marbled tri-tip (bottom sirloin) steak, well trimmed (about 1 pound after trimming)
2 large cloves garlic, minced and crushed to a paste
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 2 1/2 tablespoons total)
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Generous 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground preferred
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
2 tablespoon oil
1 pound fresh banh hoi fine rice noodles
1/2 cup Scallion Oil Garnish
1 small head soft leaf lettuce, such as red leaf, green leaf, or butter leaf
8 to 12 sprigs cilantro
8 to 12 sprigs mint
1 small English cucumber, seeded and sliced, optional
8 to 12 sprigs of other Vietnamese herbs, such as red perilla (tia to) and Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi), optional
3/4 cup Nuoc Cham dipping sauce

If you have time, freeze the place the steak for about 15 minutes to firm and be easier to cut. Slice the beef across the grain into thin strips, a scant 1/4 inch thick, about 1 1/2 inches wide, and about 3 inches long. You may need to angle the knife to achieve the ideal width. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the garlic, shallot, brown sugar, salt, pepper, fish sauce, soy sauce and oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the beef and use your hands to massage the seasonings into the beef, making sure that each slice is well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Or, refrigerate overnight, letting the beef sit out for 30 minutes to remove the chill before grilling.

While the beef marinates, make the scallion oil, if you haven’t done so. Before grilling the beef, prepare the banh hoi noodles. Use scissors to halve each piece of the noodles into pieces the size of playing cards. Arrange them on 2 platters in overlapping layers, with some scallion oil atop each piece of noodle; leftover scallion oil can be served on the side for extra richness. Cover the noodles, and set aside to prevent drying while you cook the beef. Arrange the lettuce, herbs and cucumber on 1 or 2 plates and set at the table. Put the dipping sauce in a communal bowl or individual dipping sauce bowls and set at the table.

Prepare a charcoal or preheat a gas grill to medium (you can hold your hand over the rack for no more than 4 to 5 seconds). To broil the beef, position a rack about 4 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven for 20 minutes so it is nice and hot.

Grill the meat as individual pieces, working the meat with tongs to turn them frequently. If you prefer, skewer the meat on soaked bamboo skewers (soak 16 to 20 skewers in water for 45 minutes) so that the pieces are easier to grill; you can serve the meat on the skewers or remove them from the skewers. Whether grilling or broiling, cook the beef for 5 to 7 minutes, turning frequently, until browned and a little charred.

Arrange on a platter and serve with the noodles, lettuce and herbs, and dipping sauce. To eat, invite guests to take a palm-size piece of lettuce, add few leaves of fresh herbs, a piece of banh hoi noodle, and a piece of beef. Bundle up the parcel, dip it into the sauce and deliver to the mouth.

Thai Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

3 1/2 pounds chicken leg-and-thigh quarters

1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro stems or roots
1/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons light palm sugar or light brown sugar
5 tablespoons fish sauce

1/2 to 3/4 cup Thai Sweet Chile Sauce

Trim excess fat and skin from the chicken. Put into a baking dish or bowl. Set aside.

Use a mini food processor to grind the cilantro stems, garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar to a coarse texture. Add the fish sauce and pulse to emulsify. Taste and season with salt, pepper, or sugar to create a marinade with a slightly intense savory-sweet bite.

Pour the marinade over the chicken. Use your hands to massage it into the chicken, making sure you get some between the skin and flesh too. Cover and set aside for 1 hour. Or, refrigerate for several hours, letting the chicken sit out for 45 minutes before grilling.

Preheat a gas grill to medium or prepare a charcoal fire to medium heat. Grill the chicken for 25 to 35 minutes, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Transfer to a platter. Brush on the sweet chile sauce or serve it on the side for guests to help themselves.

Vietnamese Pomelo Salad with Shrimp and Meat (Goi Buoi Tom Thit)

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breast or boneless pork chop, or ¾ to 1 cup matchstick-cut gio (Vietnamese silky sausage)
1 medium pomelo
1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine shreds
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, leafy tops only
1/4 cup chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
1/3 cup Crispy Caramelized Shallot

2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 generous teaspoon Vietnamese chile garlic sauce, homemade or storebought

Put the salt in a small saucepan and fill 2/3 with water. Bring to a boil and then add the shrimp. As soon as they’ve curled up, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Return the water to a boil and add the chicken or pork chop. When bubbles form at the rim, turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes to cook the flesh. Remove and set aside to cool. (If you’re using the Vietnamese sausage, skip this step because it’s already cooked.)

Cut the shrimp in the diagonal into large pieces that will blend well with the pomelo and other ingredients. Hand shred the chicken or cut the pork into julienne. Set aside.

Cut off one end of the pomelo to reveal its fleshy pith. Then use your fingers and knife to remove the pith so that all that’s remaining is the white covered flesh. Pry the pomelo open and split into two parts. Then use a knife, scissors and your fingers to peel away the skin from each segment and remove the flesh. Separate the flesh into bite size pieces and deposit in a bowl.

For the dressing, combine fish sauce, lime juice, water, sugar and chile garlic sauce in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Right before serving, add the shrimp, chicken or pork, carrot, mint, cilantro, peanuts and shallot to the pomelo. Toss with your fingers or tongs to combine well. Add the dressing and toss. Taste and adjust the flavors, as needed. Transfer to a plate, leaving any liquid behind and serve.

Lemon Basil Chicken

6 large boneless chicken thighs
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup lightly packed coarsely chopped lemon basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
Thai Sweet Chile Sauce, homemade or purchased

In a mini food processor, grind the garlic, sugar, salt, and white pepper to a coarse texture. Add the basil leaves, fish sauce, and canola oil. Process to a fine texture, pausing the machine to scrape down the sides, as needed. Taste and it should have a strong flavor.

Transfer the marinade to the bowl of chicken. Use your hands to coat the chicken well. Make sure to peel back the skin to get seasonings between the skin and flesh. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

4. About 30 minutes before grilling, let the chicken sit at room temperature to remove some of the chill. Preheat a gas grill to medium or prepare a medium-hot fire. (You can also use a stove top grill on medium-high heat.)

Grill the chicken for about 12 minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Transfer to a plate and let sit for about 5 minutes. Slice the chicken into strips about 1/2-inch wide. Arrange on a plate and serve with the sweet chile sauce.