Vietnamese Food

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Someone asked me the other day what my favorite food was..."Vietnamese!" I quickly replied, "At least for the moment."

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Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea, referred to as East Sea (Vietnamese: Biển Đông), to the east. With a population of over 86 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world.

Thai Sweet Chile Sauce Recipe

We’ve had a despicably cold summer in the Bay Area, the coldest since 1958! Dreary overcast skies greet us every morning. If we’re lucky, we get a few hours of sun and then it’s cool again.

Yesterday, my husband reminded me of the sweltering heat wave last August. My friend, novelist Monique Truong, just wrote to me about Brooklyn’s humidity.

I ought to be relieved to not experience global warming, huh? But as crazy as it sounds, the physical discomfort of sweating during the dog days of summer seems dreamy right now.

I figured that since the sun can’t burn through the clouds that I could at least enjoy flavors that evoke hot weather. That’s the genesis of this Thai sweet chile sauce.

Ever since I opened a bottle of the commercially-made stuff, I’ve wanted to make my own. The bottled version is terribly gloppy and cloying, without much personality. It didn’t seem like rocket science to prepare so I tinkered around in my kitchen to come up with this sweet chile sauce recipe. I’ve made this twice now and suggest that you leave about 1/4 of the seeds intact to get some heat. Leave all the seeds if you want an inferno effect.

Fresno chiles, sold at many regular markets, are a great stand-in for long chiles that would traditionally be used in Thailand. The cilantro stems are my workaround for using cilantro roots.

What to do with Thai sweet chile sauce? Serve it with grilled pork steaks, pork ribs, or classic Thai grilled chicken (gai yang). Vegetarians can try dipping the grilled okra in the sauce.

I've had it in a stir-fry of eggplant and Thai basil. You can mix this sweet chile sauce with fish sauce and some water for a sweet-savory dipping sauce. I hope you’re enjoying sunshine wherever you are.


Thai Sweet Chile Sauce

You can tinker with the flavors afterwards by adding sugar or vinegar and re-cooking.

Makes about 2 cups

1/3 coarsely chopped cilantro stems and roots
2 cups water
3 to 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
4 ounces Fresno chiles, mostly seeded and coarsely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
About 2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/3 cups sugar

1. Put the cilantro stems and water into a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover. Let steep for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, use an electric mini chopper to grind the garlic, chiles, and salt to a coarse texture. Set aside.

3. Strain the cilantro liquid through a mesh strainer. Measure the liquid. You should have about 1 3/4 cups. Transfer to a saucepan. Add the same quantity of vinegar as you had of the cilantro liquid. Add the sugar and chiles and garlic mixture. Stir.

4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to simmer. Let simmer until the volume has reduced by half. (How much time this takes depends on the size of your saucepan. Use a shallow, wide pan to hasten the process.) The resulting sauce should be slightly thick.

Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered, to cool completely. Expect the sauce to thicken further and concentrate in flavor.

Use immediately or transfer to a jar and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.



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