From looking at the recent entries on my blog, you wouldn’t think that I cook a lot of Vietnamese food at home. The fact is, I probably cook Vietnamese food about 4 to 5 times a week! Of course, the frequency varies, but hardly a week goes by when I haven’t made something at least Vietnamese-inspired.
After my mother, Luke Nguyen would have to be my greatest source of inspiration when it comes to authentic Vietnamese cuisine. His recipes appear in Secrets of the Red Lantern, an autobiography of sorts written by his sister, Pauline Nguyen, detailing the plight of their family from when they emigrated from Vietnam to Australia, as well as an account of her growing pains as a Vietnamese immigrant in an Australian society. Her story is an inspiring one, though perhaps not too different from many Vietnamese immigrants who struggled to come to terms with their Vietnamese heritage whilst wanting to embrace their newfound Australian identity at the same time. And whilst her bravery in sharing her story ought to be commended, I think the book is made more heartfelt by its recipes.
I have a soft spot for any book which is smartly dotted with recipes throughout. As with many foodies out there, I have a curious obsession with reading cookbooks, and so reading an autobiography is made much easier when there are mouthwatering recipes and tantalising food photography to break the story a little.
The recipes in Secrets of the Red Lantern are quite faithful to what is cooked in many Vietnamese homes. The recipes in The Songs of Sapa (renamed as My Vietnam in the US and My Vieatnam in German), on the other hand, take into account more regional variations and personal adaptations. The Songs of Sapa is a beautiful book which follows Luke Nguyen on his journey through the main regions of Vietnam, providing traditional and new recipes which he encounters along the way. Whenever I want to cook something Vietnamese, I always turn to these two books for guidance, and The Songs of Sapa has been a book which has been in my kitchen quite frequently as of late.
These beef skewers are quite popular in Vietnamese households, particularly as a light snack to serve with some cold beers. Many variations of this recipe exist and Luke Nguyen’s version is quite a tasty and easy one to prepare. My only deviation from his recipe was to leave out the shrimp paste (the recipe calls for a mere, but punchy, 1 teaspoon). Shrimp paste is something you either love or hate, and as it is not an ingredient which I regularly use, I felt justified in leaving it out.
You don’t have to shape the meat filling onto skewers – you could just as easily shape them into sausages or meatballs, or even hamburger patties, and cook them on a grill accordingly.
I like to serve these beef skewers as a filling for rice paper rolls, which we call cold rolls in Australia and which go by the name of spring rolls in other parts of the world. They also work well served with a salad comprised of cooked vermicelli noodles, lettuce, shredded carrots, a myriad of fresh herbs (such as coriander/cilantro, mint, perilla leaves) and drizzled with a Vietnamese dipping sauce. A more modern twist is to serve the beef skewers in a baguette filled with lettuce, pickled shredded carrots and fresh herbs as take on the more traditional banh mi. For an even faster route to nourishment, I would simply wrap the grilled beef in some lettuce with some fresh herbs and serve the Hoisin Dipping Sauce alongside (recipe below).
All in all, some more inspiring recipes from Luke Nguyen. If you love Vietnamese food, I highly recommend The Songs of Sapa for no-fuss and great-tasting recipes. His accompanying TV series, Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, is also great to watch and provides beautiful footage of his gourmet travels through this exotic country. Luke has a very casual, yet charming, presence in front of the camera and makes you want to hop on the next plane bound for Vietnam for a full-on foodie feast.
For a printable recipe, please scroll down.
Luke Nguyen’s recipe for Hoisin Dipping Sauce also happens to be one of very many versions found in Vietnamese restaurants and households. I make mine by simply mixing together hoisin sauce and coconut cream to taste, some use a mixture of hoisin sauce and crunchy peanut butter. But, for a change, I tried Luke Nguyen’s recipe and found it to be quite pleasant, and perhaps a good recipe to have on hand if you don’t have any coconut cream in the pantry.
Chargrilled Lemongrass Beef with Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Recipe adapted from The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen
- Prep Time: 60 mins
- Cook Time: 30 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: Serves 4
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 10 spring onions
- 2 lemongrass stalks
- 2 garlic cloves
- pinch of salt
- freshly cracked pepper
- 500g (1 lb) minced beef
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablesoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- vegetable oil
Hoisin Dipping Sauce
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) hoisin sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) full cream milk
- 3 teaspoons unsalted peanuts, toasted and crushed
- finely chopped red chillies (optional)
To make the Lemongrass Beef
- Toast the sesame seeds in a hot, oil-less pan, until they are lightly golden.
- Remove the green parts of the spring onions (and set aside to use another time).
- Trim the lemongrass stalks so that you only have the white parts, and roughly chop them.
- Place the white parts of the spring onions, lemongrass and garlic cloves, together with a pinch of salt and pepper, in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until you have a fine paste, adding some oil to help it along (about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon), if needed.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the minced beef with the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, light brown sugar, toasted sesame seeds and the lemongrass paste.
- Use your hands to mix everything together.
- Cover the bowl with clingfilm and put the bowl in the fridge for about 1 hour for the flavours to develop.
- Meanwhile, soak some bamboo or wooden skewers in some cold water for at least 30 minutes. This will stop the skewers from burning when you grill them later.
- Shape the beef mixture into long or short sausages and thread them onto the skewers. I used 18cm long bamboo skewers and needed 16 for this amount of beef mixture.
- Heat a grill pan or barbecue on medium-high heat and cook the skewers for about 6 minutes, turning them frequently so that they colour and caramelise on all sides.
- Serve the lemongrass beef skewers with a baguette filled with some lettuce, pickled shredded carrots and herbs such as mint, coriander (cilantro) and perilla leaves, drizzeld with some Hoisin Dipping Sauce.
- Alternatively, serve the lemongrass beef skewers with a vermicelli noodle salad or in rice paper rolls.
To make the Hoisin Dipping Sauce
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the hoisin sauce, white vinegar and milk.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat until it has thickened slightly, stirring frequently.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools. To serve, sprinkle with the crushed roasted peanuts and some finely chopped red chilli.
COOKING FOR CHILDREN
These beef skewers are quite child-friendly as there is not much spice in the meat mixture.
You could easily add a red chilli or two to the lemongrass mixture for a bit of heat. If you don’t have any spring onions to hand, I have also used a small red onion or a few shallots as a good substitute.
Any uncooked beef skewers can be kept in the fridge, covered in clingfilm, for a few days. The Hoisin Dipping Sauce can also be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week.
To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.