Refreshing Limeade, Ho Chi Minh Style
Innumerable coffee shops dot Ho Chi Minh City, and the beverage of choice for most Vietnamese is the potent local coffee—hot or cold—blended with sweetened condensed milk. But for something with a bit less octane, customers at Cheo Leo Café—the oldest coffee shop in the city—order sûra dá chanh, a blend of lime juice and sweetened condensed milk mixed with crushed ice. Stirred until it melts a bit, the drink is refreshing, tangy and not too sweet. To make, in a highball glass combine the juice of 1 lime, ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk and ¼ cup seltzer water. Stir, then add crushed ice to fill the glass.
A Slicker Way to Steam
We love making tender, plump steamed dumplings, but we hate how they tend to stick to the bamboo slats of our steamer basket. Prying them loose too often tears them, releasing all their flavorful fillings. Many cooks get around this by lining their steamers with lettuce leaves. But during a recent visit to Hong Kong, we discovered another approach—perforated stainless steel disks that can be placed in the steamer. Lightly oiled (or misted with cooking spray), they allow steam to rise up through the slats, yet dumplings slide free easily. It also was great for steaming delicate white fish. A similar disk—the Laxhand Pressure Cooker Rack—is available on Amazon for about $10.
For Mixology on the Move
If you are prone to mixing cocktails on the road, the 10 in 1 Cocktail Multi-Tool by Gentlemen’s Hardware will make your packing a little easier. Resembling an oversized Swiss Army knife, the gizmo folds away everything you need for muddling, stirring, straining, zesting and more. It even includes a jigger, can and bottle openers, a corkscrew and a channel knife for when fancy garnishes are a must. Available for about $21 on Amazon.
No Open Fire Needed for These Creamy Chestnuts
These days, all manner of seeds and nuts are pureed into spreadable butters, from cashews and almonds to sunflower seeds and pepitas. One of our favorite recent finds in this category: chestnuts. The spread—called crème de marrons and popular in France for several centuries—is made by cooking chestnuts with sugar and vanilla, then pureeing the mixture into a thick, sweet spread. We like it smeared on toast, stirred into oatmeal, mixed with fresh goat cheese for a spread, folded into whipped cream and swirled into warm squash soup. We also like to whisk a teaspoon of the puree and a splash of vinegar into the pan juices of a roasted chicken with fresh tarragon for a Provençal-style dinner. And of course there’s no shame in eating it straight from the spoon. Amazon sells a variety of brands, including 500-gram jars of Clément Faugier Chestnut Spread for about $13.
A Pantry Sauce with Punch
In Ho Chi Minh City, home cooks keep jars of chili-garlic sauce on hand for adding subtle heat and gentle garlic flavor to all manner of dishes. The flavor is more nuanced and less fiery-sharp than purchased chili-garlic sauces. The sauce—which we gladly spoon over rice and noodle dishes, as well as into sauces and over roast meats—will keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. To make, in a blender, combine 1 cup neutral oil, 12 Fresno chilies (stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped), 6 medium garlic cloves (smashed and peeled), 2 stalks lemon grass (trimmed to the lower 5 to 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, and roughly chopped), 2 small shallots (roughly chopped) and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Blend until finely minced, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a 10-inch skillet. Set over medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain gentle bubbling, until the solids are completely broken down and paste-like, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl or glass jar and cool completely.
A Boxier Box Grater
How to improve the basic box grater? Make it boxier. British housewares designer Joseph Joseph’s Prism is a rectangular grater that sits snugly on top of a plastic container for catching and containing the shreds of food. A comfortable silicone handle on top and non-slip feet make it comfortable and convenient to use. Available for $20 at JosephJoseph.com.
Some 100 or so years ago, seasoned crushed sesame seeds were a solution to the problem of calcium deficiency in the Japanese diet. Fast forward a century and furikake has evolved into a delicious dry condiment sprinkled liberally over all manner of dishes, particularly rice. Previously known as gohan no tomo—or “a friend for rice”—the mix began as a blend of finely ground fish bones, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and seaweed—all high in calcium. Today, the fish bones are gone and the focus is more on flavor, with numerous variations available. Two of our favorites are made by Santaka Spice in Japan. Ume Shiso Furikake gets its distinctive color and anise flavor from dried shiso leaves, as well as crunchy-nutty notes from white and black sesame seeds. It has a salty, deep umami flavor that is delicious sprinkled on freshly sliced mango and grilled fruit. It also is excellent dusted over seared scallops and tossed with grilled shrimp. We also like the company’s Aji Nori Furikake, which has a green hue from strips of nori seaweed and a sweet-briny flavor from a mix of sugar and sea salt. It is great on rice, but also is terrific for topping steamed broccoli, roasted potatoes and buttered popcorn. Both are available on Amazon for about $15.