We recently returned from Vietnam. It is hard not to smile thinking of the bright colored vegetables and sweet fruits that seemed to be at every corner. This was our third visit to Vietnam and although there were many changes, especially economically, the growth and attraction of Vietnam is obvious. Food is clearly at the heart of the culture. A typical greeting is “An com chua?” which translates to “Have you eaten yet?” There is a priority in sharing the whole process of growing, selecting, preparing and simply enjoying the pleasure of food in a way that I have not seen in America.
The colors, textures, and freshness of the food are striking and inviting. A freshness and organic essence evokes the feeling that this is a healthy place to eat. There were vibrant colors of green oranges because they do not dye them like we do here in the states. There were intense green hues of morning glory, basic, chives and lemon grass. The fragrant aromas were inviting me in to taste and experience new flavors in every dish. I learned that over half of the Vietnamese population earn their income from agriculture. Often when I travel I try to take a cooking class to experience the regional flavors and styles of local chefs.
Along the China Sea in Hoi An we discovered Vietnamese cooking at the Red Bridge Cooking School. The Vietnamese cuisine often includes turmeric. This is a seasoning related to the ginger root that is worth discovering if you have not used it before. Its bright yellow-orange hue along with its health benefits are alone enough encouragement to sample its unique and pungent flavor. One of my favorite dishes we learned how to make is a simple savory dish that I adapted to make vegetarian. It is packed with flavor as it is slowly cooked in a clay pot.
Vietnamese Eggplant in Clay Pot
3 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, seeds removed
2 spring onions, cut into small pieces using all of the green part
1 lemongrass, finely chopped (do not include the stalk)
3 asian eggplants, long and thin, cut into 1/4 inch wide pieces
1 red chili, finely minced
1 pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cilantro
In a medium sized clay pot over medium high heat add the peanut oil and garlic. Stir until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomato, onions and lemon grass. Add 3 tablespoons water and stir. Allow mixture to simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add eggplant. Add 1 cup water. Add red pepper, turmeric, black pepper and sea salt. Simmer for 8-9 minutes. Garnish with basil and cilantro. Serve hot over steamed rice.