Cooking with a Friend: Bun Cha and a Spring Sauté

Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. The Cooking with a Friend series chronicles her cooking and menu planning adventures with her neighbor, J.

20090511BunCha.jpg

"Please don't tell anyone," I begged J. While she promised not to tell my deep dark secret, I'm telling you now: a lot of my food from last week went to waste. Once I realized that I was eating strangely, I froze what I could of my dishes, but I still sadly ended up tossing some of our spectacular food from last week. I really despise wasting food, but didn't have much appetite last week, and when I did I ate strange things instead of full meals.

When I did want something nutritious, it was really nice to have the foods that we had prepared at the ready for me. But last week brought up some interesting issues: Our menu planning assumes that we will both eat like normal people, and that we will have appetites all week and will not indulge in strange eating behavior (like my "secret single behavior" of eating sourdough pretzels with crumbled blue cheese as a meal).

In seven weeks of cooking together, however, last week was an anomaly. And I should mention that J. ate like a normal person last week and ran out of food. We were just out of sync with our eating. So when preparing the menu for this week, we were fairly conservative and made a backup plan of adding a frozen dish in the middle of the week if we run out of food.

After reading my friend Molly's blog post about making a Vietnamese-style spring noodle salad last week, I couldn't stop thinking about the flavors of the Bun Cha Hanoi that I had on city streets while I was in Vietnam. Bun Cha Hanoi is a dish made of grilled pork, cold rice noodles and shredded lettuce, mint, and carrot. That concoction is then topped with a dressing that is spicy, sweet, and salty, and usually made from chile peppers, fish sauce, lime, and sugar. I used a recipe from the fabulous Andrea Nguyen and her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. This came out fantastic, and I believe it's a doable dish to partially pre-make. We made the pork, shredded the vegetables, and prepared the dressing on Sunday. Then right before eating, we cook the noodles and adjust the dressing (with more spice or more lime) before mixing everything together.

20090511Lentils.jpgWe took advantage of spring vegetables by doing a simple sautée with lentils. I don't have a specific recipe for you, but we basically sautéed some shallots and olive oil in a pan, added one bunch of cut asparagus, added a handful of fava beans, and sautéed. We then added pre-cooked lentils and a handful of almonds to the pan. Right before eating, I mixed the sautée with crumbled feta cheese and added some black pepper. It came out delicious and can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

Our final main dish was a simple roast chicken with potatoes and carrots. It was a small (2.5 pound) chicken, so we tossed some potatoes and carrots with thyme and olive oil, let them cook for a while and then added the split roast chicken on top and let it cook through. It was simple and the result was beautiful.

I'm hoping that my appetite will be back on track this week, and am happy to have these delicious dishes at the ready!

Final Menu, Week 7

Bun Cha Hanoi, rice noodles salad with grilled pork
Roast chicken with carrots and potatoes
Sautéed lentils with asparagus and fava beans
Steamed fresh peas

Cost: $42 each*

*Including some staples which will be used in future weeks: kosher salt, champagne vinegar, aluminum foil, and rice.

About the author: About the author: Jennifer Maiser is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.

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