Braised short ribs are one of those no-brainer wintertime comfort foods. Easy to prep, slow to cook, and luscious to eat, the well-marbled cut of beef tastes great simmered in just about anything--from tomato-based Italian broths to beer and beef broth. In Charles Phan's Vietnamese Home Cooking, Phan presents a French-influenced stew laced with lemongrass, ginger, star anise, and Thai chiles. Alongside the short ribs, he braises (not-surprising) carrots and (more curious) daikon radish to add sweetness and texture to the beef. And a bonus? The brothy, rich sauce is wonderful on its own should you "accidentally" eat all of the beef out of the stew first
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The name "Roasted Eggplant and Leek Salad" in Charles Phan's Vietnamese Home Cooking is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, this dish has eggplant and leeks, but no, it is not a roasted salad. (Unless, of course, you count grilling as roasting.) If you happen to live in a wondrous state with no real winter (cough, California, cough), grilling in January is a non-issue. In other parts of the country, however, it may be necessary to bring the dish indoors and under a broiler. Either way, this silky smokey salad should go on your to-make list, stat--soft eggplant meets pleasantly squeaky leeks in a vibrant sauce of soy, chiles, and cilantro. What's not to love?
The name "steamed ribs" may not be particularly appealing to many of you. Perhaps this fact is why Charles Phan left out the adjective when naming the Black Bean-Glazed Pork Spareribs in his cookbook, Vietnamese Home Cooking. But consider this: When cooked properly, steamed fish, dumplings, and vegetables take on a silky smooth and supple texture. Why not apply the technique to pork ribs?
Phan's version is relatively simple; crisp green papaya slivers mingle with pickled carrots, fried tofu, cucumbers, and celery. A dressing of potent fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, and chiles brings the vegetables together, and then the whole caboodle is topped with fried shallots and roasted peanuts. You will, of course, have find a good way to julienne a giant papaya, pickle carrots, fry both tofu and shallots, and mix it all together before dinner. It is no last-minute side dish, but you'll be happy to have put in the time.
As Charles Phan explains in Vietnamese Home Cooking, Chinese cuisine has a strong influence in certain places in Vietnam like the port town Hoi An. There, much of the food is a mash-up of cultures (including even Japan), so serving fried wontons is not a major leap, cuisine-wise. Phan's fried wontons use the same filling as his wonton soup--mainly shrimp, pork, mushrooms, and chestnuts--but here they are sealed like ravioli (no tricky folding!) and fried in canola oil. The richness of the dumplings is balanced by serving them with a spicy tomato sauce spiked with fish sauce.