Memories and a Mango Salad

When my husband was deployed for one year last year, he was entitled to a two-week R&R (rest and relaxation) trip which meant the military would fly him anywhere in the world. Many choose to go home but we decided to entrust Isaac to the grandparents and rendezvous in Vietnam.

My trip from Seattle took about 17 hours. His, two days. But that’s beside the point.

Hoi_An lanterns
A kaleidascope of lanterns brighten up the inky darkness at a Hoi An night market.

Because this is meant to be a brief post–we are moving yet again, but at least it’s only across town this time!—I’ll get to the point. One of my favorite experiences on that trip was a cooking class at the Morning Glory Cooking School  in the picturesque town of Hoi An along the central Vietnam coast. I wrote about it here.

And this gorgeous mango salad is testimony to it. Every time, I make it–and it’s quite often–I think of the blissful (and childless) two weeks my husband and I spent in Vietnam, lovers without a care in the world, taking comfort in each other and in the moment that was now.

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Hoi An Mango Salad

Adapted from The Morning Glory Cookbook by Trinh Diem Vy

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The key to this vibrant salad is selecting a mango in the right stage of under-ripeness—you want mango slices that are slightly tart and still have some crunch (I don’t like them too sour though). Don’t focus on color as it’s not the best indicator of ripeness. Squeeze the mango gently and it should give ever so slightly but not too much. If it’s too squishy, the mango will be too sweet and mushy, and is better eaten out of hand. The breed of mango doesn’t matter as much–Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Kent, any of these will do.

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings

1 medium (about 13 ounces) underripe mango
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 small clove garlic
2 teaspoons sugar (palm or white are fine)
2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lime juice (1 key lime)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small onion, sliced and soaked in water to remove its bite (about 1 cup)
1 ½ cups Vietnamese mint (rau ram or laksa leaf) and mint leaves
2 tablespoons fried shallots

Peel the mango with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Hold the mango firmly down on the chopping board (or in one hand if you are comfortable) and use a paring knife to make vertical incisions down the mango from stem-end to tip, about half-an-inch apart. Do this on both sides of the seed.

With the vegetable peeler (or the nifty knife below), “peel” strips of mango away from you.

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In a mortar and pestle, grind the chili paste and garlic together. Place the chili-garlic paste in a large bowl and add the sugar, 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, vegetable oil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Mix well.

Add the shredded mango, onion, half the mint leaves and toss until the ingredients are well coated with dressing.

Turn onto a serving tray and garnish with remaining mint leaves, sesame seeds and fried shallots.

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Eggy Stir-Fried Cabbage

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I’ve been eating this dish for as long as I can remember. My mum made it, my aunts made it and now I make it–it’s so simple I can churn it out in 10 minutes. I definitely consider it a comfort food. More often than not, I’ll just pile a mound of crunchy sweet greens strewn with eggy bits over rice for a simple meal. At dinner, it makes a great side dish served with meat and rice. This method works with nappa cabbage and bok choy too but cook the ribs for about two minutes first before adding the leaves. You can add some tiny shrimp after the garlic is done for a little “meat.”

Makes: 2 servings as a single dish with rice or 4 as a side dish

1/2 head medium cabbage, cored and cut into shreds
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons canola oil

2 eggs
1 tablespoon fish sauce (or soy sauce if you prefer)
1/8 teaspoon white pepper powder
Salt to taste

In a wok or large skillet, stir fry garlic in oil over medium heat until fragrant and golden brown. About 2 minutes.

Add cabbage. Turn up heat to medium high and stir fry until cabbage turns bright green and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Keep things moving in the wok.

Turn down heat to low. Make a well in the center of the wok by moving cabbage to the edges. Crack eggs into the well.

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Stir eggs with spatula until yolks are broken, trying to keep cabbage out of egg mixture. Let eggs cook for about 2 minutes until almost set but still a little runny (like soggy scrambled eggs).

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Turn up heat to medium. Mix up entire contents of wok. Add two tablespoons water, fish sauce, white pepper and salt. Keep stir-frying for another minute. Take off the stove and serve immediately.