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

mango_salad2

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.

mango_mosaic

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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My New Kitchen Toys

One of the greatest joys of traveling is bringing home loot, whether for yourself or for friends and family. Some travelers purchase objets d’art, others, clothes and accessories. Me? I almost always go for food and kitchen knick knacks.

I just spent three weeks in Singapore (for a friend’s wedding) and Viet Nam (for a two-week R&R with my hubby). And I have plenty to show for it!

I scored most of my finds in the lovely town of Hoi An on the Central Viet Nam coast. My husband and our friends attended a market tour and cooking class organized by the Morning Glory Cooking School and we were introduced to all manner of local fruit and vegetables, as well as kitchen gadgets.

A girl can’t have too many peelers, no? This Y-peeler, etc., is excellent for skinning cucumbers and shredding green papaya (I saw many street vendors wielding this same tool) but the main reason I bought it was because it can transform a lowly carrot into beautiful rosettes!

This multipurpose tool peels, shreds and makes gorgeous carrot rosettes

Here we have an unusual instrument that transforms morning glory–a.k.a. kangkung, a.k.a. water spinach–stems into sprightly blossoms. It works with spring onions too.

spring onion flower
The label on this nifty tool reads” Instrument to split convol(v)ulus vegetable made of inox metal.” I used it to split a green onion instead.

This instrument makes easy work of splicing the stems, a job I saw many street vendors tediously doing by hand with small, sharp knives. The stems are then soaked in cold water to allow them to “bloom” and curl before being scattered over soups or tossed into salads and rolls. (See this Wandering Chopsticks’ blogpostfor more photos.)

Green onion “blossoms” and cilantro sprigs are scattered over a bowl of pho.

And my final toy is a peeler/slicer/knife, a gift from the cooking school! We used it to shred mango for our salad. I saw women using this versatile knife to shred lemongrass, banana blossoms (see below) as well as using it like a regular knife.

A vendor at the market deftly shaves a banana blossom into thin slices
A vendor at the market in Hoi An deftly shaves a banana blossom into thin slices with this unique peeler/knife

A quick search on the internet reveals this is a traditional Vietnamese knife called a cai bao (this link has a video that demonstrates its use but the selling price seems a little exorbitant to me) or dao bao, depending on where you look.

During the cooking class, we were taught to make vertical cuts into the mango flesh from the seed’s tip to its bottom using the knife’s edge. Then, I used the center blade (which kinda acts like a peeler) to scrape off the flesh which came away as shreds.

Strips of semi-ripe mango are tossed into a tasty salad. My husband made this plate all by himself during our cooking class!

I’m thrilled to add these kitchen gadgets to my collection and can’t wait to use them. I didn’t see any of them at my nearest Asian market (which is 99Ranch) but I’ll try the Vietnamese markets next time.

Have you spied any of these tools at your local Asian Market? And have you brought home a unique kitchen gadget from a trip abroad? Do share!