Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A few weeks back we were over at my mother-in-laws house when Si's cuzzy Luke Nguyen came on telly. He's not really his cousin but like so many other South Vietnamese we share the same surname as him (I'm actually a Nguyen by marriage, but I still go by my maiden name most of the time). I've always wondered why every second family in Vietnam is a Nguyen, I mean Smith is a pretty common surname in the western world but not every second family is a Smith eh! So I got talking to my brother in law about this and it turns out no one really knows if they are Nguyen's for sure. Back in the day everyone wanted to be part of the Nguyen dynasty so many families changed their last names! Classic. I suppose that's one way to do it and a damn site easier than trying to marry into royalty.
The week before Si and I were watching one of the shows in Greater Mekong where Luke was back in Vietnam sitting on a boat cooking with his parents and talking about when they fled the war. The stories I have heard of that time (someone could seriously make a movie about Si's families life) and about the multiple attempted escapes via boat only to be caught and chucked in jail, have moved me so much that I find myself instantly drawn in whenever I hear the stories of others. I can't even begin to tell you how it felt when Si and I travelled to Vietnam and stood on the exact same spot where they boarded the boat his father made and farewelled their country, old remnants of boats still scattered around the place.
Coming from safe little New Zealand I can't even begin to understand the pain and suffering that the Vietnamese people went through, but that doesn't stop the lump from forming in my throat when I see the older generation talking about their stories. Watching Luke's parents get all choked up nearly made me cry. The salad they were making however, now that one made me smile! Luke was preparing a salad of just ripe mangoes, loads of herbs and pan-fried prawns all bound together with what he called his 'French influenced' dressing. Yum. Naturally I just had to make my own version...
tofu, herb + mango salad with dijon mustard dressing
More often than not most South East Asian salads use unripe green mangoes, but Luke used just ripe ones to add a touch of sweetness. You want them to be only just past the green stage, where the colour changes to a light orange. Any riper than that and they are too soft to slice thinly. Knowing that many of my NZ readers won't have access to just-ripe mangoes I reckon thinly sliced firm white nectarines would be a lovely substitute.
Serves 4 as a side
300g firm tofu, sliced into 1cm slices
1 asian shallot (or use 1 small red onion), peeled and finely sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1-2 tablespoons rice bran or olive oil
2 just ripe mangoes, peeled, stones removed and flesh finely sliced
1 large handful snowpeas, strings removed and finely shredded
a large handful fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
small handful coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly torn
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and panfry tofu slices until golden on both sides. Season with a little sea salt and black pepper. Remove from the pan and set side on a plate to cool slightly. Return pan to heat and add about 1 tablespoon more of oil, add shallots and garlic and stir-fry until golden and crispy. Remove from heat and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain off excess oil. Slice tofu into thin strips.
Place sliced mango, snowpeas, herbs and tofu into a bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Drizzle dressing over salad and scatter with crispy shallots/garlic just before serving.
Inspired by a Luke Nguyen recipe seen on Greater Mekong.
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