Everything about life in Vietnam sits right with me. Family is number one, life is simple and there’s food everywhere, always. (My body got so used to eating over there that I really struggled with my 3 day New Year detox that I’ve just completed! I was starving the entire 3 days.) Of course there’s the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner to be had, but also there’s the green mango with chilli salt to snack on whilst you contemplate lunch, that cob of corn on the beach that just needed to be eaten, because. That bowl of coconut ice cream, served in a coconut shell, cause how pretty is that?! And of course, when down in the village one has to eat freshly picked fruit– non-stop. Don’t they? And don’t even get me started on the fruit shakes, made with loads of fresh fruit, a bucket-load of ice, condensed milk (a Vietnamese staple) and a spoonful of sugar, even though the sign claims ‘no sugar added’ -haha. We drank our body weight in these babies on the days we were in Saigon, you can be assured of this.
You know the funny thing though, of all the wonderful food we ate in Vietnam, the best food was still made by my mother-in-law on the few days we spent in Si’s family village about 4 hours south of Saigon. Everything the kids ate in the city was compared to what they are used to when at Ba Noi’s (grandma’s) house, here in Perth. ‘Nope, these spring rolls aren’t as good as Ba Noi’s.’ ‘I don’t like these banh xeo as much as Noi’s, mum’. It was kinda funny really and just shows us how lucky we really are.
The first time Si and I visited Vietnam nearly 9 years ago now, Si’s mum was visiting from Perth too and I think my vegetarianism threw her just a little (there aren’t many people who eat strict vegetarian all year round, in Vietnam. They usually only do for Buddhist festivals, etc). Fast forward 9 years and she is now quite proud of her vegetarian dishes, and rightly so. Of my favourites, her lemongrass tofu is way up there and we enjoyed it numerous times while down in the village. It’s beyond simple to prepare, even though I can still never get mine quite as tasty as hers and is basically just two ingredients- tofu and lemongrass. Eaten alongside bowls of steamed rice, chilli greens and a dipping sauce or two it makes the perfect light summer meal, and even my meat-loving husband comes back for seconds…
P.s Cool news just in! I’m pretty darn excited about my little Q&A over on Food & Wine today! Whoop whoop!
lemongrass tofu with chilli kang kong
Kang kong is also known as water spinach. You can find it at some Asian grocery stores, or you could always substitute with regular spinach, kumara (sweet potato) leaves or bok choy. Whenever I get my hands on lemongrass, I finely chop all of it up and store it in zip-lock bags in the freezer. You can use it straight from frozen. When chopping lemongrass, just use the tender bulb end (if using homegrown stuff like me, you can use more of the stalk than store-bought as it’s way more tender), reserve the green tips to use in herb teas (add boiling water and steep, it’s supposed to be a great natural relaxant before bed).
Serves 4 as a light meal
300g firm non-gmo tofu, patted dry + cut into 1cm thick slices
olive or grapeseed oil, to shallow fry
1/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass (from 1-2 stalks)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a huge handful of kang kong (water spinach), roughly chopped into 5-8cm lengths
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped
a splash of gluten-free soy sauce
steamed jasmine rice, chilli slices, soy sauce and limes to serve
Heat a large frying pan over high heat and fry the tofu in a little oil until golden on all sides. Take your time with this stage, it usually takes a good 8-10 minutes. Season tofu well with plenty of sea salt and black pepper. Add nearly all the lemongrass to the pan (reserve 1-2 teaspoons to add later) along with a touch more oil if needed and cook, stirring everything around for another minute or two until the lemongrass is lovely a crispy. Add in the reserved lemongrass and stir a few times before serving with the rice, kang kong and extra chilli and soy sauce.
To prepare the kang kong, heat a little oil in a frying pan over high heat. Add garlic and chilli, stir-fry briefly before adding the kang kong. Stir constantly for 20-30 seconds or until it starts to wilt. Add a touch of soy sauce and stir well. Serve hot.
I like to squeeze half a lime into a small bowl of soy sauce to serve alongside the tofu. People can either dip their tofu into it, or pour a little over their rice.