Dinner for a Hot Summer Evening (WHB#293: lemongrass)

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summary: The Vietnamese understand how to eat when it’s hot and humid; recipe for Vietnamese-style Lemongrass Chicken on Vermicelli Rice Noodles; information about lemongrass and Weekend Herb Blogging; (click on image to see larger views and more photos)

Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #293:
lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

lemongrass chicken on rice noodles It has been insanely hot this week in Toronto. I mean really. Going up to 35-38C and one night-time low of 27C?!! You probably heard my pathetic cries of “I’m melting. I’m melting.

But the week before, when we THOUGHT it was hot but had no idea what “hot” really meant, we were going through our repertoire of things to eat when it is hot outside: iced coffee, lassis, sandwiches, chicken salad, sausage/potato/goat’s cheese salad, potato salad…. Then we discovered the perfect thing to have for dinner on an hot summer’s night: Grilled chicken on vermicelli rice noodles.

Well, WE didn’t discover it. The brilliant folks in Vietnam were the ones who thought of it… we just copied it.

We loved it. And it was even better a couple of nights ago when we made it again it was 29C in the house, even though we had the AC turned on.

The cold noodles drizzled with citrussy dipping sauce were so refreshing! I almost forgot that I was melting.

lemongrass chicken on rice noodles Here’s what we did:

Vietnamese-style Lemongrass Chicken on Vermicelli Rice Noodles
Sorry, no measurements; you’ll have to wing it.

Dipping Sauce
based on kitchenrecipes.com’s Nuoc Cham

  • garlic, minced
  • crushed dried red chili pepper
  • anchovy, chopped very finely ²
  • sugar
  • lime zest, minced
  • fresh lime juice
  • fresh red or green chillie, cut in small coins (optional)
  • water

Marinade

  • lime juice
  • rice wine vinegar
  • sugar
  • lemongrass, minced ¹
  • a few fresh red chilies, minced

Final Dish

  • chicken thighs
  • marinade from above
  • vermicelli rice noodles
  • dipping sauce from above
  • toasted sesame oil (optional)
  • mint and basil leaves, to garnish ³

preparation

  1. Dipping Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside in fridge. (This keeps well for a couple of days.)
  2. Marinade: Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl – make enough to just cover the chicken when it is in a plastic bag. If it is too difficult to mince the lemongrass, cut it into smallish pieces that can be fished out when the chicken is removed from the marinade. Set the bowl aside.
  3. Chicken: Butterfly the chicken thighs and put them into a plastic bag. Pour in marinade – just enough to cover thighs – the chicken should not be swimming. Gently massage the marinade into the chicken to cover all. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (but not more than a day).
  4. Noodles: Put dry rice vermicelli noodles into a large pot. Pour boiling water overtop and allow to sit for about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander, rinse in cold water and set aside in fridge.
  5. Herbs for Garnish: Wash herbs well and set aside on the counter to dry.
  6. Grill the chicken over medium heat on the barbecue until done, about 25-30 minutes.

To serve, place cold Vermicelli Rice Noodles into bowls. Drizzle a little dipping sauce (and toasted sesame oil if you like) over the noodles. Lay the chicken on top. Garnish with herbs and serve with extra dipping sauce.

A very good side dish is steamed Chinese broccoli that has been tossed in a saute of oil, ginger, garlic, dry red chili, soy sauce and anchovy (actual fish sauce does the trick too). It doesn’t seem to matter if the broccoli gets cold. It’s delicious hot or at room temperature.

Notes:

1.) lemongrass: If lemongrass isn’t readily available, lemon verbena leaves work equally well. Lemon thyme is the next best choice and lemon zest is also a viable alternative. We’ve found that lemon balm is too perfumey; it makes things taste like soap.

2.) anchovy: Many Vietnamese recipes call for nuoc mam (fish sauce). We used to have a bottle of fish sauce that was in our fridge for eons. While it does keep seemingly forever, it also smells quite funky (to put it mildly) even when it’s first opened. Not to mention that we have no idea how to tell which fish sauce on the Asian supermarket shelves is superior. We’ve found that using tinned anchovies work just as well for adding the necessary fish flavour to Asian-style dishes. In our fridge, anchovies are used up much more quickly than bottled fish sauce of questionable provenance and rather than smelling funky, they smell like fish….

3.) herbs for garnish: Coriander leaf (cilantro) is also a very nice addition to basil and mint.

We got the idea for this dish after having the lemongrass chicken vermicelli at the “The Green Leaf” in Victoria, BC. We think they must actually be using charcoal to grill the chicken. If you are in Victoria, you neeeeed to go to this restaurant. It’s brilliant.

weekend herb blogging - © kalyns kitchen

lemongrass Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #293
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

I almost chose to feature mint or basil for WHB. Both of those herbs seem essential to the dish. But they are merely garnishes (if you can forgive the “merely”) and not integral to the preparation of the dish the way lemongrass is. So, even though the lemongrass can be substituted with lemon verbena or lemon zest, this weekend’s featured herb is, in fact:

LEMON GRASS
(CITRONELLA GRASS)

Cymbopogon citratus
Hindi: herva chaha
Indonesina: sereh
thai: ta krai
Vietnamese: xa

[…] This tropical perennial is a large, clump-forming herb that grows to 3 feet in temperate climates. The lemon-scented oils are in the stems. […] Harvest the white leafstalks by cutting them at the base of the plant once it’s established. Use them to flavor chicken stock-based soups, with or without coconut milk, and fish stock-based soups. Lemon grass is also used in salad dressings and to make a fragrant cutp of tea. […] Usually the stalks are removed from a dish before serving, but they are also minced and added to stir-fries and curries or pounded together with other herbs to from a paste for adding to a dish.

– Rosalind Creasy, The Edible Asian Garden, p. 45

Because our winters are so severe, to grow lemongrass here we have to plant it in a pot and haul it in for the winter and out for the summer. I used to have a beautiful pot of lemongrass, but one winter, our bratty little cat nibbled at it, stalk after stalk, gradually decimating it over the course of the weeks the plant was indoors. Until all that was left was the soil….

It has been a few years since I grew lemongrass – lemon verbena is a distinctly decent substitute. And I didn’t bother replacing the lemongrass because the little feline horror didn’t seem as entranced by lemon verbena.

Then this spring, when I was moving the potted plants outside, I was dismayed to see that our lemon verbena plant appeared to have died. There were zero leaves on the poor thing. (Amazingly, it turned out that the verbena plant decided to survive and sent out brand new growth the middle of June!! Good thing I hadn’t gotten around to relegating it to the composter…). So when I saw beautiful looking lemongrass plants in the herb section of the garden centre, I grabbed a pot, even though it’s pretty simple to root lemongrass from lemongrass stalks bought from the supermarket.

So I was very excited to be able to be using lemongrass from our garden this year. Granted, it’s very young and small but just as flavourful (if not more-so) as the big stalks available in at the supermarket. But we were quite surprised that even at this stage, it is still very tough. It’s definitely just for flavouring. But I do adore it! And not just for cooking. I particularly love the way it waves in the breeze….

Please read more:

This week’s WHB host is Chriesi (Almond Corner). The deadline for entering WHB#293 is Sunday 24 July 2011 at 15:00, Utah time (GMT-7). For complete details on how to participate in Weekend Herb Blogging, please see the following:

 

edit 8 August 2011: Ooops!! I mistakenly linked to Anh’s Food Lover’s Journey (host of WHB#294) in my post instead of Chriesi’s site Almond Corner. I’ve corrected that now…. Please make sure to see Chriesi’s lovely WHB#293 roundup
 

This entry was posted in main course, pasta, posts with recipes, spicy, WHB on by .

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  • It definitely sounds delicious for a hot summer night!