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Try the author's recipe for Noi's Garlic Shrimp with Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms.
Noi is the cook in the family. She lived with us while my siblings
and I were growing up, and, since my parents were clueless in
the kitchen, took charge of what we ate. Though she has lived
in the United States for twenty-five years, I have never seen
her prepare a non-Vietnamese dish.
food is, for the most part, very healthful, with an emphasis on
fresh ingredients. Noi eats heartily at every meal and takes regular
long walks; she's never dieted in her life. At age 80, she is
incredibly spry and fit. When I asked her to show me how to prepare
the dish below, which is one of my favorites, she was amused that
I wanted actual measurements. Even before she got a rice cooker,
she measured with her fingers: one knuckle of rice, two knuckles
As we figured
out the recipe, I thought about the life she had left behind in
Vietnam and her insistence on preserving as much as possible through
her cooking. Though she often seems invincible, I know she'll
not be there forever to make the Vietnamese dishes I crave and
can't really find anywhere else. I told her I would be bugging
her more often about how to cook. Her reply, "It's about time."
(Nuoc mam): This is essential to Vietnamese cooking. People
who are new to it may be turned off by its pungencyit
is, after all, fermented fish! Adding it as the last or near last
ingredient helps. Fish sauce can be found at Asian grocery stores.
When mixed with sugar, pepper, and other ingredients, nuoc mam
turns into nuoc cham.
The variety of noodles sold in Asian markets is huge, and you
can certainly experiment with substitutions. Noi uses wide rice
noodles (bun), but these can sometimes be difficult to find. I
actually prefer the heartier texture of wheat-based noodles such
as lo-mein, which can be found at most standard grocery stores
as well as Asian markets.
flavors: The dish below is easy and quick, but there is one
trick: timing it all so that the heat of the shrimp and red pepper
balances the coolness of the cucumber and noodles. When you eat,
you should experience the combination of hot and cold, spicy and
My grandmother always rounded out meals with fruit. Try sliced
mango, or buy a can of lychees at the Asian market. Chilled, the
lychees are mild, sweet, and refreshing a lovely finish
to a meal.
Garlic Shrimp with Cucumbers & Shiitake Mushrooms
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
12 oz. lo-mein
(wheat flour) noodles, wide rice noodles, or similar type of Asian
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup very thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 lb. medium or large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sesame oil or chili oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt (preferably coarse)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced or 1-2 teaspoons red
1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
shrimp by combining the garlic, sesame/chili oil, vinegar, sugar,
lime juice, salt, and black pepper; coat the shrimp. Set aside.
This may also be prepared ahead of time and kept covered in
- Boil water
and cook noodles for about five minutes, or according to package
instructions, then drain.
- Make the
sauce: Over low heat, dissolve sugar in the water, stirring
frequently. Remove from heat and wait five minutes. Add lime
juice, chili pepper, and fish sauce and vinegar. Return the
saucepan to very low heat.
- Cook shrimp:
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet on medium heat. Turn to high
heat and add shrimp, sautéing about 3 minutes or until
the sauce and adjust seasonings as desired. Carefully toss together
noodles, shiitake mushrooms, and cucumbers with half the sauce,
then transfer to a platter. Sprinkle cilantro and mint over
all. Add shrimp last.
the platter with lime wedges and sprigs of mint and cilantro.
Pour the rest of the sauce in a small bowl so people can help
themselves to more.
Facts (per serving):
Fat: 7 grams
Saturated Fat: 1 grams
Sodium: 2,065 milligrams
Total Carbohydrates: 49 grams
Dietary Fiber: 2 grams
Protein: 37 grams
By Bich Minh Nguyen