The heat is on so it's time to nurture and harvest your garden. Vietnamese herbs and chiles are my priorities. I'm in the market this week for Thai chiles, particularly starters of Thai Dragon, which have been good to me for several years -- when a gopher hasn't gotten to it! Thai Dragon produces wonderfully fragrant and hot fruits and starters are often available at nurseries and farmer's markets.
Another great chile is the long chile pepper (Holland chile) that's available on the East Coast but is not found in great abundance on the West Coast, where I substitute red Fresnos. This afternoon, I found a starter for "Long Red Cayenne" which looks very promising for growing a supply of 4 to 5 inch long red beauties. Remember that if you have a bumper crop at the end of the season, just put the chiles in a zip-top bag and keep them frozen. They'll last for 6 months to a year.
Most Vietnamese herbs are annuals so reap their tasty benefits during the hotter months when bunches are lush and well priced. If you grow your own, see this blog posting on my recent home gardening experiences. For details on the range of Vietnamese herbs, visit the VietWorldKitchen.com's herb primer.
Fresh herbs are usually enjoyed raw in the Vietnamese repertoire, and often put on garnish plates for wrapping foods up or for adding to noodle soup. If you're into pho noodle soup and have only had the beef version, try the light and equally delicious chicken version. I've posted a Chicken pho noodle soup recipe from my cookbook up on this blog to inspire and inform folks. Try it out and send in your comments.
Candy from Indiana sent in great photos of dishes she's been making in the Midwest. And people think that the middle of the United States isn't happening. Check out Candy's Vietnamese cooking prowess!
A couple of weeks ago, I taught a Vietnamese cooking class at Roblar Winery in Santa Ynez. The main course was bo kho beef stew with fresh tomato, lemongrass, star anise and Thai basil. To give people a taste of great old-fashioned beef, I bought 14 pounds of grass-fed chuck roast from Joe Morris, a local rancher in San Juan Bautista. I've been purchasing 1/4 of a cow from Joe for five years now, and it's some of the best beef I've ever eaten. One hundred percent (100%!) grass-fed, the meat has great beefy flavor and chew. Yes, it's leaner than grocery store beef but it's better for you with lots of omega 3, and better for the environment too since ranchers like Joe are good stewards of the land. It's too costly for Joe to be certified organic, but he is. Readers outside of the Bay Area should check with Local Harvest for information.
If you are in the Bay Area, I'll be giving a talk and providing food tastings on Monday, June 25 in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club. Of course, I'll sign books too! I'd love to meet and chat with you so stop by, if you can. Though I'm taking a break in July from traveling, there are more events and classes for August (the Pacific Northwest!), September, and October.
And yes, the blog is up and running but the main site will remain. This blog enables you to contribute information and insights, and allows all of us to build a community dedicated to Vietnamese food and cooking.
All the best,