Southeast Asian cuisine from an ethnic perspective

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First Hmong-American recipe collection details food traditions with charming discussions as background
Wednesday, July 01, 2009

There's Vietnamese cooking with French, Thai and Chinese influence. And then there's Hmong Vietnamese cooking, a style that picks up all of those cultures and then some.

Hmong, a word that translates to English as "freeman," is an ethnic group with roots in Laos and Southern China. They migrated eventually to North Vietnam and, in 1975, became stuck, so to speak, in Communist hands when the United States withdrew from the country. Hmong were heavily persecuted and were wiped out a village at a time. As they sympathized with Americans, the U.S. promised help and eventually delivered them to America.

With that all too brief version of this group's history, we introduce an interesting cookbook, "Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America" by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang, University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Ms. Yang was born in 1970 in Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos. She immigrated to the U.S. -- first to Kentucky, then to Oklahoma, then to Portland, Oregon -- with her family in 1979. The Yangs and Scripters were neighbors in Oregon, a relationship that eventually led to the collaboration on this book.

Stories are quite interesting. But the handling of vegetables, pork, chili sauces and larb, a Laotian dish made with any kind of lean meat marinated in lime juice, are rather exciting. A discussion of herbs, spices and ingredients at the beginning of the book is an eye opener to anyone who's stopped in Manhattan or Brooklyn Chinatown and wondered, "What kind of vegetable is that?" when studying the items in a produce market. We just wish there were more illustrations on individual veggies and herbs as some sound truly exotic and are tough to picture based on the word descriptions. Nonetheless, the filling in this recipe is similar to that used at Pho Mac in their spring rolls. It is also rather flexible and can be tucked into a wonton, spring roll or rice paper wrapper then deep-fried. Left-over filling from this recipe can be used to stuff cabbage leaves which would then be steamed.


Makes 20 wings

3 2-ounce packages rice vermicelli noodles

1 pound ground pork

Minced chicken from the wings

4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

1/4 head cabbage, preferably Napa cabbage, finely shredded

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon MSG (optional)

1/2 teawspoon coarse-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 eggs, stirred

Soak the vermicelli noodles in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. With a fine-mesh sieve, lift the noodles out of the bowl of warm water and submerge them in the boiling water for a second or two. Quickly lift the noodles from the boiling water and drain them completely. Using kitchen shears, snip the noodles into short lengths. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix the ground pork and minced chicken togheter with the noodles, green onions, cabbage, carrot, salt, MSG (if desired), black pepper, and oyster sauce. Add the eggs and mix thorougly.

Using your fingers, stuff about 1/2 cup of the meat-noodle mixture into each chicken wing. If the skin has no tears, the chicken wing will look very fat. If the skin has a tear, seew it up with a sterilized needle and clean thread before stuffing. Pull the skin around the stuffing at the open end.

Broil about 6 inches beneath the upper element of an oven set at 400 degrees. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on one side. Turn the wingsover and broil on the other side until done, 15 to 20 more minutes. Make sure there is a place for the fat to drain while the wings cook. The thread used to sew up tears usually burns away during broiling. If any thread does remain, remove and discard it before serving. Serve hot.

How to prepare the chicken wings for stuffing

Start with 20 large, whole chicken wings. Turkey wings, if you can find them, work well with this recipe.

Step 1:Remove the bone and most of the meat from the first two joints of each win, but not the wing tip. This process is like pulling your leg out of a pair of pants: After you remove your leg (the bones and meat), all you have left is the pant leg (skin).

Step 2:

Beginning at the large, "drumstick" end of 1 chicken wing, use a small, sharp knife to cut away the bone and as much of the meat as you can from the skin.

Step 3:

Push the skin down as you empty the wing, and continue cutting away the meat and bone on the middle section.

Step 4:

Separate the bones at the joint between the middle part of the wing and the wing tip and remove the bones and meat. Do not remove the bone in the tip of the wing. If you are careful, this paring will leave the skin from the first two-thirds of the chicken wing in one piece, without any tears. Most, but not all, of the chicken meat will be removed along with the bones. Repeat this procedure on each chicken wing. Set the wings aside. Cut as much meat as you can or save them to use another time in a soup broth. Wash the empty chicken wings under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of salt over the wings.


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