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Authentic Vietnamese recipes from the Motherland

Vietnamese Magenta Sticky Rice (Xoi La Cam)

One thing that I observed during my recent trip to Vietnam was that it's more convenient and cost-efficient for locals to eat out for breakfast than making it at home. Kids would get breakfast money to grab something quick to eat on their way to schools. Young adults would leave slightly early for work to stop by their favorite food spots and have breakfast. Pho (rice noodle soups), Banh Mi (sandwiches), and Xoi (glutinous rice) are the three main breakfast items that the Vietnamese loved.

Vietnamese Purple Sweet Rice - Xôi Lá Cẩm

Vietnamese Purple Sweet Rice - Xôi Lá Cẩm

My favorite breakfast item during my stay in Vietnam was Xoi La Cam, a sweet version of glutinous rice. Xoi La Cam is made from naturally dying the rice grains purple/magenta from boiling Magenta leaves. It is then steamed with coconut milk and sugar, then topped with a mixture of freshly grated coconuts, toasted sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, sugar and salt.

Left: Water from boiling leaves of the Magenta Plant. Right: Glutinous rice grains

Left: Water from boiling leaves of the Magenta Plant. Right: Glutinous rice grains

Xoi La Cam was also my kids' and the Vietnam household's kids' favorite breakfast food. So when we head out to get Xoi in the morning, we always feel bad for the people who unfortunately got stuck behind us. Cause you know...getting 2-3 bags of Xoi La Cam won't do. You have to load up while you can. It's like drugs, but cheaper and more delicious. 

Grated my own coconut. Not recommended! If you can get unsweetened shredded coconut at the store, DO IT (almost died).

Grated my own coconut. Not recommended! If you can get unsweetened shredded coconut at the store, DO IT (almost died).

Vietnamese Magenta Sticky Rice (Xoi La Cam)

Ingredients

Serve 5-7

For this recipe, you will need a steamer with small enough holes to prevent the rice grains from falling through.

Rice

  • 3 cups glutinous rice (rinse a few times with cold water and then soak overnight)
  • 1 cup La Cam juice (or 3 drops of purple food coloring gel)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Coconut Milk/Sugar Mixture

  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar

Topping

  • 1/3 cup raw peanuts (Toast dry in a frying pan, remove peel if needed after toasting, then pulse in a food processor until roughly chopped.)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (Wash in water and then drain dry. It might be tough washing the small sesame seeds but it really helps to bring out the roasted flavor. Toast dry in a frying pan until lightly brown and aromatic.)
  • 3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

  • Rinse the soaked rice in cold water then drain dry.
  • In a medium bowl, combine rice, La Cam juice (or food coloring) and salt. Mix until combined and set aside for 15 minutes to allow the rice to soak up the juice until it's a beautiful and vibrant purple. 
  • Steam the rice for about 15 minutes. You can pour the rice directly into the steamer so that the excess La Cam juice drips down into the steamer. 
  • In a small bowl, mix together coconut milk and sugar (1/3 cup). Once the rice is fully cooked, slowly add the coconut milk and sugar mixture into the rice and toss lightly until evenly coated. Steam for 10 more minutes.
  • Mix together peanuts, sesame seeds, white sugar (3 tablespoons) and salt (1/2 teaspoon). Add mixture to the top of rice. Lastly, add shredded coconuts.
Vietnamese Purple Sweet Rice - Xôi Lá Cẩm

Vietnamese Purple Sweet Rice - Xôi Lá Cẩm

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

I've been back home from Vietnam for two weeks now, and what I miss most about Vietnam is the food (my loving and dear family members are a close second). The foods I miss most are the simple home cooked meals with ingredients that you can't find here in the States, one of which is La Giang. 

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf Canh Chua La Giang Vicky Pham

La Giang, also called River Leaf, Sour-Sop Creeper or the more scientific name, Aganonerion Polymorphum, is a bushy shrub that grows to tall heights on trellis and poles. The foliage on this plant has a tart flavor and is often used in traditional Vietnamese soups (Canh Chua). It mainly grows in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. So during my recent trip to Vietnam, I made sure to bring some home with me. The leaves were boiled, frozen, and tucked neatly into my check-in baggage. Now when I have that craving for Canh Chua, I just thaw out my frozen boiled La Giang and I'm ready to go. No other vegetables are necessary unlike other Canh Chua recipes. The tomato is simply for color. It is one version of Canh Chua that takes half the time to make (all you need is a plane ticket to Vietnam to get the ingredient).

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

For the below recipe, I used La Giang in a sour Vietnamese Fish Soup (Canh Chua La Giang Nau Ca). La Giang also goes great in the chicken version of the soup (Canh Chua La Giang Nau Ga). For both versions, I use lots of chili peppers because hot and sour go together so well. If you can't find La Giang at the Asian grocery store or didn't smuggle them into the U.S. like I did, you can try a different version of this soup made with tamarind as the sour component. Happy eating!

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Fish/Chicken Marinade

  • 1 lb fish (whole or filet catfish, salmon or any fish of your choice. You can also use chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 3 chili peppers (optional; slice thin)

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves (peel and roughly chop)
  • 1 small shallot (peel and roughly chop)
  • 1.5 liters water
  • 200 grams blanched La Giang
  • 1 tomato (slice into thin wedges)
  • 5 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pork/chicken/mushroom stock powder

Instructions

  1. Marinate the fish with fish sauce and chili peppers for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in fridge.
  2. In a medium-size stock pot, heat up vegetable oil on medium-high. Add garlic and shallot. Saute until fragrant.
  3. Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Add the marinated fish and accompanying juices.
  4. Cook the fish for about 10 minutes on medium low. Skim off any foam that floats to the top and discard.
  5. Once the fish is fully cooked, add La Giang and tomato. Season the soup with sugar, salt and pork/chicken/mushroom stock powder. Turn off heat and serve as a side dish to steamed rice.
Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)

Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)