The Vietnamese Luna New Year, Tết, is just around the corner. Tết usually falls on a date in late January or early February, and marks the arrival of Spring and a new start in life. For 2017, tết will be this Saturday, January 28th. It's a very important holiday for many Vietnamese. It is celebrated with lots of drinking, eating, and spending time with friends and families. It's also the time of year to make amends, pay off your debts and re-energize yourself.
The days leading up to Tết involve a lot preparation. There are traditional Tết food that need to be cooked, sticky rice cakes (bánh chưng/bánh tết), young bamboo soup (canh măng), and caramelized pork and eggs (thịt kho tàu), to name a few. Other tết preparations include scrubbing the house clean from top to bottom, prepare offerings to the deceased, stuffing red envelopes with crisp new money to give to visiting children, and rehearsing your greetings in Vietnamese so Grandma doesn't think you're an idiot.
My mother-in-law makes all of the traditional Tết foods. And she. makes. a. lot. She even packs them up for us to take home, where it fills my refrigerator to capacity for days on end. So for my Tết celebration at my house, I like to focus on the more exciting party foods, and one of which is Hot Pot (Lẩu).
Hot pot is a simmering pot of broth, set in the middle of the dining table on a portable gas stove. Guests have their choice of assorted uncooked side dishes like fish balls, tofu, thinly sliced beef, mushrooms and noodles. They cook the ingredients into the simmering pot and eat them with a simple Hoisin dipping sauce. As guests continue eating, the broth cooks down and intensifies in flavor. Towards the end of the meal, the savory broth is ladled onto egg or rice noodles. Guests would enjoy their noodle soup to fill up and lap up the remaining broth.
There are many versions of hot pot. Thai-Style hot pot is my go-to because it's the simplest. I utilize the Tom Yum soup paste, a sweet and sour ready-made mixture of fish sauce, sugar, galangal, chili, lime leaves and lemon grass. Simply add a couple of tablespoons into pork, chicken or shrimp stock and you're ready to go. To liven up the soup, you can also add a couple of fresh lemon grass stalks, lime leaves, and sliced galangal. Prepare your side dishes. Bam! You're done.
You can't go wrong with Thai-Style Hot Pot. It's a great way to entertain a large group of people. It's quick to prepare. Guests pick exactly what they want to eat and cook their own food. Yet you get all the credit for the beautiful display of gluttony. It's a great dish for any kind of celebrations, particularly Tết, when you are just so over the traditional Tết food.
Thai-Style Hot Pot (Lau Thai)
Vegetables and proteins listed below are optional. Use your preferred proteins and vegetables.
4 liters chicken/pork/shrimp stock (about 12.5 cups)
Tom Yum soup paste (about 4 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon salt
1 stalk lemon grass (use only the tender bottom end, crush stalk with back of knife)
1/3 cup Hoisin sauce
1-3 tablespoons sate chili oil
1 bag (9.5 oz) King Trumpet Mushroom (slice thinly)
1 bag (14 oz) chowmein egg noodles (cook per package instructions)
1 bag (5.29 oz) White Beech Mushroom
1 bag (5.25 oz) Enoki Mushroom
1 small bunch Shingiku (leafy greens)
1 small Napa Cabbage (cut into bite size pieces)
1 bunch green onions (cut into 1-2 inch pieces)
1 package soft or firm tofu (cut into bite size pieces)
1 bag (6-8 oz) fish balls
1 lb shrimp
1.5 lbs thinly sliced beef
To make the soup, heat up chicken/pork/shrimp stock in a hot pot. Whisk in Tom Yum soup paste until dissolved. Add salt to taste. Add in bruised lemon grass for fragrance (do not eat).
To make the dipping sauce, mix together Hoisin sauce and sate chili oil. For those who do not like spicy, use the Hoisin sauce as is.
Prepare the side dishes. Wash the vegetables thoroughly and cut into bite-sizes pieces. Place vegetables, proteins, and noodles on separate plates and set them around the hot pot. Serve with dipping sauce and enjoy!