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Vietnamese Fried Pumpkin and Pork

Vietnamese Fried Pumpkin and Pork
Vietnamese Fried Pumpkin and Pork (Bí Đỏ Chiên Thịt)

I used to love my CSA box — that is, until I had children. Babies and toddlers are time vampires and barely eat anything, let alone a heap of vegetables, so it didn’t make sense to continue my subscription of getting farm-fresh boxes of vegetables regularly. But I do remember the years… Especially when I got loads of fall goodies, like pumpkin and squash.

I found this recipe for Fried Pumpkin and Pork (Bí Đỏ Chiên Thịt) on the VietnameseFood: Cuisine & Attractions website. From my days of living off Eat Street and eating Vietnamese food regularly, I never came across this on a menu. Or maybe I just never noticed, because I was too obsessed with bún bò noodle salads. But the site said fried pumpkin is extremely popular in Vietnam, and any time a native calls out how popular a dish is, I’m game to try it. (If it’s good for 89 million, it must be pretty good!) I’m happy to report that it IS that good!

There is something perfect about this food that is hard to describe. The sweetness of the squash and tang of onion, the richness of pork — all bound up in a little crunchy nugget. With chili sauce and mayo on top, it’s umami. A super quick sauté of cabbage and mushrooms on the side, along with white rice, make this an excellent meal for the cold weather blues.

FYI: There are plenty of versions of this recipe without the pork, so go 100% veggie if you prefer.

So this recipe is for all you CSA holders out there, just trying to find ONE MORE squash recipe to burn through that box! The only “special” ingredients in this recipe are the panko and fish sauce, otherwise this is standard pantry material. If you don’t have fish sauce, use soy sauce instead. The sriracha chili sauce and mayo make this great, so don’t skip them.

Little fried patties of squash, pork, red onion and garlic pair perfectly with sriracha and mayo.
Little fried patties of squash, pork, red onion and garlic pair perfectly with sriracha and mayo.

While start to finish is under 45 minutes, this recipe does dirty a lot of dishes. Be prepared.

Vietnamese Fried Pumpkin and Pork

Fried Pumpkin with Ground Pork
1 pound pumpkin or squash (about 2 small acorn squash, for instance)
1 small red onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
½ pound ground pork
1½ cups panko
¼ cup vegetable oil
Stir-Fried Cabbage and Mushrooms
1¼ pounds cabbage (half a small head)
1 cup mushrooms
1 tablespoon oil
Salt, black pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste
Splash of fish sauce or soy sauce, optional
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Mayonnaise, for serving
Chili sauce, for serving


1. Prep ingredients.
> Pumpkin or squash > Cut in half, scoop out seeds with a spoon and trim off ends. Peel the pumpkin and slice into 1/2-inch pieces.
> Cabbage > Cut out the core, then shred crosswise into thin slices.
> Mushrooms > Wash and trim off stems.

2. Steam the pumpkin. Bring about 3 inches of water to boil in a medium pan with a steam rack set inside. Add to steam rack, reduce heat to medium high, cover and steam until the pumpkin is fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Cook the rice. Combine the rice, water and salt in a small saucepan and set over a small burner on high heat. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the rice is done. Fluff with fork, remove from heat and cover.

4. Mix the pumpkin and pork. Combine the cooked pumpkin, red onion, garlic, fish sauce, black pepper, and flour in a blender or food processor. Process into a purée. Transfer to mixing bowl and add in the ground pork. Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.

5. Bread the pumpkin mix. (You can begin warming the oil, as directed in Step 6, now.) In wide mixing bowl or plate, dump the panko. Doing a couple at a time, shape pieces of the pumpkin mix into 2-inch balls. Place them in the panko, roll around, then flatten into disks. Transfer to plate and continue until all the mix is used up.

6. Fry the pumpkin. Heat a medium or large non-stick fry pan over medium high heat, add enough oil to coat the pan completely. When the oil is shimmering, add as many of the pumpkin disks will fit. Cook each side for about 3 minutes, gently pressing them down then flipping with a fork, until a crust forms and they are nicely browned. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and continue with remaining pumpkin disks.

7. Stir fry the cabbage and mushrooms. Add a little oil to a wide sauté pan or wok and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cabbage and mushrooms and cook until both are softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and add a pinch of sugar. Toss to combine then set aside.

8. Serve. Scoop rice onto each plate along with a heaping pile of the stir-fried cabbage and mushrooms. Add some of the fried pumpkin and drizzle mayonnaise and chili sauce over top. Serve immediately.


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Scallion Soup with Woodsy Mushrooms

[twocol_one]Scallion-Soup-with-Mushrooms_2[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]Scallion Soup with Mushrooms[/twocol_one_last]I think I can count myself lucky to have two friends now who go mushroom hunting. I have lifelong been a lover of mushrooms of every variety, but my this being the first time I was about to serve my family something not-purchased-at-the-grocery-store did give me pause, no doubt. I looked up the ‘shroom. It said something about chicken of the woods perhaps causing gastro issues with some people, so I did not serve it to my children, just to be sure (I experienced nothing of the sort…only very happy tastebuds and a happy tummy).

That said, the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is an exotic variety of mushroom. 100% edible. It bears no resemblance to chicken itself, other than its taste. It has lobster-like coloring and emerges from rotting trees like Chihuly art. But it gets its name from the chicken-like or meaty flavor it imparts after cooking it.

I have learned that you should treat “alternative” ingredients just as you would primary. A mushroom is a mushroom, whether it be button, chanterelle, or chicken of the woods. An onion is an onion, whether it be leek, ramp, or scallion. Treating the ingredient simply allows you to appreciate its unique flavor. This soup was perfect. Combining mushrooms and onions is about as old as the Black Forest itself. Stock, wine, cream, butter and salt serve as the happy entourage.

Scallion Soup with Chicken of the Woods and Hot Chili Oil

3 tablespoons bacon drippings (or oil)
4 bunches of scallions (about 3/4 pounds), trimmed and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cream
Hot chili oil for drizzling
2 cups chicken of the woods mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Cook the soup. Heat the bacon grease in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and garlic, sweat for 5 minutes or so. The scallions should still be bright green, but tender. Add the broth, wine, salt, and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then purée. Mix in cream and stir, set aside.

Cook the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. You are going to use the edging of the mushrooms, so trim the ruffles off about 1–2 inches in from the outside. Slice into 1/4-inch matchsticks and add to butter. Sauté about 5 minutes. Add some water to pan, if butter is absorbed and mushrooms aren’t done. Stir in salt and parsley when close to finished cooking.

Serve. Ladle the soup into bowls. Add several scoops of mushrooms to each bowl. Top with some parsley and drizzle with oil. Serve.

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Better-Than-Steak-Sauce Mushrooms

I stumbled across a beautiful bag of shiitakes for $5 on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, sold by a student from the mycological department. Since we were going to be grilling some steaks over the weekend, I thought it might serve us well to grab a bag. (They also sold some gorgeous red wine cap mushrooms, among other varieties.)

These marinated, grilled mushrooms were simple to prepare, and better than any steak sauce. Just pile them on top of your grilled goodies before taking a bite.

Grilled Shiitakes

Grilled Red Wine-Balsamic Mushrooms

8 ounces shiitake mushrooms (or any with a wide cap like portobella or red wine cap)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & black pepper
1/2 – 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Marinate the mushrooms. Wash and pat dry the mushrooms. Trim off stems and set in a bowl. Splash in a couple tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a couple tablespoons of oil, and several shakes of salt and black pepper. Marinate until you are ready to use them (I marinated mine for a couple hours).

Make balsamic reduction. Set between a half to a whole cup of balsamic vinegar in a quart-sized saucepan. Simmer vigorously until the liquid is two-thirds reduced, or coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

Skewer the smaller mushrooms. Using kabob sticks, skewer smaller mushrooms through the middle so they are spaced evenly, every inch or half-inch or so. Set big mushrooms aside.

Grill the mushrooms. Over a medium-high flame, lay flat any large mushrooms that aren’t at risk for falling through the grill, and set in place the mushroom skewers. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning them over every so often. Mushrooms are done when they are tender and juicy.

Serve. Set them on a platter and drizzle balsamic reduction on top. The balsamic reduction adds a nice note of sweetness to the complement the vinegar. Top burgers, steaks or eat them as is.

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