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Coffee Recipe

Recipes: Grilled pork and eggplant shine in these flavor-packed Vietnamese dishes

Makes 4 to 6 servings

In Vietnam, we learned to make grilled lemon grass pork, or thit nuong, as part of the dish called bun thit nuong, a salad of sorts that combines slender rice noodles with grilled pork, pickled and fresh vegetables, tons of herbs, and a savory-sweet sauce (nuoc cham). To simplify, we focused on the pork along with the pickles and sauce, accompaniments we think are perfect complements to the rich, smoky pork; if you must choose between making either the sauce or pickles, opt for the sauce.

Lettuce leaves are ideal for wrapping the pork and pickles (dip into the nuoc cham before taking a bite) or serve the skewers, sauce, and pickles with steamed jasmine rice.

The pork for thit nuong is not always skewered, but doing so makes it easier to manage the thinly sliced meat on the grill. Don’t be afraid to pack the meat tightly onto the skewers. This helps prevent overcooking. If using a gas grill, make sure to allow it to heat covered for about 15 minutes before cleaning and placing the skewers on the grate. This helps ensure that it is hot enough to char the pork nicely.

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of surface fat

5 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 medium shallots, quartered

2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, thinly sliced

1 serrano chili, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon honey

Nuoc cham (recipe follows)

Pickled carrots and daikon (recipe follows)

Lettuce leaves, to serve

Place the pork on a large plate and freeze until the meat is firm and partially frozen, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots, lemon grass, chili, five-spice, and 1½ teaspoons each salt and pepper. Process until finely chopped, about 45 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, and honey, then process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Using a chef’s knife, slice the partially frozen pork against the grain into pieces about 1/8-inch thick. The slices will be irregularly shaped; cut them into strips about 1-inch wide (it’s fine if the strips are not uniform). Add to the seasoning paste and toss, rubbing the paste into the meat.

Thread the pork onto ten 10- to 12-inch metal skewers, evenly dividing the meat and scrunching it together, packing it quite tightly. If some pieces are too wide, too wispy or awkwardly shaped, fold the meat or tuck in the edges as you skewer. Place on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large baking dish, then cover and refrigerate while you prepare the grill.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, ignite a large chimney of coals, let burn until lightly ashed over, then distribute evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grate. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the grate.

Place the skewers on the hot side of the grill (if using charcoal) and cook until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until the second sides are lightly charred, about another 3 minutes. Flip the skewers again and continue to cook, turning every couple of minutes, until well charred on both sides, about another 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with about ¼ cup of nuoc cham (see following recipe). Serve with the pickles and lettuce leaves for wrapping and with the remaining nuoc cham for spooning on or dipping.


Nuoc Cham

Makes about 1 cup

In Vietnamese kitchens, nuoc cham is a multipurpose sauce/dressing. If you wish to moderate the spiciness, seed the chilies before mincing them.

The flavors are best the day the sauce is made, but it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

1/3 cup fish sauce

3½ tablespoons lime juice

¼ cup white sugar

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 or 2 serrano chilies, stemmed and minced

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and 6 tablespoons water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the garlic and chilies. Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving.


Pickled Carrots and Daikon

Makes about 2 cups

These quick pickles, called do chua, probably are best known as a component in banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches. They add bright color and flavor as well as crunch.

2/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons white sugar

Kosher salt

2 medium carrots, peeled

8 ounces daikon, peeled

In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and ‚ cup water. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Cut the carrots and daikon crosswise into 1½- to 2-inch sections. Cut each piece lengthwise into thin planks, then cut the planks into slender sticks. Stir the vegetables into the vinegar mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate up to 1 week.


Vietnamese Grilled Eggplant (Ca Tim Nuong).Connie Miller of CB Creatives

Vietnamese Grilled Eggplant (Ca Tim Nuong)

Makes 4 servings

We use slender Chinese or Japanese eggplant, halved and grilled until charred and tender, then finish them with nuoc cham along with quick-pickled vegetables, chopped peanuts, and plenty of fresh herbs.

Don’t be afraid to get a good char on the eggplant. The smokiness that results from deep, dark charring is a flavor component that contributes to the complexity of the dish.

1½ pounds Chinese or Japanese eggplant, stemmed and halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Nuoc cham (see previous recipe)

1/3 cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped

2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro, mint, and/or basil, torn if large

2 or 3 scallions, thinly sliced

½ to 1 cup drained pickled carrots and daikon (see previous recipe)

Brush the eggplant on all sides with the oil, then sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, ignite a large chimney of coals, let burn until lightly ashed over, then distribute the coals evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grate. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the grate.

Place the eggplant halves cut side down (on the hot side of the grill if using charcoal). Cook uncovered until charred on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Move the eggplant, skin side down, to the cool side of the grill if using charcoal, or turn the burners to low if using gas. Cover and cook until a skewer inserted at the center of the eggplant halves meets no resistance, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer the eggplant to a cutting board, then cut into 1½- to 2-inch pieces and place on a serving dish. Spoon on about ‚ cup of the nuoc cham. Sprinkle with the peanuts, herbs, scallions, and pickles, then serve with the remaining nuoc cham.


Vietnamese coffee cake.
Vietnamese coffee cake.Connie Miller of CB Creatives

Vietnamese Coffee Cake

Makes 12 servings

This ultramoist cake gets richness from pairing warm, subtly sweet Chinese five-spice with cocoa powder. For an accompaniment, we take inspiration from Vietnamese coffee and create a rich, sticky sauce with sweetened condensed milk and instant espresso powder. The final flourish is a mascarpone-enriched whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Instant coffee shouldn’t be substituted for the instant espresso powder, as its flavor is less intense and less balanced. It also won’t dissolve as well.

For the cake:

160 grams (1⅓ cups) cake flour, plus more for pan

42 grams (½ cup) cocoa powder

1½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs, separated

264 grams (1⅓ cups) white sugar, divided

½ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the topping:

¾ cup heavy cream

¼ cup mascarpone

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch kosher salt

Cocoa powder, to serve

For the cake, heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Trace the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan on kitchen parchment, then cut inside the line to create a piece to fit inside the pan. Brush the bottom of the pan with oil, set the parchment over it, then brush the top of the parchment and the sides of the pan with more oil. Dust lightly with flour.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, five-spice powder, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1 cup of the sugar, ½ cup water, the oil, and the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the yolk mixture and whisk until well combined. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until light and foamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar and continue to whip until the whites are thick and glossy and hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

Use a silicone spatula to fold a third of the whipped egg whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites until combined. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake until it bounces back when gently pressed at the center, about 25 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cool 1 hour on a wire rack. Once cool, run a knife along the edge of the pan to release cake, then invert onto the rack to remove from the pan. Reinvert onto another rack or cutting board.

For the sauce, in a medium bowl stir together 2 tablespoons hot water and the espresso powder together until the espresso is dissolved. Whisk in both milks, the vanilla, and the salt until smooth. Cover and refrigerate.

For the topping, in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip all ingredients on low speed until uniform and frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase to medium-high and whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.

To serve, cut the cooled cake into 12 squares and transfer to individual serving plates. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the sauce over each piece, then dollop with topping. Using a fine mesh strainer, gently dust the top of each serving with cocoa powder. Serve with additional sauce on the side.


Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to [email protected]