Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
This won't be the first recipe column by me this year about what to eat when it's hot outside. As the temperature and humidity rise, people will be looking for ways to cool down while still trying to eat well.
Bun cha (pictured)
This Vietnamese dish is one of my favourite summer-time meals - the combination of rice noodles, barbecued (or grilled) pork and lots of fresh vegetables and herbs leaves you feeling refreshed rather than heavy and lethargic. Most recipes for bun cha call for pork belly but I prefer pork neck (also called pork jowl). I also like to mince the meat myself, either in an electric grinder or a food processor. If you don't have either of those pieces of equipment, buy coarsely ground meat from the butcher.
In Vietnam, they tend to serve the rice noodles in a small bowl (or on a plate), the meatballs and grilled meat with the fish sauce in another bowl and the lettuce and herbs in a separate bowl or on a platter. Outside Vietnam, however, they usually pile everything in one large bowl. Serve it the way you like.
The marinade turns into a dipping sauce when mixed with garlic and chillies and diluted with chilled water.
900 grams pork neck (or 450 grams pork neck and 450 grams coarsely minced pork)
60ml cooking oil, plus extra for cooking the meat
8-12 spring onions (depending on size), divided
300 grams rice vermicelli
8 garlic cloves, divided
5 red bird's-eye chillies, divided
About 100 grams large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
½ a green papaya, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Lettuce leaves and fresh herbs such as coriander, mint and Thai basil
For the marinade and dipping sauce:
180ml bottled fish sauce
45ml fresh lime juice, or to taste
25ml rice vinegar
45 grams granulated sugar, or to taste
Make the marinade and dipping sauce. Mix the fish sauce with the lime juice and rice vinegar, then add the sugar and stir until it's dissolved.
Put half the pork neck into a bowl and add 80ml of the marinade, two roughly chopped garlic cloves and two minced chillies. Mix thoroughly then refrigerate for about two hours.
Cut the remaining pork neck into small chunks and add 60ml of the marinade, two sliced garlic cloves, two roughly chopped spring onions and some freshly ground pepper. Put the ingredients into a container and freeze until the meat is icy but not solidly frozen. Use a meat grinder fitted with the medium blade to coarsely grind the meat, or process briefly in a food processor until the pork is roughly chopped. Refrigerate for about two hours. (If using minced meat, finely chop the garlic and spring onions, then mix them into the meat along with 60ml of the marinade and some black pepper, then refrigerate.)
Mince the remaining spring onions. Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the spring onion and cook briefly, until it's wilted but not brown. Set aside to cool.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil then turn off the heat. Add the rice vermicelli and let it soak in the hot water until just tender, but not mushy, then drain. Add some of the spring onion oil and mix it in thoroughly, to lightly coat the noodles (this flavours them and prevents them from sticking together). Reserve some of the cooked spring onion for topping the noodles before serving.
Shape the minced meat mixture into small, flat patties about 3cm in diameter and cook them on a lightly oiled grill or barbecue, letting them char slightly. Cook the pork neck on the grill or barbecue and, when the meat is done, cut it across the grain into 5mm-thick slices.
Taste the remaining marinade mixture and add sugar and more lime juice, as needed. Finely mince four garlic cloves and three chillies, add them to the mixture, then dilute it with about 100ml (or more) of cold water. Pour some of the sauce over the rice noodles - just enough to moisten them - and use your hands to mix thoroughly. Divide the noodles into four to six portions and top each one with some of the cooked spring onion and a little of the oil. Add the sliced carrot and green papaya to the remaining dipping sauce, then pour the mixture into individual bowls.
Serve the noodles with the meatballs, sliced pork neck, dipping sauce and a platter of lettuce and fresh herbs. Let each diner add the ingredients to the noodles before eating.
Seared scallops with orange, lime and fresh coriander
Buy the scallops in the shell and have the vendor clean them, but leave on the delicious roe.
8-10 fresh scallops, about 5cm in diameter, cleaned
20 grams unsalted butter
20ml cooking oil
15ml fresh lime juice, or to taste
15ml extra-virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh coriander, leaves only
Fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper and rough-flaked sea salt
Use a citrus zester to remove the orange zest in long strands. Cut off the stem and blossom ends of the orange, cutting deep enough to expose the flesh. Stand the orange on one end and use a small, serrated knife to cut off the peel and pith down to the flesh, following the contours of the fruit. Cut the orange flesh into small dice and mix it with the lime juice and olive oil. Finely chop the coriander and mix it in.
Sprinkle fine sea salt lightly over the scallops. Heat the butter and oil in a skillet set over a medium-high flame. Pan-fry the scallops until brown on one side (about 60 to 90 seconds, depending on size, for mi-cuit - half-cooked), then flip them over and brown the other side; do not overcook them. Divide the scallops between two plates and sprinkle with pepper. Add the orange/lime/coriander mixture and the strands of zest, then sprinkle with rough-flaked sea salt. Serve immediately.