Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Food Desert Project: Mứt Tết - Vietnamese New Year Snacks (Soy-ginger peanuts and sunflower seeds)

When I was a little girl, our local church sponsored a group of Vietnamese refugees.  Many families, including our own, offered their guest rooms to people from these families, whose stories we never really knew.  I don't even know what became of the quiet young woman who stayed with us.

Since my parents offered room and board to foreign exchange students in exchange for some housework, this arrangement was hardly unusual for us.  What made it different was that the young woman's entire family was spread throughout families we knew.  One day, as was my parents' custom, we asked them to come together and teach us about Vietnamese culture with a meal.

I grew up in a small Midwestern city that likes to think it's more sophisticated than it is.  While it holds a large Asian population from all over the globe, we had only a few Chinese restaurants,  and we had little or no other examples of the varied and delicious cuisines from many immigrant groups who lived among us.  Our one chance to sample culture was the local "folk festival," an event I looked forward to every year - but there was so much to choose from, I never got a chance to immerse myself in another culture's cuisine.

That meal was an eye-opener for me.  I loved all of it (in particular, I have never forgotten the Vietnamese "egg rolls" chả giò; nothing like their Chinese takeout counterparts) I hardly thought about this for years - although I am glad to now reside in a place where phở is readily available and cultural immersion is steps from our door - until Sparky's book list included the excellent Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; the story of a Vietnamese refugee in Alabama.  I read the story with great interest, wincingly grateful for the opportunity to see the other side of the story...and, remembering that special meal from my past, I realized I was HUNGRY.

Tết Nguyên Đán, mentioned often in this book, is the Vietnamese New Year, which falls this year on January 23.  Like many holidays, it involves preparing all kinds of delicious dishes, including an assortment of fruit and nut snacks called Mứt Tết, which typically includes fried crimson watermelon seeds, but can include other kinds of nuts and fruits in a beautiful display.  I found this recipe on White On Rice Couple (a blog I recommend you peruse) and realized it would not be too difficult to fit into the parameters of this project.

Ginger Garlic Peanuts or Sunflower Seeds

1 lb Dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts OR 1 lb dry-roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp Soy Sauce

2 tbsp neutral oil
1/2 an anchovy filet, or 1 tsp Worchesershire sauce (anchovy filet preferred)

salt & pepper to taste

Equipment: Mixing bowl, microwave-safe cup, small pot or frying pan, cookie sheet

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the garlic, ginger, sugar and soy sauce into a microwaveable container and microwave for 15 seconds until warm.  Set aside.  If using an anchovy fillet, fry it in the oil in your smallest skillet or saucepan until it dissolves (this is the closest Food Desert analog for fish sauce.)  Pour the peanuts or seeds into a bowl, and add both liquids, tossing well to make sure every peanut or seed is well coated.

Pour the coated peanuts or seeds onto a cookie sheet and spread them out into an even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes, until your home is incredibly fragrant, taking care not to burn the nuts or seeds.  Stir once, and return to the oven until the moisture has evaporated completely and your snack is beautifully glazed.  Salt and pepper to taste.




1 comment:

ChristinaBakes said...

I love the idea of making my own flavored nuts. I will have to give this a try!

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