Vietnamese Chicken Salad – Goi Ga

A few weeks ago, Anna Diep invited me to lead an amazing culinary tour of Vietnam for her company Red Packet Tours. How exciting, I thought! What a trip to look forward to!

My history with Vietnamese food goes back some 25 years, from the first time I tasted Pho in 1987, to writing “The Vietnamese Cookbook” published by Viking Books in 1995, accompanying thousands of people through the Vietnamese precinct of Victoria Street in Melbourne and holding Vietnamese cooking classes in my studio until just recently.

Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country with a wonderful, refined and tasty cuisine including  “salads” featuring chicken, seafood, prawn and pork.

Over the years, and during my trips to Vietnam I have eaten many versions of  this chicken salad made with different vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, lotus stem or simply with onion and baby Vietnamese mint. The recipe below is my favourite, quick and easy to make, fresh and delicious!

If you would like to come with me to Vietnam and try other versions among countless other delicacies, contact Anna and book in for the May 2013 Tour.

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GOI GA

2 chicken breasts (or an equal quantity of boiled chicken  eg from soup)

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

1 white onion, cut into halves and thinly sliced

1 large cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 large carrot (shredded)

2 tablespoons shredded Vietnamese mint

1 tbsp shredded shiso

1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped fried peanuts

1 tablespoon crisp fried shallots

Bring the chicken breasts to a boil in some salted water and cook until just cooked through.  Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.  (If using boiled chicken from soup, simply shred.)

While the chicken is cooling, mix the vinegar with the salt, pepper and sugar and marinate the sliced onion in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.

Pull the cooled chicken into shreds with your fingers and mix with the cucumber and carrot.  Add the marinated onion slices together with their juice.

Add the shredded herbs, chilli and peanuts tossing to combine.  Season with some nuoc mam to taste and put onto a serving plate  Garnish with the crisp fried shallots.

Serve with some  prawn crackers.

NUOC MAM

1/2 fresh red chilli
1/4 clove garlic
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
8 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fish sauce

Chop the chilli and the garlic together finely.  Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a low flame and then stir in the vinegar and the fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then turn off and allow to cool

Transfer to a serving bowl and add some of the chopped chilli and garlic to taste.

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Moroccan Mint Tea

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading off to Morocco again to lead another of my culinary tours. One of the highlights of the time spend travelling around the Kingdom of Morocco is the drinking of tea infused with different kinds of mint and other aromatic herbs – a gesture of hospitality and a way to engage with the people we meet along the way.
Mint is the most common herb infused in Moroccan tea but it is often accompanied with seasonal additions, fresh Seville orange blossoms in the spring and Wormwood in the winter.  The desert people like to add marjoram whereas I have tasted tea brewed with thyme and sage in the Atlas Mountains.  Marrakech is known for its “atay m’khalet” or mixed herb tea containing a selection of herbs including two kinds of mint, lemon scented verbena, rose geranium, sage, wormwood and marjoram and very delicious it is!  The Moroccans use loaf sugar which I have described in a previous post entitled “Moroccan Sugar Cones”.

Aromatic herbs for Infusion in tea
Common Mint           Mentha viridis                       na’ana
Spearmint                  Mentha spicata                           ”
Peppermint                Mentha piperata                  menta
Pennyroyal                Mentha pulegium                 fliou
Lemon Verbena        Lippia citriodora                   louisa
Marjoram                    Origanum marjorana          merddedouch
Rose Genranium      Pelargonium roseum           laatarcha
Sage                            Salvia officinalis                   salmiya
Wormwood                 Artemisia absinthium           shiba

The tea is prepared very carefully and a tea service is used which comprises a tray, teapot, containers for tea, mint and sugar and decorative glasses.

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MOROCCAN MINT TEA

1 heaped teaspoon Gunpowder Green tea (loose leaves)
lump sugar
1 bunch mint, well washed

Bring the kettle to the boil.
Scald the teapot and put the tea leaves into the pot.
Pour in 1/2 glass of boiling water, swirl the pot and immediately pour it out into the glass. This is the “soul” of the tea.
Pour in another glass of boiling water, swirl it around and then pour it out into another glass.  This will be dark and cloudy and should be discarded.
Put a handful of mint into the pot, add the “soul” of the tea and fill the pot with more boiling water.
Add sugar to taste and allow to draw for about 2 minutes (over a low flame for the best result).

Pour the some of the brewed tea into a glass and then pour it back into the pot.
Repeat this process  to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved and then pour out a small glass of tea and taste it.  Add more sugar if required.
Pour the tea into the glasses to only 2/3 full. If poured from on high, the tea will be more aerated and will be topped with a layer of fine bubbles known as r’za (turban in Moroccan Arabic).
This will allow the aroma to develop.

According to tradition, each guest should be offered multiple glasses of tea.

Orthodox Christmas in Lalibela

In January this year, I was lucky enough to experience the annual pilgrimage to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia for the Orthodox Christmas celebration.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church dates from the 4th century and Lalibela, formerly known as Roha, was built as the new Jerusalem by King Lalibela of the Sagwe
dynasty in the 12th Century. I travelled with a wonderful group of people and we spent 6 whole days exploring the town and photographing the pilgrims, the services at the rock hewn churches, village life and the various markets.  All of the population of Lalibela are devout Christians and many pilgrims had walked for three weeks and more to get to the pilgrimage site.  The piety and devotion of the people touched me deeply. Here is a collection of my favourite images from this amazing trip. For more images click here.

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I would like also to mention my assistant and friend Mulugeta Asfaw, pictured below,  and express my gratitude to him for looking after me, serving as interpreter  which enabled me to connect with the villagers and some of the pilgrims and making the trip so special.He is currently completing his guide diploma and I am sure that he will succeed.

Kenya Photo Safari

It is mid March 2011 already and I haven’t made a post since before Christmas last year….  the truth is that I have just been taking time out to reflect and spend more time with family and friends.
I did, however, have a wonderful trip to Africa late in January… a photography trip organized by Ryan Snider of Socially Responsible Safaris and David Duchemin, world and humanitarian photographer.
The other photographers on the trip were a fantastic group and we exchanged ideas, forged friendships and had many funny moments together. I just loved Kenya, the landscape, light, people and, of course, the extraordinary wildlife.  A picture is worth a thousand words though…. here are some of my favourite images from the trip.

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Morocco with Meera 2011

FULLY ACCOMPANIED SPRING TOUR (UP TO 10 PARTICIPANTS)  26 MARCH – 9TH APRIL 2011

Join me from 26th March 2011 for an exclusive and exciting 14 day adventure in the Kingdom of Morocco.
Early spring will have us touring through areas full of wild flowers.
The cherry blossoms will be out in the Atlas mountains and the Seville orange trees will be in full bloom. A magical time to be visiting Morocco.
Download flyer here. If this whets your appetite, Email me for a full itinerary and costing.

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