With a garden full of herbs, it is not so easy to choose a favourite. Coriander is high on the list, jostling for attention with flat-leaf parsley and lemon-scented thyme; fresh bay leaves, plucked from a pot by the back door are irreplaceable, yes, but to pick an absolute favourite is no simple task. In the end, the herb picked me.
James Oseland calls it Vietnamese basil. Down here, it is often referred to as Vietnamese mint and in other parts it lurks in shady, damp spots as Vietnamese coriander. Though all three are wildly incorrect, what all three do offer is some insight for those unfamiliar with what the people of Vietnam, and increasingly the rest of us, know as rau ram. Nibbling a leaf offers a hint of basil’s anise, another reveals the cooling effect of mint (with a spicy, citrussy punch) but it is coriander (cilantro) that offers the best description. If you dislike coriander, the chances are rau ram won’t win you over, despite those pretty leaves.
Simple to grow, rau ram requires regular trimming, part shade and more water than it should given the emptiness of our dams, but as a salad herb, it’s delicious and that alone justifies its presence for me. Given the right moist, healthy conditions rau ram, like mint, quickly becomes invasive. Keep it potted instead and vow to use it regularly. Amazingly, it roots easily if a sprig is placed in small a glass of water and left on the windowsill. Skeptical, I did just that and though it took longer than the suggested 2-3 days, I now have three fledgling plants to with which to play.
Singaporean and Malaysian cooks know it as Laksa Leaf, adding carefully plucked handfuls to that fiery, noodley soup beautifully described by Christine Manfield as ‘deep slurp therapy’.
Now doesn’t that sound good?
Laksa, but lighter serves 3-4
So. You've succumbed to the lure that is chicken stock. Laced with all things fragrant – coriander, lemongrass, ginger – there is also a shredded pile of perfectly-poached chicken flesh that requires some attention. The dog can have a dish, the cat, too, but a small pile will shine in this spicy, healing soup. Rice milk is stunning here, lightening the calorific load considerably. Authenticity be damned.
1 red onion
4 fat cloves of garlic
A thumb of fresh ginger
1 long green chilli
1-2 tablespoons of oil (pale sesame is good)
1 heaped tablespoon of red curry paste (or this, which is exceptional)
3 cups of good, delectable stock
2 or 3 tablespoons of coconut milk
1 cup of rice milk
1 fistful of snowpeas
100 g (about 3 oz) of rice vermicelli noodles
1 cup of shredded poached chicken
1 fistful of rau ram leaves
Fish sauce or tamari
Crispy fried shallots, to serve
Peel the onion and garlic, then slice them thinly. Finely grate the ginger. Slice the chilli into rings. Heat a deep saucepan, pour in the oil and stir-fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the red curry, stand back, and stir it about for a few minutes longer. Pour in the stock, coconut and rice milks and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile slice the carrots thinly and cut into attractive shapes. Sliver the snowpeas diagonally. Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl, boil a kettle of water and, when ready, cover the noodles well. Rest them in their bath for 3 minutes, then drain and toss with a little oil.
Add the vegetables, noodles, chicken and most of the rau ram leaves to the soup. Simmer until the carrots are tender but retain some bite. Season to taste with fish sauce or tamari and the lime before serving in deep bowls, sprinkled with the shallots and topped with the remaining rau ram.
Kalyn’s baby, Weekend Herb Blogging, turns 3 this weekend. Kalyn is our host on this auspicious occasion and she’s got lots of news and developments to share. The gorgeous Haalo of Melboure's own Cook Almost Anything Once will be WHB's new hostess. Raise a glass to them both, I say!
This is my submission to the party.