NOLA Studiola: My Nguyen
My Nguyen is a poet and cook raised in Baton Rouge. She earned an MFA from Louisiana State University and is currently working on two manuscripts, one of which is a hybrid poetry cookbook entitled La Louve. When she is not writing, she can often be found experimenting in her kitchen.
Nola Studiola: What fruit and what vegetable each deserve a week-long celebration? Please explain.
Pineapple! My mother still cuts up a whole pineapple and freezes it in portions to use in recipes like hot and sour catfish soup, spicy caramelized short ribs, and even spring rolls. It’s a process that takes time, and I hated doing it when I was younger. You have to trim the top and bottom, and then cut thin spirals around the pineapple to get rid of the tough bits. But when I think of all the great things you can make with pineapple, it’s well worth the trouble.
Shallots are also worthy of a week long celebration. When raw, they can be sharper than an onion, so they stand out really well in a vinaigrette. But they also tend to give a more tender flavor when cooked. I’m also convinced that crispy fried shallots come from heaven. They’re good on top of just about anything from noodles to salad to soups. Even burnt shallots taste good. Shrimp omelets seasoned with fish sauce and burnt shallots on a mound of hot jasmine rice were (and still are) a common dinner for me.
What meal would be ideal in New Orleans, on a deteriorating porch in the heat?
I would have to say that my ideal meal would be spicy green jackfruit salad and a glass of white wine. It’s simple and delicious. Below is the recipe:
2 cans of green jackfruit
3 garlic cloves, minced
a handful of fresh herbs like Vietnamese coriander or basil, chopped
a dozen large shrimp, peeled and deveined
a package of rice crackers
Nuoc Mam Sauce: juice of one lime, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1/3 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup hot water, 3 fresh small red peppers (chopped), and 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use the Three Crabs brand, and feel free to add more fish sauce to taste.)
1. Make the nuoc mam sauce by combining all of the ingredients for it and letting it settle in a bowl.
2. Boil your shrimp and set them aside to cool. When they are cool, chop them up. You should get about 3 pieces per shrimp.
3. Drain the jackfruit and give them a good rinse in the sink. Squeeze the brine out of the jackfruit and chop finely. Place in a large bowl with 3 minced garlic cloves, the shrimp, and herbs.
4. Just before serving, add some nuoc mam to the salad (starting with 3 tablespoons) and toss to combine. Taste, and add more if you’d like. Serve with rice crackers.