Flowers hold a special place in the Vietnamese culture: symbolically, spiritually, literary and artistic, but also in the gastronomy as it can be seen in many Vietnamese cooking recipes. If you visit North West Vietnam in the spring, you may have the opportunity to taste the bauhinia soup. This soup is made of white petals from the flowers of Hoa Ban or Bauhinia. The flowers are fried and then added to the broth. They are also cooked with salt, wild pepper, coriander, garlic, and chili. Grapefruit blossoms are used to prepare a sweet essence to enhance the taste of sweet broth while dried flowers of Frangipani, give a useful infusion against hypertension. The use of banana flower is also very common. The flowers are often used in salads with chicken, ground beef, and seafood or in the bún bò Hue, a delicious beef vermicelli soup, a specialty of the city of Huê. This flower is rich in vitamin E and flavonoids, so it is an excellent source of antioxidants for your diet. Zucchini flowers are also prepared stuffed or fried.
The Lotus, the national flower symbol of purity and moral elevation, also enters in the preparation of many dishes. Indeed, everything is eatable in the lotus, from the root to the fruit, passing by the stem the young leaves and the flower. Known for their benefits in alternative medicine, lotus seeds are used for their anti-diarrheal or sedative and calming properties, but also for their antispasmodic effects helping the blood to dilate in the vessels thus reducing blood pressure. In case of insolation, they also allow regulating the temperature of the body. Rich in fiber, the rhizomes are excellent for digestion and to low fever, stop nosebleeds (in the form of root juice), treat diarrhea or strengthen the immune functions. The green heart of seeds, very bitter, which is removed before eating the grains, is used in natural decoction or in combination with other elements, among other things to treat insomnia, anxiety or to lower the blood pressure and heart palpitations.
Pale yellow on the outside and white on the inside, the rhizome is eaten peeled, sliced, raw or cooked, salted or sweet. Crunchy raw, tender and slightly floury, the rhizome is eaten most often cooked on the wok (củ sen xào gà), boiled in a soup (canh củ sen giò heo), fried or confit for tea (mứt củ sen).
Peduncles or stems (ngó sen)
White once peeled, the peduncles are sold by boots. Raw or boiled quickly in boiling water, the peduncles are tasteless but very crispy. They are usually used for salads (gỏi ngó sen) or served marinated in vinegar and sugar (pickles of lotus stems).
Lotus leaves (lá sen)
The large fresh leaves are mainly used to cover and flavor the steamed lotus rice (cơm hấp sen) or the chicken rice wrapped in a lotus leaf as in China, or to flavor young green rice (cốm) in northern Vietnam.
Lotus seeds (hột / hạt sen)
The cream-colored lotus seeds, with their soft green husks, come from the lotus fruit in the form of a watering apple containing more than twenty seeds each. The seeds have the size of large fresh hazelnuts and have a crunchy texture when they are raw. The taste is very sweet and slightly astringent. It is necessary to get rid of the very bitter green heart (Tem Sen) used in decoction in the Vietnamese medicine for his sedatives effects. Raw or cooked in broth, steam, water, wok, lotus seeds are prepared for salty dishes such as steamed rice with lotus leaves (cơm hấp sen), poultry (chicken, duck, quail) or pigeon …) with lotus seeds, soups. Cooked, the lotus seeds have the texture of floury chestnut. For dessert, the Longan is stuffed with lotus seeds of Huê (hèt sen nhãn nhục).
Lotus flower petals (cánh Hoa sen)
White or pale pink, the highly fragrant flower petals are mostly used to decorate the lotus dishes. However, it is also possible to use sweetened fried lotus flower petals (cánh Hoa sen chiên). The petals are coated with wheat flour, egg and sugar, then dipped in a hot oil bath, like a tempura.
Stamens (nhụy or gạo sen)
Stamens are the essence of lotus fragrance. Its primary function in Vietnam is to perfume the tea leaves to make the famous lotus tea (trà ou chè sen).
How to cook them?
Lotus salad with shrimp (Gỏi ngó sen)
For 3/4 people
250 g of lotus stems
8 medium-sized (or large) shrimp cooked and peeled
1 carrot peeled and finely cut in julienne
2 to 3 tablespoons of Polygonum (Rau răm) leaves and/or mint washed and stripped, chopped Optional: 1 chopped red pepper
1 ½ lime in a hurry
1 tablespoon caster sugar
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 handful of crushed roasted peanuts or 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame
1 tablespoon of deep-fried onion
Sweet and sour nuoc mam sauce
2 tablespoons pure nuoc mam (fish brine)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons squeezed lime juice
6 tablespoons hot water
1 clove of garlic pressed
1 red pepper or ½ teaspoon chili puree
Sweet and sour nuoc mam sauce
Peel and finely chop the garlic.
Optional: Chop the red pepper into slices.
In a saucepan over high heat, combine sugar, water, and pure Nuoc mam until the sugar is dissolved. Switch off. Let cool before adding the lime juice, garlic, and chili. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Rinse and drain the lotus stems. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons squeezed lime juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Add the lotus stems and mix thoroughly. Marinate 30 minutes, reserve.
Peel and cut the carrots into a fine julienne. Add them and mix them with the lotus stems. Cook the whole shrimps with their shells in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Take them out and let them cool before removing head, tail, and shells. Slice in half. Keep on the side.
Wash the stems of Rau ram (polygonum or coriander Vietnamese), dry, pluck and chisel. Add and mix 1 tablespoon chopped Rau ram with marinated lotus and carrot stalks.
Roughly crush the roasted peanuts or toast the white sesame seeds in a hot pan until they become golden brown.
Place the salad in a salad bowl or on a large plate. In both cases, place the marinated vegetables first, then arrange the half-prawns on the surface, sprinkle with peanuts or sesame seeds, the fried onion, the rest of the chopped Rau ram and, lastly, sprinkle with hot sauce.
Serve with Shrimp chips on the side
Longan with lotus seeds (Chè hột sen nhãn nhục)
For 3/4 people
200 g lotus seeds (canned)
220 g longans in syrup rinsed and drained (in can or 400 g of fresh longan)
220 g of sugar candy (rock sugar)
1 liter of water
Rinse and remove the lotus seeds, then reserve in a bowl. Rinse and drain the longans and set them aside in a bowl.
Over medium heat, melt 220 g candied sugar in a liter of water. Add the lotus seeds and cook gently for 5-7 minutes. Let cool, and reserve. Prepare four small bowls. Stuff the longans with one lotus seed each and share them equitably in the small bowls.
Pour the sweetened sugar syrup into each bowl until you have covered the lotus stuffed longans.
Reserve the dessert in the fridge before serving. Some like it hot too.
Tofu soup, straw mushrooms, and spring onion buds
For 4 people.
1.5 liters of Vietnamese-style poultry broth (2 liters of water, 500 g of poultry bone – ideally 1/2 carcass, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 3 or 4 slices of ginger, 1 tablespoon small dried shrimps, 1 grilled whole onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon nuoc mam)
200 g canned straw mushroom (volvulus)
200 g of soft (or silky) tofu in cubes
100 g of lean ground pork
50 g Chinese of chive seedling or Bong He
3 sprigs of green onion (white part) finely chopped
Fish sauce or Nuoc mam, salt, white pepper
Make the chicken broth by putting all the ingredients of the soup in cold water, cook on high heat until boiling, skim the impurities, lower on low heat and simmer for 2 hours The broth will reduce. Filter the broth and keep on the side.
Wash and chisel the white part of the green onion.
In a bowl, mix the minced pork with the chopped green onion, 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce in pure brine nuoc mam, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. With a spoon, take a small portion and form a meatball, and do this for all the meat.
Wash and chop Chinese chive chives (bong he) in sections of 5 cm. Keep the flowers.
Cut the tofu delicately into cubes of 1 cm x 1cm (or bigger depending on preference)
Rinse and drain the straw mushrooms. Cut them in half.
Put the filtered broth back on the fire. When boiling, cook meatballs over medium heat.
As soon as it boils again, skims off the impurities, then adds the chopped straw mushrooms and wait for a new boil.
Add the tofu and cook until boiling, then add the Chinese spring onion and its buds (bong he). Shut off the fire immediately. Taste and rectify the soup with a little bit of Nuoc mam if necessary.
Serve immediately, very hot, in bowls.