Saturday, January 06, 2007

Chuc Mung Nam Moi: Celebrating Vietnamese Flavors

With the Year of the Pig due to arrive on February 18, I would like to spend the next month focusing on Vietnam, beginning with a recipe from The Little Saigon Cookbook, by Ann Le.

About two years ago, Ann came serendipitously into my life. I was hunkered down in Cook’s Library researching Communion, and she happened to be there buying a gift for a friend. Casual conversation over the merit of a few Vietnamese cookbooks led to a wonderful, constantly evolving, enriching friendship ... as well as partnership with my sister on Ann's book—Julie took the photographs.

Ann wrote The Little Saigon Cookbook out of respect for the Southern California immigrant community in which she was raised and a desire to preserve its culinary traditions for future generations. For this post, I asked her to choose a favorite recipe from the book. Despite this being a porcine new year, she selected the following chicken dish, which I enjoyed many times when I lived in Vietnam.

Traditional Shredded Chicken and Cabbage Salad (Goi Ga)

Goi ga, regarded as the coleslaw of South Vietnam, is a refreshingly sweet and tangy salad. The chopping and slicing steps to make it may seem laborious, but they’re necessary to let all the ingredients be more evenly coated by the dressing. Note that each part of the salad is dressed separately before the final tossing. There are a number of ways this salad can be expanded, such as by adding boiled shrimp and pork, more cucumber slices, shallots, or other cabbages (except red cabbage). Just make sure you have the dressing perfected—a balance of tangy, sweet, and salty flavors—as it is the clincher to creating the invigorating taste of goi ga. The fish sauce should not be overwhelming. Serve this salad at room temperature.


- 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 dried Thai bird chile, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 5 Tbsp fish sauce
- ½ cup paper-thin slices yellow onion
- 1 head green cabbage (Savoy or Napa recommended)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled
- 2 chicken breasts (approximately 1 lb. total)
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and julienned
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup crushed lightly salted peanuts


1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, chopped garlic, sliced chile, sugar, and fish sauce. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the sliced onions and set aside.
2. Shred the cabbage and carrots with a mandoline into a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the vegetables and let them marinate for at least 15 minutes.
3. Boil the chicken breasts in salted water until fully cooked. Let cool, then shred into thin pieces by hand.
4. Add the chicken, cucumber, cilantro, and mint to the marinated cabbage and carrots. Add the rest of the dressing and toss. Let the salad sit for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt a bit.
5. In a skillet over high heat, toast the crushed peanuts. Add them to the top of the salad as a garnish just before serving.

(Serves 6)

Make sure to check out Ann’s new foodie website, LA Lunchbox (, debuting in March 2007.


photos by Julie Fay

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