Recipe: Beef salad with a stunning secret dressing

It’s time to get back into the kitchen and today’s dish is inspired by my recent visit to Vietnam. We stayed in the fabulous Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa and enjoyed dishes created by genius Chef Hoang. I was amazed at the beautiful salads he served up and kept trying to work out the recipe for the dressing. Well, lucky me, when we did a cookery course with him he divulged the secret recipe which I’m sharing with you today. Keep reading to find out more.

Waste not, want not, so I used my leftovers from my huge sirloin at my recent dinner at NV80. This salad is a perfect way to use up any leftover meat, this recipe would also be great with chicken or pork.

I served my delicious salad on this beautiful frog platter from Ceramix. Their delightful and unique ceramic collections feature stylish white platters, dishes, cups and bowls with an animal motif. As well as the frogs, which I particularly love, you can choose from birds, bunnies, cats, tortoises, snails and doves.

Vietnamese-style steak salad with a stunning secret dressing

Recipe for Vietnamese beef salad

The tasty salad on my beautiful Ceramix frog platter

Serves 2

250g white cabbage, shredded

1 medium carrot, peeled and grated

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

One quarter of a cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks

A handful of fresh mint, chopped

A handful of fresh basil, torn

300g cooked sirloin steak (medium rare), sliced. I used leftovers

6 shallots, sliced, fried until crisp and left to dry on kitchen towel

A handful of peanuts

Mix the cabbage and carrot and lay as a base to the salad.

Top with the cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mint and basil.

Layer the slices of steak next.

Sprinkle the fried shallots and peanuts over the top.

Pour over the dressing just before serving.

Chef Hoang’s secret dressing recipe

I make a big batch of dressing and store it in a jar in the freezer. It lasts for about a month and turns any salad into something special.

My favourite salad dressing recipe

The most delicious dressing recipe ever

1 kg fresh passion fruit

250g sugar

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp chilli sauce

Put the pulp of the passion fruit into a blender and whiz for 30 seconds. This is just to loosen it up a bit, we don’t want to break the seeds up.

Remove the pulp and put through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Add the sugar and whisk until it’s absorbed and the dressing has a slightly fluffy texture.

Stir in the chilli powder and chilli sauce and mix everything together thoroughly.

Delicious beef salad recipe

Close up salad with the frog watching over it

You can find out more about the fabulous ceramic collection from Ceramix at www.ceramix.co.za

Do you have a favourite recipe inspired by your travels? I’m always looking for new recipes to try, so do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Where to stay in Vietnam: The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa

Continuing my series of Where to Stay, today we’re in Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Phan Thiet is a coastal city in south-east Vietnam, a four to five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City airport – sounds long but it’s totally worth it when you get there. It’s the capital of Binh Thuan Province with a population of around 300,000 and is actually only 200km from Ho Chi Minh City. At its centre is a bustling little fishing port and an amazing market.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is outside the centre in the beach resort area of Mui Ne. There’s a long palm-lined stretch of sand with plenty of watersports and a strip of hotels, restaurants and shops alongside it.

The hotel is laid out through beautiful gardens and is built in the style of traditional Vietnamese country houses. Here’s what I loved about our stay there.

The room

We stayed in one of their beach bungalow. A meander down a winding path through lush tropical vegetation takes you to your brightly painted, welcoming home for your stay. Set right on the edge of the beach – a few steps from the sand – the room was light and spacious with an enormous bed, large wardrobe and generous seating area.

Looking back from the beach to the beautiful bungalows

The bed’s made even cosier at night with the mosquito net

The glass doors opened out onto a large patio complete with two amazingly comfortable sun beds and an umbrella. This is where we spent a lot of time reading, sipping wine and just taking in the marvellous view from our verandah.

The seating area and our view towards the sea

There were good tea and coffee-making facilities, including a range of teas and a fridge which was restocked every day with fresh bottles of water and replacements for anything else you may have drunk. So no issues with in-room refreshments then. Other essentials (for me anyway) included a safe, plush bathrobes and towels, lovely bathroom products and great wifi.

The large bed and its crisp white linen

The bathroom

One of the best hotel bathrooms ever…large with a separate toilet, a wonderful corner bath for long bubbly soaks and – best of all – an outside area with a hammock and powerful shower.

Light floods in from the enclosed outdoor shower

How I love an outdoor shower

The views

The joys of waking up every day and opening the curtains to look through palm trees across the beach to the vast South China Sea.

Looking out across the South China Sea…just awesome

And as the sun set every day the little lights along the beach came on turning our beach view into a twinkling, magical land.

Night comes and a magic falls over the beach

I particularly loved the light at sunset

The pools

As well as the warm, inviting sea to swim in there were two pools, never crowded while we were there. Both had waiter service so you could lie back and enjoy lunch or a cocktail in the sun. The infinity pool at the top of the resort is perfect for getting in your lengths.

Looking through the hibiscus to the pool

Chef Hoang and his amazing food

This is a hotel with food in a league of its own with a genius chef. From the vast breakfast buffets to the amazing dinner menu with a selection of Vietnamese and Western dishes, there are plenty of exciting flavours to discover. Chef Hoang is always on hand making sure things are running smoothly when he’s not cooking in the kitchen.

The first couple of breakfasts took some serious decision making. The range of Vietnamese dishes on offer was stupendous – all on top of plenty of pastries, eggs any way you want them and a tropical fruit feast. I soon established my favourites – and tucked into fresh Vietnamese rolls every morning, filled with prawns, vegetables and herbs and dipped into Chef’s delicious, spicy peanut sauce.

Fresh Vietnamese rolls for breakfast, just delightful

A colourful first breakfast course of tropical fruit

We pored over the menu every night carefully choosing different dishes until we’d pretty much gone through it all. We tucked into delightful salads with Chef’s secret dressing, fresh fish and wonderful pork and duck dishes.

The amazing prawn salad in crunchy baskets

On our last night Chef Hoang made us a special dinner. We started with his special prawn salad served on banana leaves in these lovely bamboo bicycles (love the presentation).

Our prawns presented on the cutest of dishes

And for mains he specially selected a grouper for us from the market that morning. It was baked in a tangy sauce and  parcelled into rice papers with herbs, noodles and vegetables added at the table. A real ceremony.

Our special grouper and vegetable parcels

The beach

Okay everyone knows I’m a real beach baby, so I was in complete heaven here. The whole of hotel life is focused around the beach. You eat looking out to sea, open your curtains to the beach, exercise by walking along the beach…and it’s all rather quiet as the beach is private to the hotel.

At the Victoria life centres around the beach

My favourite time of day was sunset, which happens early in Vietnam – around 5pm. The beach became bathed in golden lights and shades of orange and pink.

Another beautiful sunset turns everything golden

The cookery course

We signed up for a food and cooking excursion. Awakening early we headed into the harbour with our guide, Lam and Chef Hoang. The catch of the day was coming in and the negotiations were in full swing as people heckled over prices – the women take delivery of the catch from the men and do all the bargaining.

The bustling harbour in Phan Thiet centre

From there we headed to the colourful market in the centre of town with it’s beautiful piles of tropical fruit, fish galore and every cut of meat you could need. Plus all those random household necessities dotted throughout. On the way home we stopped off at the local fish sauce factory where Lam explained the vast quantities of fish sauce consumed by the Vietnamese – it’s used in so many of their dishes.

On our return to the hotel we headed for our cookery course in the beautiful thatched gazebo on the beach. Chef Hoang and two of his chefs cooked us a delightful lunch which we ate overlooking the beach. Nothing like having three chefs cook you a private lunch! We left armed with a tasty collection of Vietnames recipes, including one for his secret salad dressing. I really must make that soon, it’s fabulous. And no, my lips are sealed.

Chef Hoang and his smiling helpers

Here’s the amazing prawn and banana flower starter they made specially for us. How exotic is that?

Prawn and banana flower with Chef Hoang’s secret dressing

The staff

The service at the Victoria is impeccable. We were so well looked after by everyone, from the front desk, waiters, chefs, masseurs, cleaners and gardeners. There were smiling, happy faces everywhere and nothing was too much trouble.

The spa

We had excellent massages in the open-fronted spa, with sea breezes and crashing waves providing the background to our indulgent treatments. Vietnamese massages are slightly less harsh than my experience of Thai ones, making it a perfectly relaxing experience while also getting rid of all those long-haul-flight induced knots. I also had a lovely manicure – the staff were expert and prices good value.

The gardens

The beach bungalows are sprinkled through the most beautiful and lovingly tended gardens. Perfect green lawns punctuated by our sunny yellow rooms and tropical trees and flowers including three of my absolute favourites: hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani.

Wash your feet off after a walk through the gardens

Live life surrounded by bougainvillea and hibiscus

The bedtime stories and other special touches

Okay this is a unique one. Every night we returned from dinner to discover cake delights in our little wooden box with a rolled up scroll alongside it – our nightly bedtime story. A truly charming touch and a great way to find out more about Vietnamese folklore.

I so looked forward to my bedtime story every night

Other special touches I loved included the fact that a chilled glass of water was delivered to your bed at the pool or beach as soon as you sat down – why doesn’t every hotel do this?

And the towels were extra large – having been specially made to perfectly cover the cushion on the wonderfully comfortable beach beds.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is the sort of place where you walk around with a smile on your face all day. Its beautiful and relaxing environment is made even more idyllic by the combination of smiley service and wonderful food.

It was a sad day indeed when we had to say goodbye and head off on the next leg of our adventure to Saigon, which you can read about here.

We organised our trip to Vietnam and Thailand with travel experts Eastravel. They are great to deal with and at the planning stage we spent some time discussing where we would visit and stay – with great results. It was a fabulous, well organised trip. You can read more about Vietnam and Thailand soon. Watch this space.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite thing about it? Do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.


Absorbing the sights and energy of Saigon

I’ve been having a bit of a blog-holiday so apologies for being so quiet. But I’m back now and starting the new year (happy 2017 everyone) with tales of my recent trip to Vietnam and Thailand. My first time in Vietnam and I totally fell in love with the country – its people, food and unfolding story.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the largest city in Vietnam, although not the capital (that’s Hanoi in the north). In 1976 it was officially renamed Ho Chi Min City after the Communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. It’s still widely called Saigon, though, (especially by the Vietnamese) which it was under French rule when it was the capital of Cochinchina.

The sprawling city has a population of more than 10 million and it’s rapidly growing, too. This makes for a serious hive of activity, hectic traffic, an energetic and hardworking people and, on the downside, somewhat polluted skies which means most citizens wear masks on the streets. There’s something happening around every corner and a friendliness and energetic feel that’s catching.

Here’s what you have to do when in HCMC.

Shop in Ben Thanh Market

In the centre of the city this bustling, partly undercover market sells pretty much anything you could possibly desire. Exotic, fresh vegetables and fruit, live fish and shellfish in all shapes and sizes, clothes, jewellery, souvenirs. The highlight is the towers of great quality, cheap t-shirts to choose from – don’t leave without one – Vietnamese cotton is fabulous.

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The greenness of an exotic vegetable stall

Take to the streets and view the stylish architecture

Saigon is a great city to walk around. The centre is quite small and the best way to see everything is on foot. Notre Dame is the city’s most famous landmark. Built from the 1860s to the 1880s, it’s a reminder of the French influence – all the building materials were brought over from France. Newly married couples and their entourages cluster around the cathedral for wedding pictures – it’s said to bring good luck. It seems that everyone wants their picture taken in front of Notre Dame.

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Notre Dame’s pinkness is iconic Saigon

Saigon is also home to the most beautiful post office I’ve ever seen – designed by French architect Gustav Eiffel, who the Eiffel Tower was named for.

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Post offices don’t get prettier than this

Ho Chi Minh himself takes pride of place in the square in front of the City Hall which was built in the early 20th century – some more of that Parisian flavour – the city is also known as The Paris of the East.

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Ho Chi Minh stands guard over the city

Eat Pho and drink coffee

When in Vietnam…eat Pho. It’s a traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, noodles, herbs and meat. It’s popular street food and it’s eaten any time of day – even for breakfast. Usually served with a plate of herbs on the side so you can add them to suit your taste. A deliciously, satisfying one-pot meal, one that I am certain to be making at home. Oh and there’s plenty of other street food on offer too.

Coffee is the most popular drink in Vietnam and coffee shops abound in the city, so no problem getting your caffeine fix as you explore.

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Traditional pho topped with fresh herbs

Visit the War Remnants Museum

Okay this isn’t the happiest thing you’re going to do in Saigon but I’m big on remembering and learning from history – something humans really aren’t that good at. This museum offers a pictorial record of the brutal Vietnam/American war and its aftermath. Some of the photographs are stunningly heart breaking and while the story is clearly told from a Vietnamese perspective the exhibits provide an almost overwhelming overview of this horrific time in Vietnamese history. Outside you can see the planes and the iconic Huey helicopter that I always associate with Vietnam. I’m too young to remember the war but one of my favourite songs is Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel which is possibly one of the most powerful songs ever written. Worth a listen.

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The Huey helicopters that flew in packs

Chill out at a roof-top bar

Get a different perspective on the city and enjoy a local beer (or a tasty cocktail) at the same time. Our hotel The Majestic (more of which later) has a lovely roof-top bar overlooking the Saigon River. The perfect place to relax and plan over a cold one.

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Cheers from on high in Saigon

Marvel at the traffic and master crossing the road

The traffic is kind of a tourist attraction in its own right. There are millions of motorbikes in Saigon (they say there’s 25 to each car – and there’s no shortage of cars) and they don’t stop at red lights and have no compunction about riding on the pavement. So you need to keep your wits about you wherever you’re walking. I diligently pressed pedestrian crossing buttons to begin with but a red light didn’t stop the traffic. The best way to get across the many-laned roads is to walk at a steady pace without hesitation (when the lights are in your favour obviously) and the traffic will avoid you. Yes, I know I didn’t believe it either, but it seems to work.

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The traffic is a spectacle to behold

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Even at night it never stops

Take a dinner cruise

I do love seeing  a city from the river and the Saigon River is perfect for a cruise. We hopped on board our junk Le Perle de l’Orient at 7pm and settled in at a window table to take in the view. And enjoy a nine-course set menu of delicious Vietnamese food.

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Large, juicy prawns served in a coconut

The modern part of the city’s skyline sparkles in different colours, making for beautiful reflections in the river.

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The Saigon night skyline and its colourful reflections

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A traditional lotus salad with prawns and pork

Where to stay

We stayed at The Majestic Hotel, perfectly placed on the riverside corner of Dong Khoi Street – one of the best shopping streets in the city.

Our room was plush and spacious, overlooking the Saigon River and the bustling streets below. The huge bed was made up with some of the best linen I’ve ever slept in, I was tempted to pack the duvet cover in my suitcase! (No, of course I didn’t.)

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The best linen in the world? Possibly.

The hotel has a lovely rooftop bar/restaurant and the fabulous breakfast spread is served on an open terrace overlooking Saigon life.

Service is welcoming and efficient and the hotel has a relaxed elegance and calm about it – most welcome after the bustling life at street level.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite part of the trip? I’d love to hear your recommendations – they’ll give me an excuse to return.

COMING SOON

Read about my stay at the fabulous Victoria Beach Hotel and Spa in the seaside town of Phan Thiet.

Back to school for Vietnamese cooking lessons

Lately I’ve been learning all about Vietnamese food and have totally fallen in love with it. The fresh flavours, abundance of herbs and variety of sauces all make for fabulous dishes. So when I was invited to School of Wok for an afternoon of Vietnamese cooking, I couldn’t resist. Even better – it’s in Covent Garden, so off  I went to discover a lovely cookery school just minutes away from the Covent Garden Piazza.

Our enthusiastic group was greeted by Nev, our teacher for the day, who explained our menu and set about demonstrating how we prepared our ingredients using the sharpest of knives. The school’s cleavers are amazingly light and super sharp, making chopping a dream. Definitely something for my Christmas list!

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Taking instructions before the preparations begin

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Our ingredients await

We prepared all these dishes from scratch. Our spring rolls were stuffed full of vermicelli, carrots, spring onions, Chinese wood ear mushrooms, pork and chicken mince, all well seasoned. I discovered that wrapping a spring roll can be quite a challenge. The right quantity of filling is crucial or your rolls end up looking like a plump little pillow, rather than elegantly elongated. We got the hang of it though and produced this plateful, to squeals of joy! My group were very pleased with our results.

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Spring rolls all lovingly wrapped

Next up, the lemongrass beef. A mix of lemongrass, garlic, shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and palm sugar is melded into beef mince for all flavours to absorb. Smells kinda pungent at the time of making, let’s say that shrimp paste doesn’t have the nicest of aromas. But it does taste surprisingly good. We rolled out our mince into mini burgers and put it aside to fry later.

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Platefuls of baby burgers waiting to be cooked

We also made Pho which is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with meat (chicken in this case) that’s served with handfuls of fresh herbs. And while we were finishing off in the spacious kitchen, our spring rolls appeared freshly cooked. All beautifully golden and ready to be sampled. Really delicious and a lot easier to make than I expected, it’s quite therapeutic all that wrapping, too.

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Crispy and delicious with chilli dipping sauce

On our return from the kitchen our preparation table had been transformed into a Vietnamese dining extravaganza, so we all sat down to tuck in.

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The table transformed with the fruits of our labours

And here’s the fabulous pho. A great broth that’s perfect for totally tailor-making to your taste. I added some of the chilli and lime dipping sauce that we made to give it a real nice bite.

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A fabulous bowl of pho

Our lemongrass mini beef burgers came out beautifully and we dipped them liberally in the mix of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilli.

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All our freshly cooked dishes filled the table

An afternoon at School of Wok is so much fun, educational and will satisfy your appetite when  you tuck in to the fruits of your labour at the end (with a glass or two of wine).

It’s a very hands-on experience where you really get to grips with your ingredients and prepare and cook everything yourself. It’s the best way really – I’m a very bad observer on cookery courses, I need to get stuck in. Nev, our teacher was knowledgeable and made it into a really enjoyable afternoon, too. And I learnt even more about the wonderful food of Vietnam…gathering new recipes for my repetoire always makes me excited. A wonderfully entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

School of Wok is at 61 Chandos Place, Covent Garden

www.schoolofwok.co.uk