It’s hard to believe that Tết, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is just a few days away.
Growing up, our parents used to have us scrub down the entire house the days leading up to Tết. It was one of the many important traditions we used to follow to ensure a prosperous and lucky new year. Then, the entire clan would come together, cook up a feast of goodies, offer ancestral prayers at the alter, hand out lì xì (lucky money in red envelopes) to the kids, eat, drink, laugh, and well—gamble and play cards! Needless to say, it was always a fun time.
One of the traditional dishes often found around Tết is Xôi Gấc which is essentially, glutinous rice (sticky rice) that has been steamed with coconut milk and Gấc.
This is one of those Vietnamese dishes whose name just doesn’t translate well into English. The first challenge is “Gấc”. It has several English names such as Baby Jackfruit, Cochinchin Gourd, Sweet Gourd, Momordica Charantia Fruit, and my least favorite–Spiny Bitter Gourd. I mean, c’mon now…… How unappetizing does Spiny Bitter Gourd sound? You might as well throw in some other funky words like gelatinous and congealed and call it a day.
But I digress…..
Since I’ve seen Gấc more often called “Baby Jackfruit“—–I’m going with it. But for the record, it does not taste like regular jackfruit or even “young jackfruit”. Could I BE more confusing???
The flesh of the Gấc fruit is deep red and is well suited to not only flavor Xôi (sticky rice) but also naturally dyes the grains of rice to an intense orange-reddish hue. It’s because of this that you’ll find Xôi Gấc served at celebrations such as Tết and weddings since the color red is considered to be very lucky.
Although fresh Gấc can now be found in many large Vietnamese grocery stores this time of year, I couldn’t convince myself to make the trek to Orange County to pick some up. I resorted to using frozen Gấc puree that my local Vietnamese grocery store has stocked year round. If you can get it, I would HIGHLY recommend using the fresh fruit over frozen as you won’t be able to get the same rich and vibrant hue if you use the latter. Truthfully, my finished Xôi Gấc looked a tad anemic because I used the frozen puree—but it was DARN TASTY all the same.
Oh—and if being healthier is one of your New Year’s resolutions….the Gấc fruit has a supposed astronomic amount of beta-carotene and lycopene.
Since Xôi Gấc has a slightly sweet profile to it, it’s best served alongside something savory like roast pork or Chả lụa (pork sausage). But it can also be enjoyed as a breakfast item as well.
And with that Dear Friends, I better get back to cleaning my house before Tết is here. But before I sign off, let me wish you and your loved ones a joyous, adventure-filled, and delicious Year of the Dragon!
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!!
Xôi Gấc (Baby Jackfruit Flavored Sticky Rice)
2 Cups Sweet Glutinous Rice
12 Ounces Gấc Fruit, either fresh or frozen puree
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
6-8 Fresh Pandan Leaves
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Fill a large bowl with cool water, add the rice and soak it overnight.
Once the rice has been properly soaked, drain the rice and shake off any excess water. With a kitchen towel, gently pat the rice dry and then transfer to a mixing bowl.
While wearing gloves, massage and rub the Gấc into the rice, allowing the grains to be thoroughly covered in the fruit. Sprinkle in the salt and mix until combined.
Line the bottom of your steamer with a sheet of cheesecloth. Place a layer of pandan leaves on top of the cheesecloth and then spread the rice mixture evenly on top the leaves. Cover the rice mixture with additional pandan leaves and place the steamer lid on. Steam for about 15 minutes and then remove the lid and top layer of pandan leaves. Using chopsticks, stir in the coconut milk and mirin while fluffing the rice. Place the leaves and steamer lid back on and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Enjoy!