Can’t cook – or won’t cook? A recipe for bun cha.

Dear, sweet Kitchen Fairy, please leave £1 in my favourite Le Creuset casserole dish each time that someone utters the words ‘I can’t cook’ to me. This would enable me to laugh all the way to the bank. Following which, I will promptly return and fly-kick that person in the face.

If I can cook, you can cook. On that note, I am of the strong opinion that it is not so much an issue of ‘I can’t cook’ so much as it is an issue of ‘I won’t cook’…more commonly recognised as ‘I am too lazy to cook’. If you still insist, consider learning to read – and then invest in a cookbook. If you can’t follow simple step-by-step instructions, then you probably deserve to waste away on instant noodles and canned tuna anyway.

I cannot stress this enough: everyone-should-know-how-to-cook.

This, I believe, is so important for health and balance. I like to cook because I like to know exactly what is going into my food. It means I am eating healthier without even really trying. Don’t get me wrong, I like dining out as much as the next person (a quick glance at my Instagram feed proves this directly). But I receive an equal amount of enjoyment, if not more, from a well-made home cooked dinner.

The ability to cook is arguably an important life skill. Each and every one of us, past a certain age, should be self-sufficient and be able to put some form of protein and a decent amount of veg on a plate and have the confidence to call it dinner. It doesn’t have to be expensive. And it certainly doesn’t have to be fancy! A few simple recipes under your apron and you are well on your way to being leaps and bounds ahead diet-wise.

So what do I eat during the week? Here is one from my repertoire. I love it, The Swede loves it – and I hope you love it enough to include it in your weekly meal plans too. It is especially good as a light, refreshing dinner on those warm summer nights. And it always brings back happy memories of family meal times in Saigon.

Bun Cha (Vietnamese grilled pork with noodles)

Nuoc Cham (Fish Sauce Dip)

1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
6 tbsp fish sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 finger-length Thai birds-eye chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you are hopeless with spice, like I am – the shame)

Pork Patties

2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp water
500g pork mince (free range!)
1 red shallot, diced as finely as possible
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper

To Serve

500g vermicelli noodles
1 head of baby gem lettuce, shredded
A variety of Asian herbs, such as coriander, perilla, mint, shiso, Thai basil

For the nuoc cham, mix the vinegar, sugar and 180mL of water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and set aside to cool. When cool, combine with the chilli, garlic, lime juice and fish sauce. Mix well and set aside to enable the flavours to develop.

For the pork patties, combine the sugar with 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan and cook over high heat until a dark brown caramel forms (approximately 8 minutes). Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of water whilst constantly swirling the pan (be extra careful! Hot sugar spits horrendously).

Combine the pork mince, shallot, garlic, fish sauce, caramel sauce and pepper. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Cook the vermicelli noodles according to instructions on the packet. Drain and rinse under cold running water to cease the cooking process.

Shape the pork into small round patties. Heat a grill pan (a BBQ would be even better for those smokey flavours! Alas, London flat life…) on high. Grill the patties until cooked through and slightly charred on the outside.

To serve, spoon the nuoc cham into four large bowls and add the pork patties. Place the herbs and lettuce on a platter in the centre of the table, along with the noodles (I am all about the family-style dinners!). To eat, dip some of the noodles into the sauce and eat with the patties and herbs.

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