BY LAUREN SEPHTON
From fresh spring rolls to caramelized lemongrass chicken, the Children of Vietnam (COV) organization partnered with Chef Hue-Chan Karels for a delicious virtual fundraising cook-along event, the evening of January 24th. As attendees tuned in to learn how to make a few authentic Vietnamese meals, their tickets became stepping-stones for the COV organization to raise awareness towards those currently stifled by poverty.
With the Lunar New Year (February 12th) only being a few short weeks from the event, attendees may have noticed that they received the event information mailed in little red envelopes. In Vietnam, a bright red envelope is a traditional Lunar New Year gift (known as hóngbāo) for friends and family that symbolizes prosperity and best wishes. And with the organization’s desire to break the cycle of poverty in the streets of Vietnam and provide immediate aid to families with children, each ticket was indeed a gift. More than that, each ticket acted like a stepping-stone. For instance, the funds from two purchased tickets would support a single mother in buying business stock to sustain her family. Purchasing four tickets would help a single mother start up her business to provide for her family, while eight tickets would support a group of single mothers break the chains of poverty for generations to come through livelihood training classes. Also, attendees had the opportunity to fund vitamin-fortified meals to young children and give the gift of installing water filtration systems in a poor rural village throughout the event.
With a little preparation and ingredients at hand, attendees turned on their computers to begin the evening learning how to make traditional Vietnamese hors d’oeuvres. There were two options: Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (Vietnamese Fresh Rice Paper with Poached Shrimp and Rice Vermicelli) and Gỏi Cuốn Chay (Vietnamese Fresh Rice Paper with Mushrooms) to be served with a homemade Peanut-Hoisin Dipping Sauce. After enjoying the fresh herbal flavors of these Vietnamese spring rolls, attendees then moved on to making Gỏi Bắp Cải. When paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, this purple cabbage salad with a Vietnamese lime vinaigrette was delightful – a combination of crunchy, sweet, tangy, and salty elements. The main course, Gà Kho Sả/Gừng, consisted of caramelized lemongrass or ginger chicken served with jasmine rice. There was also a vegan option using eggplant. After such a delightful first course, the main course was a perfectly balanced meal with earthy, sweet caramel, and salty elements. The chicken thighs were incredibly tender and full of flavor.
Did you know that lemongrass is a fairly common ingredient used in many Vietnamese dishes? It is so aromatic it adds great depth to maximize flavors and is often smashed for simmering in curries and stews. Many Vietnamese cooks are even known to go the extra mile in chopping it as fine as granulated cane sugar all by hand – no food processor! When done correctly, it’ll add a beautiful fragrance and mouthwatering texture to the dish like none other. For those wanting to try this dish at home, Chef Hue-Chan Karels recommended pairing a light rose for the chicken option and a dry red for the vegan option.
To finish the evening on a sweet note, attendees were taught how to make Cà Phê Sữa Đá, a Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. A delectable drink with hints of chicory from the use of cafe du monde, which is most commonly used in the continental United States for café au lait and beignets. As attendees sipped on their sweet, they had the chance to reflect on the tastes of one of the oldest cultures in Southeast Asia that values harmony with all-natural ingredients – learning how to transform each subtle ingredient into an incredibly flavorful dish with clever combinations that balanced hints of spicy, bitter, sweet, salty, and sour notes. Not only were attendees able to dine in the comfort of their own homes, but could also end the evening with hearts delighted, knowing it was more than just an experience. Their evening created grassroots, giving the Children of Vietnam organization funding to develop relationships with small communities in Vietnam to discover the greatest needs to support and sustain.
For those that are new to the Children of Vietnam organization, it began back in 1995 with just two friends, Mr. Ben Wilson and Ms. Luong Thi Huong, who would ride a scooter through the streets of Danang, Vietnam, to bring aid to children and their families. The COV organization continues to keep the focus on the vulnerable children, constantly assessing their needs within the context of both their families and communities to maximize all aid efforts. Over the years, they’ve even grown to now offer university scholarships to very bright young people to reach their dreams of ultimately helping out their community. In addition, they’ve also started empowering foundations for single mothers to help them overcome the barriers of financial security. And with every donation, they’re building brighter futures.
To join Children of Vietnam’s mission of lifting children from poverty, donate via their website at www.childrenofvietnam.org/donate/ or mail a check to PO Box 18039, Greensboro, NC 27419-8039. For any questions, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, a big thank you to Chef Hue-Chen Karel, chef-owner of Open Kitchen in Santa Fe, for her generosity in preparing the menu and cooking event.