When I was 19 I met a Vietnamese elder through our family restaurant who taught me 75% of what I know about Vietnamese food. Her name was cô Mai (literally auntie Mai) and she was like the Vietnamese Julia Child I’ve been waiting to meet. For patê ground this. Don’t forget to roast the fennel seeds. Exactly 3 hours. Of course it’s authentic. Where do you think I learned how to cook? She would say these things with fervor and she cooked with confidence, never apologized in the kitchen, and she had a way of reciting a recipe once and you’d remember it forever. And I loved the way she lowered her voice when she listed out a secret ingredient in a recipe as if the recipe would dissipate into the air and escape her. On one occasion she whispered the recipe for her secret springroll [gõi cuôn’] dipping sauce. I remember listening intently, resisting the urge to laugh at her unobtrusiveness. Over the years I’ve tweaked the original recipe and added my own version which I think made the sauce more palatable for people who like a spicy kick.
Friends from school would come over and Vietnamese springrolls filled with mint, cilantro, sometimes Thai basil, steamed shrimp or pork belly, rice vermicelli, lettuce, rolled in a thin tapioca sheet, would be the go-to snack or light meal. Everyone asked for the sauce recipe. It became a shared recipe amongst friends and family and eventually it found it’s way into our family restaurant.
Top Secret Secret Peanut Sauce
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili oil (with seeds)
- dash of sesame oil
- fresh roasted peanuts, chopped finely (optional)
- Sambal chili sauce (optional)
In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil and dissolve the peanut butter. Whisk in the garlic and onion powders, then remaining ingredients. Bring to a medium boil and whisk for 5 minutes. You have the right consistency if the sauce coats the back of a spoon evenly. Now, cool completely before serving with fresh springrolls. Add roasted peanuts and dash of Sambal chili sauce if desired.