Make this beloved Vietnamese street snack, without snails

Snails are a popular Vietnamese street food, and nowhere is this more evident than on Vinh Khanh Street in Saigon's District 4. Affectionately nicknamed “Snail Street” for its dense concentration of stalls and shops dedicated entirely to mollusks, the corridor is packed since the afternoon. until the early hours of the next day, with the voracious Saigoneers devouring plate after plate of snails prepared in countless ways.

Have you ever had mud snails or periwinkles in an aromatic coconut broth whose flavors dance between notes of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chili and fish sauce, topped with fresh onions and rau ram and served with a baguette to soak the broth? ?

I love this dish the same way Homer Simpson feels about donuts and Nan Astley loves Whitstable oysters. But as with oysters, the divide between snail devotees and detractors is wide. You either love them or hate them.

For the gastropod-averse (including my own partner) who have until now been deprived of this pleasure for a long time, I offer you this: a pot of white beans bathed in an equally aromatic broth that, even without snails and fish sauce , hits the salty umami. notes that make the dish so memorable.

The key to the fragrant and delicious broth lies in the spice paste, made with a technique borrowed from the Malaysian rempahs used as a base for curry. Preparing spice paste begins with selecting the right aromatics.

Look for firm, juicy lemongrass stems that are heavy for their size. Full marks if you find some with the green tops still.

You'll want fresh ivory-colored galangal. As galangal ages or bruises, it oxidizes. Makrut leaves should be shiny, a sign that its essential oils are still vibrant. Thai bird's eye chilies should be red and have firm skin.

Galangal sliced ​​so thin it curls. Look for fresh galangal in Southeast Asian markets.

(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

If you don't already shop at markets that specialize in Asian and Southeast Asian products, I highly recommend doing so with these ingredients; Otherwise, you'll be stuck with limp lemongrass stems and frozen makrut lime leaves, both of which will noticeably dull the flavor of the rempah. And if you replace the galangal with ginger, then you will have prepared your own dish.

In Thai Town, I like Bangluck Market for their always beautiful lemongrass and galangal and Silom Supermarket for their makrut leaves and Thai red chillies. You can also buy palm sugar and rau ram there.

When preparing lemongrass and galangal, don't be tempted to rush to work with the knife. Lemongrass and galangal are woody substances and do not break down easily in a blender. You need to cut them into thin slices before mixing them with the rest of the spice paste. This ensures that there will be no hard lemongrass or galangal pebbles in your pot of beans.

The next step is to fry the pasta. Malay rempahs can sometimes involve a two-hour vigil stirring on the stove. Luckily, this pasta only takes 15 minutes. This process coaxes and caramelizes the sugars from the shallots and garlic and creates umami without the help of fish sauce or snails. It's so effective at capturing those flavors that a chef friend of mine, after tasting the beans, thought he added fish sauce.

Time 2 hours 20 minutes (mostly unattended to cook the beans)

Yields Serves 4 to 6 servings

Canned beans are perfectly fine to use in this dish, but if you have time, reach for dried beans. Raw beans absorb the flavors of the rempah better and their starches will contribute to a more velvety broth. Better yet, treat yourself and use good old-fashioned white beans, like those from Rancho Gordo or 2 Peas in a Pod Farm.

Whatever your choice, be sure to use white beans: red or black beans overwhelm the flavor of the broth. Cook the beans over low heat so they are plump and tender but still intact. Just before serving with the toasted baguette or a plate of steamed rice, a pinch of sliced ​​onions and rau ram are added. A delicious broth, beautiful beans, no snails.

Aromatic ingredients for a recipe for white beans with coconut and lemongrass broth

(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Diep Tran is a James Beard Award-winning writer and co-author of “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook.” She is the former chef-owner of Good Girl Dinette.

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