While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome food using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, desserts and more.
Julie Truong is the chef-owner of DD Mau, a fast-casual Vietnamese eatery in Maryland Heights. DD Mau is currently offering online ordering with curbside pickup and to-go options. Delivery is available through Grubhub, Postmates and DoorDash.
What’s your favorite ingredient to work with and why? Do you have a secret weapon spice? My favorite thing to work with is any type of chilies but my favorite of all is Thai chile. When I am bored at home, I will dehydrate any chile peppers that I have in the house. I turn the oven on low to the lowest temperature possible and I leave it slightly cracked with a wooden spatula. When it starts to burn, that's when you know the oven is on too high. Once it starts to dry and still maintain its color, that's when you know it's perfect! Once I dehydrate them, I will blend them all together with some salt and whole peppercorns. You can put them on anything! I love it on our Thai chili pepper wings that we added to the menu at DD Mau.
What are some lesser known Vietnamese pantry staples that home cooks can use to take their cooking to the next level? My favorite Vietnamese pantry staple is pandan leaves. It is similar to a vanilla bean. It is great in all desserts and anything sweet. It gives this aroma that is subtle but very fragrant, and a little goes a long way. Plus, it gives a coconut vibe. I’ve made waffles, Vietnamese honeycomb cake and many Vietnamese desserts with the pandan leaves. You can purchase pandan leaves in the frozen section of any Asian grocery store. Some people can purchase the plant in California and bring it home to grow themselves!
When you're seeking something comforting, what are some of your favorite dishes to cook at home? When I’m at home and feeling hungry for something fulfilling, I enjoy cooking a nice charred rib eye steak or some Viet-Cajun seafood boil. I just love seafood and some steak – you can’t go wrong with surf and turf! If I’m exhausted from work, I will just run to Sam’s and grab a rotisserie chicken. Tossing it with pasta and pesto sauce is the best – don’t forget to add lemon juice!
Can you share a recipe for a drink, snack or meal idea that incorporates some of the ideas you've discussed? This Chè Bắp, Vietnamese sweet corn pudding, is my favorite dessert of all time that my mom frequently makes. It is easy and can be eaten warm or cold.