Tết is a festival of feasts. After year of hard work, everyone athers with their family and friends to celebrate and rejuvenate.
With rising prosperity, it has become commonplace to have extensive spreads of meat and seafood on each day of the Lunar New Year festivities. Trouble is, too much meat leads to queasiness and discomfort that comes with overindulgence in rich food.
The best way to stay healthy is to incorporate traditional healthy holiday foods like pickled vegetables in your diet. As they say, Tet is the time for Thit mo dua hanh cau doi do (fatty pork, pickled spring onions, and parallel sentences).
For a sound mind in a sound body, make sure you include pickled vegetables such as dưa hành, dưa chua and dưa giá in the feasts in the first days of the lunar year.
Dưa hành (pickled spring onions)
Fermented salty spring onions do more than just aid digestion and fortify the stomach. In Oriental medicine, they are used to treat flatulence and chills, and improve spleen function.
To make dưa hành, peel and wash fresh spring onions between 15 to 20 days before Tet. The onions should be small and violet. Some people like to store the peel and add it during fermentation. It's a matter of taste.
Soak the onions in rice water for two days to reduce their pungency. Rinse and leave out to dry. In a large, sterilized glass jar, add salt, sugar, and hot water. Stir well, and then add the spring onions to the jar. Two small pieces of bamboo cut to the right length can be used to hold the onions firmly in place.
After 15 days, the fermented spring onions should be white, sour and crispy but not bitter.
Dưa chua (pickled mustard cabbage)
Start by discarding any yellow or soggy leaves, wash the mustard cabbage and let air dry. The next day, dip the leaves in boiling water, remove and then place them in a clean jar. Add salt to hot water, let cool, and then pour it over the cabbage. Seal the jar and leave it to ferment for 3-5 days. When ready, the cabbage will turn yellowish.
A hundred grams of salted mustard cabbage contains 85.6g of water, 1.7g protein, 2.3g lactic acid and 2.3g fiber.
Dưa chua is ideal for Tet as it is low in sugar and carbohydrates, making it a suitable side dish on days of feasting.
Dưa giá (pickled bean sprouts)
Another indispensable Tet dish dưa giá has pickled bean sprouts and braised pork wrapped in rice paper. In southern Vietnam's hot and humid climate, dưa giá helps cool the body, and its sourness helps the body digest fat more efficiently.
To make dưa giá, wash 500g bean sprouts, remove the bean heads and let dry. Pound a whole blub of garlic and half a chili to a fine paste, and add sugar and salt to taste. In a clean jar, mix the garlic-chili paste with sprouts and cover with 500ml of vinegar.
Dưa giá is ready to eat within 12 hours of fermentation. Make sure you don't use too much sugar or garlic, which can make the pickled sprouts crispy and "aromatic," to put it gently.
Dưa kiá»‡u (pickled rakkyo)
Acrid and bitter, củ kiá»‡u (rakkyo or allium chinense) helps relieve pain, chronic rhinitis and stomach ache, and even helps with drug withdrawal symptoms.
Indigestion is common during Tet because of all the rich food. A side dish of dua kieu steeped in vinegar helps the body deal with overindulgence.
To make dưa kiá»‡u, wash one kilogram of rakkyo bulbs and soak in water with a small piece alum and salt. Place the bowl in the sun so water can evaporate. The next day, rinse the rakkyo bulbs with fresh water before spreading them out on a tray. Place the tray in the sun again and let dry.
The following day, mix the rakkyo bulbs with sugar, salt and a bulb of garlic, and let stand for two hours. In a jar, pour 500ml vinegar over the rakkyo mixture and leave to ferment for ten days. This nourishing pickle will last a full year.