A rustic way to cook meat in Northern Vietnam is braising it with tofu, turmeric, and other seasonings that give the dish a deep savory flavor with a touch of tanginess. Different types of protein can be used, and today, I’m sharing the version with easy-to-find ingredients.
So what is this turmeric braised dish?
Some of the most delicious Vietnamese dishes are actually not found in restaurants, and this dish is one of those. The traditional version comprises of a choice of protein, braised with green bananas, fried tofu, turmeric and shrimp paste. We call this cooking method “nấu chuối đậu“.
The popular choices of protein are pork ribs or pork slices, snails and frog legs (well, I did say this is a very rustic dish!). In my family, my mom usually uses a combination of pork ribs and snails. We call it “sườn nấu chuối đậu” or “ốc nấu chuối đậu“. I’m not a huge fan of snails, as well as the green bananas, so I always leave them out while having a huge bowl of everything else in the dish.
Then a few years ago, I tried a vegetarian version of this dish in Hanoi, which had fried tofu and eggplant, and it was excellent. Returning to the US., I started to make my own version of the dish with pork ribs, tofu and eggplant. This is still how I make it now when living in Saigon since all ingredients are very easy to find.
This dish requires some ingredients that you may need to visit an Asian grocery store to buy. Here are the key ingredients:
- pork ribs, medium-firm tofu and Asian eggplant.
- turmeric powder: it gives the dish a vibrant color and an earthy undertone. Traditionally, Viet cooks use fresh turmeric but turmeric powder works perfectly.
- shrimp paste: it gives the dish a deep savory flavor. On its own, shrimp paste is very pungent but once cooked, it actually smells wonderful.
- rice vinegar: it gives the dish some acidity to balance the flavors. Traditionally, Viet cooks use fermented rice (mẻ) but it isn’t easy to find outside of Vietnam. I find that using rice vinegar will result in a pretty similar flavor. The only thing missing is a very subtle sourness scent of mẻ.
- perilla leaves and piper lolot leaves (also called wild betel leaves): these leaves will be julienned and added to the braise just before serving. They are very aromatic, adding an irresistible peppery-minty smell to the dish. Their Vietnamese names are lá tía tô and lá lốt respectively. If you can’t find Vietnamese perilla leaves, I think you may use Korean perilla leaves or Japanese shiso leaves.
- other ingredients: garlic, shallot, tomato and fish sauce.
You can eat this turmeric braised ribs and tofu with either rice or vermicelli noodles. I personally prefer the noodles over rice.
(1) The first step is to simmer the ribs until they are near tender. This may take over an hour on the stovetop or 15 minutes in a pressure cooker. While leaving the ribs to cook, you can prepare other ingredients.
(2) Slice the eggplants and soak in salted water for 15-20 minutes. Cut the tofu into pieces and fry until golden.
(3) Sauté the eggplants with aromatics, then add tomatoes, tofu, pork ribs, and continue to stir and cook. We will also stir in turmeric powder and shrimp paste to sauté in this step to bring out their full flavors and aroma.
(4) Once everything smells delicious, add the broth from cooking the ribs in the first step with some rice vinegar and simmer until ribs and eggplants are tender. Right before serving, bring everything to a boil and add the julienned perilla and betel leaves.
I grew up with this dish and always love its complexed flavors. It is actually pretty straightforward to cook, so I hope you will give it a try and enjoy the authentic taste of Northern Vietnamese home cooking.
I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating if you have tried it. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Vietnamese Braised Pork Ribs with Tofu and Turmeric
- 12 oz pork ribs, cut into sections
- 3 cups water (plus more to parboil the ribs)
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more to soak eggplant)
- a 1-inch piece of ginger
- 10.5 oz medium-firm to firm tofu
- cooking oil
- 1 Asian eggplant
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, divided
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fish sauce, divided
- 2 teaspoons shrimp paste, divided
- 2 teaspoons minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup julienned perilla leaves
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup julienned wild betel leaves
- rice vermicelli noodles or rice, to serve
- Bring plenty of water to a boil and then add pork ribs. Parboil for 1-2 minutes, then take the ribs out and rinse under water. Discard the boiling liquid.
- In a clean pot, add pork ribs, 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of salt and ginger. Bring it to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam. Simmer with the lid slightly askew for about 75-90 minutes or until the ribs are near tender.
- While simmering the ribs, prepare other ingredients. Slice tofu into 3/4-inch (or up to 1-inch) thick pieces, pat dry. Place a pan over medium to medium-high heat and heat a generous amount of oil. Once the oil is hot, add tofu and fry until both sides are golden, flip once. This may take 5-6 minutes.
- Cut eggplant into 2-inch long pieces and then quarter each piece. Soak in salted water for 15-20 minutes. Remove eggplant from the soaking water before cooking. Slice tomatoes into small wedges.
- Once the ribs are near tender, remove them from the broth and keep the broth. Toss the ribs with 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1/4 teaspoon of fish sauce and 1/4 teaspoon of shrimp paste. Set aside.
- Place a pot over medium heat and add some oil. Once the oil is hot, add minced shallots. Sauté for a few seconds until fragrant, and then add minced garlic. Sauté briefly until fragrant.
- Add eggplant to the pot. Stir and cook for a minute. Add tomato wedges and continue to stir and cook for a minute. Then add the remaining shrimp paste, turmeric powder and fish sauce to the pot. Stir and cook until it smells delicious.
- Add fried tofu to the pot and stir to cook for 1 minute. Then add pork ribs and continue to stir and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
- Pour the pork rib broth reserved in Step 5 and 2-2½ tablespoons of rice vinegar to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently with the lid slightly askew for 20-30 minutes until flavors meld together and the ribs and eggplant are tender to your liking.
- Bring the pot back to a boil and add julienned perilla leaves and wild betel leaves. Cook for about 1 minutes and then transfer to serving bowls. Serve hot with rice or vermicelli noodles.