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foodFood & Drink

Katie and Valerie’s Sữa chua (Vietnamese Yogurt)

by Kristina Gill

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One of my dream travel destinations is Vietnam. Recently, I’ve been listening to podcasts about its culture and history, and really wishing I could spend a significant amount of time visiting the entire country and also learning about its food culture. Rice Paper Scissors, a San Francisco Vietnamese pop-up eatery — and one of our favorite Instagram accounts — gives me my regular dose of inviting Vietnamese food photos. Today, Katie Kwan and Valerie Luu of Rice Paper Scissors are sharing with us their recipe for Vietnamese Yogurt, or sữa chua, on the column. I love their story of how they were introduced to this dish. The recipe is so simple, I’m sure I’ll have no problem making a batch, and transporting myself to Vietnam via my tastebuds! —Kristina

Why Katie and Valerie love this recipe:

We started eating Vietnamese Yogurt, or sữa chua, on our morning walks in Saigon. We would sit down at a street stall, take a coffee, walk the block and take in another small bite. Our favorite place to grab a yogurt was at Tan Dinh Market, where the vendor served her milk- and yogurt-based treats form a blue-tiled corner stall. She had been using the same culture for decades and prided herself on the freshness of her milk — something that really made a difference.

While learning how to make sữa chua from a family friend in Saigon, we were struck by how simple and how much sense it made. First, we pasteurized the milk, then we mixed in the cultures, and finally, we let it incubate in a warm humid place — which, in Saigon, means upstairs under the bed. Come morning time, breakfast is served.

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Photography by Andria Lo

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Sữa chua is tart, slightly sweet, and set like custard. What makes it different is the incorporation of condensed milk — a product initially used in lieu of fresh milk during times of no refrigeration. Here, condensed milk is used to add body and extra tartness in the culturing process.

We eat sữa chua straight-up, or dressed up with coconut syrup and candied kumquats.

Sữa chua
Makes 10 cups

Ingredients

Yogurt

– 2 quarts whole milk
– 14 oz can of condensed milk, we like to use Longevity Brand
– 2 cups plain yogurt, we like to use Byblos Yogurt
– 1 vanilla bean, split in half

Sweetened Coconut Syrup

– 1 sugar
– 1 vanilla bean
– 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
– 2 teaspoons cornstarch
– 1 vanilla bean, split

Candied kumquats

– ½ package rock sugar, or 1 cup sugar
– 1 pound fresh kumquats, sliced

To make the yogurt:

Making yogurt is all about the set-up. You’ll need to sterilize your equipment and, of course, find any number of glass jars to set the yogurt in. Equipment to sterilize: 1 large mixing bowl, 1 ladle, 1 fine mesh sieve, a pitcher, glass jars of the same size (totaling 80 fluid ounces).

Other equipment: large roasting pan, plastic wrap, thermometer.

1. In a large pot, set your jars, whisk, sieve, and mixing bowl. Fill with room temperature water and bring to boil. Once at a boil, continue to boil for 10 minutes and then remove from heat. Allow to cool. Drain water and allow to air dry. Voila! Sterilized!

2. In an 8-quart saucepan, whisk together the condensed milk and whole milk. Heat slowly on medium until barely boiled. If using a thermometer, aim for 180F. Remove from heat and allow the milk mixture to cool until warm to the touch (around 105F).

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt until loose, and add one cup of the milk mixture. Once incorporated, add the rest of the milk mixture and stir until combined.

4. Using your ladle, pour the mixture through the fine mesh strainer and into a pitcher. Pour the mixture from the pitcher into jars until ¾ filled.

5. Loosely screw the lids onto the jars and set them in the roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with warm water (around 110F) so you create a water bath for the yogurt. Using plastic wrap, wrap the roasting pan and glass jars in plastic to secure everything in place.

6. Identify the warmest part of your kitchen/house; in some cases that may be next to the heater or in the oven when it’s off. Set your yogurt contraption in a warm place to culture for the next 12 hours. Check on the temperature of the water bath and change it from time to time if it cools drastically. Once finished culturing, place the jars in the fridge.

For the coconut syrup:

Place ingredients in a small saucepan with one cup of water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced to desired thickness.

For the Kumquats:

Place one cup of water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced to a thick syrup. Remove from heat, add kumquats, and allow to cool.

To eat, open up a cold jar of yogurt, top with coconut and kumquats to taste, and enjoy!

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About Katie and Valerie: Rice Paper Scissors is a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco, created by Katie Kwan and Valerie Luu — two women inspired by the street food scene in Vietnam. Their food combines regional Vietnamese dishes with California sensibilities. You can find their food every Thursday at Mojo Bicycle Cafe, at your next party, at their special events, such as the Lunar Night Market, or on the Internet through their tumblr and Instagram.

Someday, Katie and Valerie hope to make fish sauce a household item. Currently, they are working on opening their first restaurant, a fast-casual neighborhood spot where you can always find a warm bowl of pho. Curious? Drop them a line!

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