Finding work in France has never been difficult. The challenge has always been finding a position that was well aligned with my interests and skill set. Needless to say, the job market in France does not mirror that of the US. The labor market here lacks the diversity seen in the US and is woefully resistant to change. France’s inadequate investment in scientific research has consequently stunted the evolution and growth of many fields, including my own. So, I’ve always settled for positions within the realm of my field of work, but the work was never quite what I wanted to be doing.
My growing dissatisfaction with not doing work that I considered to be my calling while waiting for the ideal opportunity to come along prompted me to take a leap and upend my routine last year. I quit my job to pursue another master’s degree in the hopes of opening the door to more appealing career prospects. I was also craving a change of scenery. As alluring as Paris may be to the tourist’s eye, the constant hustle and bustle can leave one feeling frazzled. So, I opted not to apply to the program offered in Paris. Fortunately, the only program that I applied to accepted me, which required moving to Grenoble last fall for the coursework. Living in this progressive university town nestled at the foot of the French Alps with 360° views of the mountain range gave me a taste of French academics as well as every bit of the respite that I needed from Paris.
Grenoble’s subdued pace and mountain climate quickly won me over, so it was with much reluctance when I had to head back to Paris to do my internship and write my thesis. After spending the better part of this year engrossed in intense coursework, interning, thesis writing, and preparing for the oral defense, my French academic journey finally came to a succesful end a couple of weeks ago. As the looming deadline approached, I started to run out of steam and wasn’t even sure if I had it in me to finish the thesis. But, setting agressive daily word count goals and mustering up some serious self-motivation, I surprised myself by crossing the finish line with high marks!
As eager as I was to get back to my blog and share my recipes again, the last leg of the master’s program zapped all of my energy and I had developed a bit of an aversion to sitting in front of my computer after doing so for months. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks relishing my newfound downtime and checking out sites in Paris that got pushed to the bottm of my list of ‘sites to see’ as time tempered the slack-jawed touristic awe that I had for the city.
I have also, of course, been cooking quite a bit and playing around with new recipe ideas. Though I’m not vegetarian, I tend to gravitate towards meat-free dishes, especially Vietnamese ones. What I love about Viet veggie dishes is that they do not skimp on flavor and are as equally satisfying as their meat-based counterparts. This dish that I recently made was no exception. Similar to bò kho (beef stew) but much quicker to make, fried tofu and king oyster mushrooms are simmered in a broth seasoned with lemongrass, chilis and a blend of spices. The king oyster mushrooms add a satisfying meaty texture, while the combination of chili peppers and spices gives a bold depth of flavor. The dish packs such a punch that you may even forget that you’re eating a vegetarian dish!
Tofu and King Oyster Mushroom Stew
300 g fried tofu
2 king oyster mushrooms
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp annatto seed oil*
3 tbsp lemongrass, minced
2-3 Thai chili peppers, minced
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp bột bò kho*
Vietnamese basil and culontro
Slice the stem of the mushrooms into ¾ cm rounds and the mushroom caps the same thickness. Cut the onion in half lengthwise from root to stem, then quarter each half lengthwise. Slice the carrots into ½ cm rounds.
Preparing the dish
Heat up the oil over high heat in a medium sized cooking pot and add the lemongrass, chili peppers, soy sauce, fand ish sauce. Once fragrant, stir in the bột bò kho and reduce the heat to medium high. Then, add the fried tofu, mushrooms, carrots, onions and enough of the boiled water to cover about ¾ of the ingredients in the pot. Allow to simmer for about 12-15 minutes. If you prefer to have more of a crunch to the carrots and onions, you can add them in 3-4 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Finish by garnishing with finely chopped basil and culontro.
I prefer to serve this over rice, but it can also be enjoyed with a baguette by dipping it into the sauce.
*Notes – I make my own annatto seed oil by heating about 1 teaspoon of annatto seeds with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil (not olive) over medium-low heat for 6-7 minutes. Bột bò kho is a spice mixture of paprika, fennel seeds, onions, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves that can be found at asian grocery stores. For a vegan version of this dish, the fish sauce can be omitted and replaced with a little bit more soy sauce or salt.
Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!