If you really want to impress guests this summer, have a go at these sizzling pancakes, writes Gretchen Lowe.

Like everyone, both my mind and my to-do-lists have been in overdrive most of December so New Year's for me is truly a time to slow down and connect with precious people I don't often see.

This year, we're all heading home to Mum and Dad's in Opoiki for New Years with many beach days and BBQs to follow.

This one's going to be extra special as my sister Bec is home from the UK so I decided to recreate our two favourite dishes from an unforgettable trip to Vietnam, eating our way north from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.

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These are both fairly simple entertaining dishes with nods to Vietnamese caramel - one of the cornerstones of local cooking.

It's a sticky, savoury sweet glaze that when combined with fish, pork or chicken makes a sublime dish, especially with mountains of fresh greens.

Saigon Crispy Pancakes w/ Fragrant Herbs & Caramel Chilli Pork
Serves 4

If you really want to impress, have a go at these sizzling pancakes (banh xeo). They're fairly simple with just a few tricks to pulling them off - the batter needs to rest at least 30 minutes or (even better) overnight and the pan must be smoking hot. Traditionally they're served with pork belly and prawns but I've simplified by using pork sausage.

Pancakes
1 cup rice flour
2 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp turmeric
3/4 cup coconut milk
½ cup water
½ cup beer

Soy Nuoc Cham
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp ginger, finely grated

Chilli Caramel Pork
500g pork sausages, skin removed and crumbled
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

To assemble
3 cups pea shoots
3 cups fragrant greens (mint, basils, coriander)

For the pancakes whisk together all ingredients and a good pinch of salt. Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

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For the nuoc cham, add all ingredients to a jar and shake until mixed and sugar is dissolved.

For the caramel pork, heat a splash of peanut or vegetable oil in a large pan over high heat.

Add the crumbled pork and cook for 3 minutes or so breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon.

Add the sugar and fish sauce. Stir, then leave it to cook without touching until all the juices cook out and the pork starts caramelised - about 2 minutes. Stir it and leave it again, without stirring, for around 30 seconds to get more caramelisation. Add chilli and repeat twice more until caramelised to your liking.

For the pancakes, heat 1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil over medium-high heat add 2⁄3 cup of batter to the pan. Tilt and swirl the pan to coat the bottom with a thin layer. Cook until the bottom of the pancake is golden and crisp, about 4-5 minutes.
Slide the pancake onto a plate and top with ¼ of the greens and caramel pork then fold in half.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve with Nuoc Cham on the side.

Slow Cooked Caramel Salmon w/ Mango Slaw
Serves 6-8

Caramel is incredible on salmon, especially when the rich sweetness is balanced with a tangy mango slaw. Cooking the fish at a low temperature allows it to heat up slowly, helping the proteins to relax. You're left with salmon that looks almost the same as it did when it went into your oven, but is now fully cooked and meltingly tender.

Salmon
1.5kg salmon fillet, deboned, skin on
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¾ cup brown sugar

Mango Slaw
1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced
½ a red cabbage, shredded
2 large bunches mint and coriander
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup caster sugar
1 small red chilli, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
¼ cup each fish sauce and lemon or lime juice

Slow-cooked caramel salmon with mango slaw.
Slow-cooked caramel salmon with mango slaw.

Heat oven to 150°C fanbake. Season salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Place in a large baking dish and set aside.

Drizzle oil in a frypan over a medium heat. Gently fry ginger, garlic and chilli for a minute or two. Add fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar along with ½ cup of water. Simmer until sugar has dissolved then pour over salmon.

Bake until salmon is just turning opaque around the edges and is nearly cooked through, 25 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, for mango slaw, toss together mango, cabbage, herbs and spring onions in. For the dressing stir all ingredients together then just before serving, toss through salad.