Spring rolls from Vietnam for spring
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.
Come spring, I start thinking about some of my favorite Southeast Asian recipes, especially the vermicelli salads and spring rolls of Vietnam and the larbs of Thailand.
I think I like the way their refreshing flavors and bright textures mirror the crisp freshness of a spring morning.
You might wonder why you should bother making your own spring rolls when they are readily available at the sushi counters of nearly every locally-owned market in the county.
Asian markets offer them, too, and you can always order them as take-out from your favorite Asian noodle shop.
It's not an easy argument to counter and if, for whatever reason, you find yourself hungry and unable to cook, this is a great option: Spring rolls (sometimes called summer rolls or fresh spring rolls) are delicious, healthier than most other fast food and inexpensive.
But just because you buy it now and then doesn't mean you can't also make it yourself.
When you do, you have a lot of delicious options. Once you get into the swing of it, you might even put them into homemade lunches for yourself or your kids.
Bean thread noodles, rice noodles, rice paper sheets, Thai chiles and fish sauce are widely available these days.
If you have trouble locating them, try your local Asian market.
It may take you a time or two to get the hang of working with rice paper sheets so don't worry if a sheet tears. Also, be flexible! If you don't like cilantro, simply omit it. For alternatives to shrimp, see the Variations at the end of the main recipe.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Shrimp, Mint and Cilantro
Makes 6 rolls
Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ pound medium shrimp, preferably wild
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into thin julienne (pieces about 3 inches long)
1½ cups shredded Iceburg lettuce (outer leaves only) or Romaine lettuce (inner leaves only)
1 cup fresh pea shoots or sprouts of choice
¾ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
3 green onions, washed , cut in half lengthwise and trimmed to 5-inches in length
1½ cups cooked rice vermicelli (from about 2 ounces dried noodles)
1 package round rice paper sheets
Several hours before serving the spring rolls, make the dipping sauce.
To prepare the spring rolls, fill a small saucepan with half full with water, add the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just opaque, about 90 seconds. Drain, peel, devein and cut in half lengthwise. Put on a small plate and set aside.
Put the other ingredients into separate bowls.
Stretch the cooked vermicelli on a work surface and cut it into 3½ inch lengths. Put the cut vermicelli into a small bowl.
Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water.
Arrange all the ingredients near a work surface.
Submerge one rice paper sheet in the warm water for a few seconds, until it is soft and pliable. Carefully lift it out and spread it flat on a work surface.
Put one-sixth of the vermicelli across the bottom third of the rice paper. Top with lettuce, bean sprouts, mint leaves, onions, cilantro leaves and shrimp, dividing each ingredient into sixths so you'll have enough for all the rolls.
To roll, fold the right and left sides of the rice paper in to make the sides straight. Next, roll the bottom third of the rice paper up and over the ingredients and then use your fingers to roll it into a tube about 1½ inches in diameter.
Continue until you have made all six rolls.
Serve immediately, with the dipping sauce alongside, or cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving.
Use 5 or 6 stalks of roasted asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths, instead of the shrimp.
Use freshly picked Dungeness crab instead of the shrimp.
Use cooked or smoked wild Pacific King salmon instead of the shrimp.
Replace the shrimp with sliced rare lamb, sliced rare beef, roasted chicken (dark meat) or barbecued pork.
Makes about 2/3 cup
1 fresh Thai chili, sliced into very thin rings
8 tablespoons warm water
5 teaspoons sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fish sauce
5 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, torn into pieces
Put the chili into a small bowl, add the warm water and the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the garlic, fish sauce, lime juice and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Bean thread noodles make a good alternative to noodles made with wheat. They are a perfect canvas for the lively flavors of Thai-style larb, which I've paired here with crab instead of sauteed squid, which is more traditional.
Glass Noodle Salad with Crab & Pork
Makes 4 servings
4 ounces glass (bean thread) noodles
4 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 to 2 serranos, minced
¼ cup fish sauce
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon coconut oil or peanut oil
¾ pound ground pork
1 cup freshly picked Dungeness crab meat
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
3 scallions, white and green parts, very thinly sliced
Put the noodles in a large bowl, cover them with hot water and let soak for 15 minutes. Fill a large pot half full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the noodles and cook them in the boiling water until they are plump and translucent, about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse in cool water and drain again. Put the noodles in a large bowl and set the bowl in the refrigerator.
Next, make the dressing. Put 2 tablespoons of the garlic, 1 tablespoon of the ginger and half the serranos into a small bowl and add the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Set aside.
Put the coconut or peanut oil into a wok, set over medium heat, add the remaining garlic and serranos and cook for 15 seconds. Working quickly, add the pork and cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the meat with a fork, until it loses its pink color, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Remove the bowl with the noodles from the refrigerator, toss with half the dressing and divide among individual soup plates. Top each portion with some of the pork and its cooking juices, scatter crab on top and rizzle some of the remaining dressing over each portion. Scatter with cilantro, mint and scallions and serve immediately.
Variations: Instead of serving this salad over noodles, serve it over shredded cabbage, sliced romaine lettuce or cooked spaghetti squash.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at email@example.com.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com
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