By Judyrae Kruse Herald Columnist
Among the endless, countless blessings of being American, are our food choices. We not only can cash in on the familiar, comfy family heritage meals we lucky ones grew up with and now treasure, but there’s now a huge array of other countries’ cuisines. Huge.
Obviously, I don’t have a total grip on your favorites, but I sure do on mine. Aside from the awesome, traditional Chinese food that was readily available in most neighborhoods in Seattle when I was a kid, all of which have sadly seemed to have disappeared right off the map since then, we at least might now have a wide pick of other Asian specialties.
Heading the top of both my husband’s and mine has to be the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, first encountered years ago at a just-opened Vietnamese restaurant in Victoria, B.C.
Because there’s no such eatery within reasonable driving distance for the two of us (maybe not you, either?), we have come to the conclusion that there’s nothing for it but to do it ourselves, right in our own kitchen.
So here we go, with this recipe borrowed from my sister’s copy of the excellent Nicole Routhier’s “Foods of Vietnam.”
Fresh spring rolls (goi cuon)
Nuoc cham sauce (recipe follows)
2ounces thin rice vermicelli, divided
1tablespoon roasted peanuts, ground (set aside for nuoc mam topping)
8raw medium shrimp, divided
12 ounces fresh bacon (pork belly) or boneless pork loin, in one piece, divided
1large carrot, peeled and shredded, divided
8rounds rice paper (banh trang), each 81/2-inches in diameter, divided
4large red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves, thick stems removed and cut in half, divided
1cup fresh bean sprouts, divided
1/2cup mint leaves, divided
16 sprigs Chinese chives, trimmed to 5-inch lengths (optional), divided
1/2cup coriander leaves, divided
Prepare the dippping sauce. Prepare the noodles according to package directions and roast the peanuts. Set aside.
Boil the shrimp for 3 minutes; refresh under cold water. Shell, devein and cut in half lengthwise. Set aside.
Cook the fresh bacon in boiling salted water for 20 minutes; refresh in cold water. Thinly slice into 1-by-2-inch pieces and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the shredded carrot with the sugar; let stand 10 minutes to soften.
Have a basin of warm water ready to moisten the rice paper.
Work with only 2 sheets of the rice paper at a time, keeping the remaining sheets covered with a barely damp cloth to prevent curling. Immerse each sheet individually into the warm water. Quickly remove and spread out flat on a dry towel, without letting the sheets touch each other. The rice paper will become pliable within seconds.
Lay one piece of lettuce over the bottom third of the rice paper. On the lettuce, place 1 tablespoon of noodles, 1 tablespoon of the shredded carrot, a few pieces of pork, bean sprouts and several mint leaves. Roll up the paper halfway into a cylinder. Fold both sides of the paper over filling. Lay 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, along the crease. Tuck 2 chives sprigs under the shrimp at one end, leaving about 1 inch of the chives extending over the fold line. Place several coriander leaves leaves next to the shrimp row. Keep rolling the paper into a cylinder to seal. Place the rolls on a plate covered with a damp towel so they will stay moist as you fill the remaining wrappers.
Pour the dipping sauce into small individual bowls and sprinkle with the ground nuts. Dip the rolls in the sauce as you eat.
Makes 8 rolls, about 4 appetizer servings.
Nuoc cham (spicy fish sauce)
2small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1small fresh chile pepper, seeded and minced
2tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4cup rice vinegar
1/4cup nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/4cup cold water
Combine the garlic, chile and sugar in a mortar. Pound with a pestle to a fine paste. Add the lime juice, vinegar, fish sauce and water and stir to blend. Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process for 30 seconds or until the sugar dissolves.
If you wish to make additional sauce and have it handy, do as follows: Place the sugar, vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool. Add the lime juice and fish sauce. This sauce may be stored in a tightly closed bottle or jar and refrigerated for 2 or 3 months. Each time you need nuoc cham, just crush some fresh chiles and garlic and and add as much sauce as needed.
Makes 1 cup.
Variation: Some people like to garnish this sauce with shredded carrots and daikon (or white turnip). This can also serve as a quick substitute for pickled carrots.
Nuoc cham with shredded carrot and daikon
1small carrot, shredded
1small daikon or turnip, peeled and shredded
1cup nuoc cham
Toss the carrot and daikon or turnip shreds with the sugar in a small bowl. Let stand 15 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the nuoc cham and stir. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: Asian specialties such as the rice paper and nuoc mam are available in Asian groceries or some supermarkets.
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