I will be starting my experience to Savor the World with the cuisine of Vietnam for the month of October. Vietnam seems fitting for three main reasons;
1) My friend Minh and I are demonstrating a couple of Vietnamese dishes at the cooking demonstrations booth on October 1 at the Raleigh International Festival.
2) If you’ve read the background posts, you’ll know that my first real international friend was a refugee from Vietnam who I met in elementary school. So in this way, I’m starting at the very beginning, which as we all know is “a very good place to start”.
3) Vietnamese food is healthy, relatively low fat with lots of fresh veggies –which I’m hoping may help offset all the fried foods I’ll be eating at the State Fair later this month…. mmmm…. my mouth is already watering thinking of the deep fried PB&J, funnel cakes and fried cheese….
I have already experimented with Vietnamese food a little bit, and regularly enjoy eating at two great local Vietnamese restaurants, Pho 9n9 in RTP and Dalat in Raleigh. So it seems like Vietnamese food will be a good way to ease into this experience. The flavors are familiar, and I have made both pho (a common Vietnamese soup which I’ll share more about later in the month) and summer rolls a few times. At the same time, I’m not very comfortable using some of the key ingredients such as lemongrass and fish sauce, so there is more to learn. And I know there are some other ingredients, vegetables and cooking techniques that I have yet to discover.
At our cooking demonstration on Friday, I will be demonstrating summer rolls (recipe below) and Minh will be demonstrating Lemongrass Beef. I’ll try to write more about the International Festival experience with some photos by the end of the weekend. If you get a chance to come out, I highly recommend it!
8 (8-1/4-inch) round rice paper wrappers
12 medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and halved lengthwise down the center
2 ounces dried rice sticks or rice vermicelli, cooked and drained according to package
A bunch each of fresh mint, basil and cilantro
Julienned carrot sticks
Romaine or Bibb lettuce leaves
1 English cucumber, peeled and cut into sticks about 4 inches long
1) Clear a work surface such as a large wooden cutting board for rolling the summer rolls. Place all filling ingredients in separate containers and arrange them around the work surface.
2) Fill a wide stockpot with about 3-4 inches of hot water . Evenly submerge one wrapper for about 30 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface. Tip: You are looking for the wrapper to be soft enough to roll without cracking, but not so soft that it easily falls apart or is punctured by the cucumber and carrot sticks. Soaking time varies with the brand/thickness of rice wrapper and the heat of your water.
3) Working quickly, lay 3 shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper (this is what will be visible through the top of the roll). Layer a few mint leaves, basil leaves, a couple sprigs of cilantro. Add a small amount of noodles. Place 2 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 carrot pieces on either side of the noodle pile. Roll one piece of lettuce into a cigar shape and place it on top of the noodle pile.
4) Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top. This takes practice!
5) Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward and the row of shrimp faces up. Place in a single layer on a plate or in a casserole dish.
6) Serve rolls with a dipping sauce like the following, or a spicy vinegar sauce called nuoc cham;
4 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
2 tsp. creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp. water (this can vary depending on how thick you like the dipping sauce)
1 Tbsp. chopped peanuts for garnish