[a medicinal cooking blog: using food as medicine to treat whatever may ail you]

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Sandwich Alternative : Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls

If you, like myself, are craving a sandwich-like meal without the added starchiness of the bread, then the Vietnamese fresh spring roll is here to make your day that much better as you take a chewy and pliant bite of sweet shrimp (or tender meat) along with soft rice noodles, crunchy lettuce, savory herbs, sweet carrots, and juicy bean sprouts, or whatever else you decide to put in there. Recently, I wrote about the damp elimination diet in Chinese Medicine. This entails eliminating "damp forming" foods (i.e. wheat, processed sugar, dairy, cold and fried greasy foods) for a period of time until said dampness (which can manifest as : obesity, sinus congestion, lethargy, loose stools, heavy headaches) is resolved, usually this is done in conjunction with herbal therapy but it is always necessary to address your diet. Sometimes it's hard to give up sandwiches in the busy lifestyle we've created, where you need to eat something you can literally grab in one hand while you're either doing something else with the other or you when you simply don't want to fuss around with utensils. If you're on the outs with bread and are still craving a hand friendly meal, then this spring roll is one of the answers (a corn shell taco with fresh ingredients could the be another).

The great thing about these fresh spring rolls is that they can be cool and warm, fresh and satisfying all at the same time. And you can put whatever you want in them! There are no rules. Traditionally they tend to be made with sweet shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce, herbs (mint, basil, cilantro), strips of carrots, cucumbers, scallions, and bean sprouts. But I'll do them with satay flavored chicken, or spicy beef, or soft pork belly and mix it up with radishes in lieu of carrots, it all depends on what you're craving. Or sometimes on what's in your fridge. I don't advise skipping on the lettuce (usually a long green leaf is necessary) as that holds the filling inside and the wrapper around the lettuce. The fresh herbs have the additional medicinal benefit as well, you can see more on here on what each herb treats.

First, you'll need a packet of the circular dried rice wrappers (banh trang), which you can find in most Asian groceries or sometimes in general ones such as Whole Foods. Next, some rice or vermicelli noodles. Then, a relatively firm long leaf lettuce such as a romaine or preferably a red leaf lettuce. Those are the basics and from there you can go where you please with the fillings! Shrimp, tofu, beef, chicken, fish, or only vegetables. The vegetables can be carrots, radishes, cucumbers, scallions, red peppers, etc. The herbs (go ahead and go wild here) can be basil (sweet Italian or spicy Thai), mint, cilantro, etc. Finally, you make a sauce with rice vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, cilantro, chiles, and you can also have a hoisin sauce on hand for sweetness or some siracha. Put them all in little bowls so you can pick how you want to dip and flavor individually. Below is my version of how to make Vietnamese fresh spring rolls but traditionally they are made between two wet towels or something along those lines, I find this way a little easier for my purposes.

Instructions :

1. Set out all your ingredients on a counter so you can have them ready to go for
filling your rolls as you go quickly and efficiently (or the wrapper will get dry once you've soaked it).

2. Choose a 2-3 inch deep pan or other serving dish where you pour hot water in and where the rice wrapper will fit in perfectly. You will then basically place the wrapper in 1 inch of hot water (have a big jug of boiled water available for replenishing) and let it sit for less than a minute until it just gets soft and no longer. Take it out gently with both hands holding it on either side and place on a plate.

3. Place a lettuce leaf in the center, add a bit of rice noodles (maybe 3 spoonfuls worth, not too much), then the meat, fish, or shrimp etc. you've chosen, then the carrots, cucumbers, or whatever vegetable you have chosen, and finally the herbs.

4. Take the long side and place gently but firmly over the fillings, then take either side and fold inwards (see picture), and then finally roll it like a cigar (tightly) without compromising the thin rice wrapper and seal it. This should all be done relatively quickly as the rice wrapper dries out in the air.

5. Place on a plate and keep adding to that plate without letting the rolls touch eachother or they will rip. If you want to make them ahead of time, you can place a wet paper towel over them. They also remain fresh in tupperware overnight if you want to take them for lunch. They are a little drier but still good.

6. Sauces : hoisin, hot sauce (siracha), fish sauce with garlic/cilantro/lime, and vinegar with fresh chiles. You can mix and match as you please for dipping purposes. Enjoy!

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