Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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Spring rolls are among my favorite of Vietnamese foods. They are easy, healthy, filled with lots of veggies, and are bursting with flavor. Spring rolls are usually my go-to when I am entertaining a large group of friends. They are convenient because people roll them up themselves, which saves me a lot of extra time in the kitchen. All I have to do is wash and cut up veggies, and cook my protein. After tasting pre-made spring rolls from Trader Joes, I’ve realized how good the real thing is compared to what is out there! So do yourself a favor and make some for yourself.

While most American families have a roast for their Sunday night family dinners, my family gatherings usually consisted of an assortment of Vietnamese and Chinese fare. So eating spring rolls became a staple for my family. I am always reminded of fun times eating with my grandmother, aunts, and uncles when I whip up some spring rolls for myself. I am transported back to my pre-adolescent days smiling and nodding along as my family members tried to instruct me on proper spring rolling form. As a youngster, I thought I knew everything, especially about cooking and food. I had spent hours watching Food Network stars every day, so it would only be natural for me to be an expert at this simple food preparation….wrong. It took me a long time to master rolling these babies up. In my adulthood I would finally realize that I was too greedy with my rolls. That was why they would always burst apart. I thought that I could fill them up as full as you would a burrito.

There are many variations on Vietnamese spring rolls. The formula is this:

Spring roll wrapper + protein + lettuce + fresh crunchy veggies (cucumber and carrot) + fresh herbs (mints & basil) + vermicelli rice noodle

Another delicious variation of spring rolls involves having a huge fried fish in the middle of the dinner table. You take small pieces of fish and place them into your spring roll wrapper, filling it with noodles and veggies. I usually make mine without noodles because I am trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake.

In terms of dipping sauces, the two most common ones are: fish sauce or hoisin peanut sauce. I personally prefer fish sauce, but hoisin peanut sauce pairs nicely with spring rolls that are filled with blander proteins, e.g., tofu, boiled shrimp, and boiled pork

Cooking notes/tips:

A common mistake in making spring rolls is that people dip their wrapper in water for much too long or they leave their noodles in water, and then place them in the spring roll. You’ll want to strain and completely dry your noodles before using them for spring rolls. And with the spring roll wrapper, just a quick dip in warm or hot water will be enough to soften the wrap. It takes a minute, so be patient. While you are layering your fillings in the wrapper, it will soften. So by the time you are ready to wrap, it should be perfectly soft enough. If it is not, then wait a minute longer. It might also be an indication that your water for dipping the wrapper needs to be hotter.

The pork marinade shared in this recipe can be used to prepare thin slices of pork that are used for vermicelli noodle salad and Vietnamese broken rice. Or you can just eat it with some white rice and call it a night. Because there is sugar in this marinade, burning will occur if your fire is on too high. Keep heat at medium or even medium low when cooking.

Because Vietnamese food is such a staple for me, I usually have loads of prepared fish sauce on hand. The recipe that I shared is for a smaller portion, but just use equal parts bottled fish sauce, fresh lemon juice, and water, with ½ the amount of sugar for best results. This prepared fish sauce is best when you give it time for its flavors to meld together. I recommend making the sauce the night before for best results. If not, then at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Always keep this sauce refrigerated and stored in a clean jar with a lid. This sauce is the same that is used for dipping in many Vietnamese salad and noodle salad dishes, so it is handy dandy to have some around.

Do not over-fill your spring rolls. The ingredients that you layer onto the wrapper should only take up a 1-1.5 inch thick horizontal strip on the edge of your wrapper that is closest to you. Cut up your meat, tofu, and veggies into thin strips to allow them to fit nicely onto your spring roll wrapper. Remember: less is more. As you wrap, make sure that you keep a semi-firm grip on your roll to make sure the wrap is tight.

Spring rolls are best eaten fresh. If they are refrigerated, the wrapper becomes hard. If you need to make them ahead of time, wrap each one individually with saran wrap. Microwaving them for 15 seconds can help to soften them up if they have been refrigerated.

Ingredients
2 pork chops
1 tbsp minced lemongrass
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch of sugar
2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp oil
1 block tofu, cut into ½ inch thick pieces

1 cucumber, cut into ½ thick sticks
1 bunch basil
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint (optional)
1 bunch green onion (optional)
1 bunch red or green lettuce
½ carrot, julienned

Dipping Sauce: fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp hot water, or to taste
sambal chili sauce to taste

Dipping sauce: hoisin peanut sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp water, or to taste

1 pack spring roll wrappers
1 big pot of hot water

Marinate pork chops in lemongrass, minced garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Allow to sit at least 1 hour. Overnight preferred.

Make fish sauce by adding minced garlic, sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice, hot water, and sambal. Allow to sit refrigerated at least 30 minutes.

Make hoisin peanut sauce by heating a saucepan on low. Add in peanut butter and allow to heat up. Then add hoisin sauce and mix in pan for a minute. Then add water to make sauce more runny and sauce-like. Continue stirring and remove from heat when sauce is at desired consistency (slightly thinner than the texture of pudding). Add in sambal (red chili sauce) if desired. Set aside.

Pat dry pieces of tofu to allow them to brown.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium low. Place tofu in pan and fry for 7-10 minutes on each side without moving the tofu. Fry until each side is golden brown. Turn over and allow the other side to brown ~7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prep fresh vegetables and herbs. Set aside.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add in pork chop and fry on each side until golden brown ~5 minutes each side. Set aside.

Assemble spring roll. Dip spring roll wrapper in pot of hot water. Once both sides are wet, immediately remove from water and place wrapper onto a plate. Place ½ a leaf of lettuce horizontally on edge of the wrapper that is closet to you. Then layer with pork and/or tofu, 1 stick of cucumber, 1 stick of carrot, and small handful of herbs. Place all ingredients in a neat horizontal line that is no more than 1 inch thick.

Then roll spring roll as you would a burrito. Roll horizontally and away from you until ingredients are just covered by the spring roll wrapper. Then fold up the left and right edges inward to close the edges of the roll. Roll the rest of it horizontally away from you and you end up with a spring roll.

Dip your spring roll into the fish sauce or hoisin sauce and enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Vietnamese Butter Garlic Shrimp

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I have been away from food blogging for much too long. I’ve really missed it! While it was fun to be away visiting Korea and Japan, I am now back and more inspired than ever to create yummy dishes and be able to share cooking tips and recipes with others. The food in Japan was notably excellent, as many chefs and cooks take such pride in their products. They value quality over quantity and strive to ensure that their customers will be satisfied with what they have been served. I may try some more Japanese recipes moving forward, as this is a cuisine with which I am relatively unfamiliar. But for today, back to my Vietnamese/Chinese roots!

To be honest, I am not even sure if this is an authentic Vietnamese dish. I just remember having some version of this when I was a kid, so I wanted to recreate and share so that all can enjoy the beauty of this dish. I remember it was flanked on all sides by yummy stir-fried veggies with bits and pieces of aromatic meats for flavoring. I remember biting into each delectable shrimp and feeling so grateful to be alive to enjoy that burst of delicious juice exploding from the shrimp shell. Folks, there is really something magical about eating shrimp that has been cooked with their shells on! This would be followed by bits of sweet shallot and aromatic garlic would then grace my taste buds, adding a fullness of flavor and umami to the whole experience.

It was always interesting to me how Vietnamese dishes use generous amounts of butter. Aha, colonialism explains yet another culinary phenomenon. Butter provides a delicious richness to the sauce, which then mingles with the juices of the shrimp, creating an amazing burst of flavor when you bite into each shrimp.

Cooking Tips:

Definitely do not skimp on the butter. You need some olive oil to prevent the butter from burning, but the butter is what provides the beautiful flavor and silkiness to the sauce. Do not be afraid. Just enjoy!

Having your shrimp defrosted and drained ahead of time is very important to prevent excess water from diluting the flavor of your sauce. It will also ensure a better sauté. This is a good general rule to follow when searing any meats and protein: drier is better. In some cases, e.g., fish, steak, you would want to pat your meat dry before searing.

In Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, people often pre-mix their sauces before they add to their dishes. This allows you to make sure that the sugar is well-incorporated, but it also gives the advantage of being able to taste your sauce for seasoning before you add it to your food. This can prevent you from under- or over-seasoning. Dilute with water and add sugar if your sauce is too salty. Add in oyster, soy, or fish sauce when your sauce mix is too diluted.

Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4-6

½ stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 red jalapeno, sliced
1 tsp red pepper flake, to taste
1 head garlic, finely chopped
2 lb large shrimp, shells on
2 tbsp black pepper
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
green onion, chopped

Rinse shrimp and leave to drain in a colander. Meanwhile, begin prepping aromatics and ingredients.

Heat a large frying pan on medium. Add olive oil and butter to pan and allow butter to melt. Add in shallot, and red jalapeno into frying pan. Allow to sauté for 3-5 minutes until shallots soften. Then add red pepper flake and garlic and sauté on medium 2-3 minutes, or until garlic becomes golden in color.

Immediately after your garlic turns slightly golden, add in shrimp, turn fire on high, and saute shrimp until they become pink and cooked through ~5-7 minutes. Stir constantly to allow even cooking. Add in pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, oyster sauce, water, and sugar. Mix together the sauce to make sure sugar is dissolved. Then add to the shrimp when they are just about cooked through. Adjust seasonings to taste: by adding in a splash of water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, black pepper, or sugar.

Mix in green onion and cook for another minute until green onion is slightly softened. Serve in pan with lots of fresh lemons and white rice or crusty French bread. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef and Basil Stir Fry

IMG_1017Growing up in southern California, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a variety of cuisines easily available to me. After visiting Thailand a few years ago and tasting the local cuisine, I realized that immigrants in America are doing a wonderful job retaining the authenticity of their native cuisine. There were a few specialty dishes that I had never even heard of, but the stir fries, noodles, and rice dishes were very comparable between the U.S. and Thailand. I even took a cooking class with my husband, friend, and her boyfriend. We were dropped off in the middle of a rice field, with no buildings in site except for one shack with no walls. I realized that this design was on purpose because it allowed copious airflow into the cooking area and all one could see was green all around. It was breathtaking and stark at the same time. We made tom yum soup, pad Thai, cashew nut chicken, and mangoes with sticky rice in humongous woks, which lit on fire when swerved the right way. This was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and would highly recommend folks to take a cooking class like this in Thailand.

Thai food is really tricky to make at home because of its delicate balance of flavors. Many dishes have elements of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy. Garlic, basil, lemongrass, bird chiles, and galangal, are the primary aromatics used. Having all flavors in perfect balance is the culinary goal. Thai stir fries are extra yummy in my opinion because the veggies are barely cooked, retaining a nice crunch and bite to them. This is true even for Thai curries. It’s a great reminder of the freshness of the ingredients being used. One of my favorite dishes in Thailand was a chicken curry noodle soup that hailed from the north. I will never forget the aromatic and slightly spicy broth, delicately kissed with sweetness from fresh coconut milk and palm sugar. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recreate this dish. That will have to wait for another post.

Stir fries are my go-to for meal prep throughout the week. They are quick and relatively easy to execute. Stir-frying can also be a very healthy technique of preparing food, assuming one does not use an excessive amount of oil. Using a huge ladle of oil for a stir fry is actually considered the authentic method. You’ll find that most of my recipes will find a way around this, as using excessive fat is unhealthy.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.

In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.

Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch basil

Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.

Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic and red jalapeno. Stir fry for 30 seconds-1 minutes to soften garlic and jalapeno. Then add bell pepper and onions. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with oyster sauce or additional soy sauce. Add in basil and stir fry until basil has just softened.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Deconstructed Peach (or apple) Crisp

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Summer fruit is here! I’m sad that I have only just now posted a recipe featuring these nature’s delights. Peaches and nectarines are among my favorite fruits ever. Their sweet fragrance, slight sour bite, and luscious juicy texture make me weak in the knees. In fact, I am feeling saddened at the thought that fall is quickly coming, and these nectar-filled treasures will no longer grace the shelves of my grocery store. Well, better late than never.

Anyone who is familiar with my cooking preferences and style knows that I have little patience or skill when it comes to pastries, cakes, or any elaborate baking. I have an innate inability to follow directions when it comes to cooking. I feel like a rebel whenever I read a recipe, because I will almost surely veer from it. It gives a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can do whatever I want, despite what others say in their recipes. Yes, I realize this is ironic because I am also sharing recipes and attempting to instruct others on how to prepare food. Usually things work out just fine because I have developed my own sense of proportion and flavor with regards to savory foods. Unfortunately, in the world of baking, only a select few highly skilled bakers can successfully pull this off. This is why I made a peach crisp. Not a cake, not a pie, or a cobbler. Making a fruit crisp is much more forgiving than other sweets, which is why it is one of my go-to recipes for a dessert fit for entertaining.

Cooking Tips

Since peaches are in season, I made good use of them. Pitting and coring them was a huge drain of my energy, but it was all worth it in the end. Other fruits can be used for this fruit crisp, including apples, plums, blueberries, or any other berries. I’m a fan of apple crisps because apples are available year-round in the United States.

I would recommend using less cinnamon if you choose to make a fruit crisp using a berry. Cinnamon does not play as well with berries as it does with apples or peaches. I would recommend using more vanilla extract and omit the cinnamon from the fruit mixture. It should be fine in the crispy topping.

I purposely prepared the fruit separately from the crispy topping. Just like the famed Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, I dislike soggy textures for baked goods. Which is why this peach crisp is a deconstructed one. I recommend combining the crispy topping with the fruit only when serving it. Otherwise, keep them separate.

Add more salt to bring out the richness in this dessert.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
5-6 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup oats
¾ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter, cut into cubes, cold
½ cup brown sugar
large pinch of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crispy topping separately from peaches. Mix together oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar until they are well-combined.

Using a pastry cutter, mix butter into flour and oat mixture. Make sure your butter is cold. Continue to cut butter into mixture until the texture resembles small peas.

Place oat mixture onto a lined baking sheet and spread onto baking sheet in an even layer. Allow to bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While crispy topping is baking, prepare peach mixture. Add peaches, cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and brown sugar into a large sauce pan. Turn fire on medium and allow peaches to cook down. Toss gently every few minutes for even cooking. Cook about 10-15 minutes, and then cover with lid, turn off the fire, and allow peaches to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will prevent the peaches from overcooking.

When crispy topping is done, remove from oven and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, scoop a spoonful of simmered peaches and top with crispy oat topping, and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!