I’m me also because my jam is Asian food, eating it, and trying to figure it out in my own kitchen. Vietnamese and Thai especially, but I love Korean food, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Filipino….. I love it all! There is a steep learning curve to these various techniques and ingredients, and I have so much to become familiar with. So I don’t get into these dishes often here…. I want to master them before breaking them out.
Will that ever happen?
I hope so.
My favorite local Asian market is about five minutes away from my office so I can easily pick up essentials for dinner, which is wonderful.
But recently, my mom took me on a pilgrimage to a giant, sprawling, over-stoked Asian market about 40 miles away to see what we could see. It was a lot of fun and the choices were dizzying (a wall of miso pastes! More teas than I’ve ever seen). What I left with however, besides a bottle of the world’s best fish sauce, was an appreciation for my modest local market and the excellent selection they’ve curated. The superstore had no more options for soy sauces than my local folks carry, no more types of dried noodles or fresh, and much fewer herbs to choose from, which surprised me. At my local market there are dozens of different herbs – and you guys they are all A DOLLAR. All year round! Thai basil, Viet cilantro, lemongrass, mint — a buck! I just love my little market and those folks.
At the Asian superstore, I did find a purple sweet potato that I had to buy, and the largest canned Asian beer I’ve ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t even palm this thing! It’s as tall as me, almost:
A wonderful dish for showing off some fresh, intense herbs is this simple Vietnamese salad roll, to which I added the crazy purple sweet potato I lugged home. Traditionally these rolls contain vegetables, rice noodles and a protein (if desired), wrapped up with lots of fresh herbs in rice paper and rolled either like an egg roll or left open-ended. It’s like a soft burrito, but super fresh, with crisp carrot shreds, slightly pickled; pungent herbs and chewy rice noodle in every bite — a handheld way to eat a salad! RIGHT?
I love these rolls, we often have them as our dinner; assembling as we go, filling with what we like and dipping the finished rolls into peanut sauce or nuoc cham. They pack so much flavor and are satisfying and nutritious. You’ll be pleased to know the rice paper sticks not to the work surface at all, but to itself, beautifully….. it’s self-sealing, which I find fascinating. Shred some purple sweet potato for your salad rolls if you come across it, or use the usual white or red sweet potatoes. Or leave them out and go for the traditional shredded carrot. One really can’t go wrong with a salad that is portable — leaving one hand for a giant beer, if ya can palm it!
Vietnamese salad rolls with shrimp and purple yam
serves 4 as an appetizer
- Rice paper wrappers
- around 6 ounces bun (round rice noodles, or whichever shape rice noodles your grocery carries)
- 1 pound cooked, peeled medium shrimp, sliced in half lengthwise
- Fresh herbs: basil, cilantro, mint, scallions, or Vietnamese herbs if you can find them such as tia to (Viet perilla), rau ram (Viet coriander), ngo gai (Sawleaf coriander), or kinh gioi (Viet balm)
- Lettuce leaves
- Shredded carrots or sweet potato (tossed in a little rice vinegar, dash of sesame oil, sprinkle of sugar and salt)
- Shredded cucumber (optional)
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha (optional)
- Peanut sauce or nuoc cham, for dipping
Cook the rice noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water to cease cooking, and drain again. Set aside to come to room temp in a dish or serving plate (yes, it will clump up on itself like velcro, and you know: this is ok. Also, unavoidable.)
Fill a wide, shallow bowl or baking dish (the size of your rice papers) with hot water: just hot tap is sufficient, not boiling or you will scald your fingers. Assemble salad roll components around your work space. Such as, a dinner plate.
Dip rice wrapper into hot water for just a few seconds. The wrapper may still be a bit stiff when you bring it out of the water — this is good, because if it gets completely soft in the water it could collapse and stick to itself (it will soften as it sits while you assemble the roll). Let excess water drip off the half-softened wrapper, then place flat on work surface.
Position two or three halves of shrimp, cut side facing up, on the wrapper in the bottom third section. Layer with herbs, lettuce leaves, pickled carrot/sweet potato, cucumber if using, and noodles. Top with a drizzle of hoisin or Sriracha, if desired (or serve on the side).
Then roll it up like a burrito, or leave each end open like a cannoli. A great photo illustration for rolling is at Andrea’s site, the Viet cooking queen. Dip into peanut sauce or nuoc cham. Enjoy!