Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spring Rolls, Chicken Satay & a Peanut Dipping Sauce

Some of the best meals I have ever had were while on my post-bar exam trip last August and September, which I spent partially in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In Hue, Vietnam, I had dinner at Tinh Gia Vien, a garden restaurant boasting Imperial-style cuisine, which is characterized by its elegant presentation and many courses. We were fed spring rolls, soft shell crab, prawns, a tangy soup, macosfish, sweet and sour papaya, weird little egg & pork things, sticky rice and dessert. This all happened as we sat on a garden terrace amongst lanterns as the rain fell down next to us. It was masterful. In Cambodia, I ate hordes of dragon fruit and rambutan while avoiding oddly flavored potato chips (squid, seafood and nori??). In Laos, I ate sticky rice galore with tons of fresh prawns, larb and rice cookies (and spent way too much time in Joma Cafe drinking milk shakes at 1PM when it was too hot to do anything else). Needless to say, food from Southeast Asia is some of my favorite.

So while this meal was not that big of a surprise for my family given my food love, it was still the first time I have made spring rolls, satay or a peanut sauce at home. These chilled spring rolls were refreshing with all of the different herbs and cucumber. Plus, my random decision to season the shrimp with Five Spice Powder was a winner. Heavier shrimp and crushed peanuts are in order the next time they show up in my kitchen. The chicken satay also went over very well and was better than the majority of Thai restaurant satay I have had over the years. The marinade ended up imparting a sweet yet tangy taste with a nice hint of gingery goodness. It also made my food processor plastic a little orange, but that's what happens when you cook with turmeric.

Now, let's talk sauces. I actually made a hoisin-based dipping sauce from Bon Appetit to go along with the rolls, but everyone in my family decided they didn't care for it. I didn't care for it either--too vinegary. The peanut sauce was a different story. I wanted something with an actual peanut taste, but that also had Thai flavors floating around. Oh, and I chose to avoid all recipes using peanut butter--they don't eat peanut butter in Southeast Asia. This sauce was surprisingly creamy with a pronounced peanut flavor enhanced by hints of chili pepper and lemongrass. And it was good. So good that it became the spring roll sauce in addition to the chicken sauce for my brother, mom and me. But for my father, it became the chicken, spring roll and vermicelli bath. My mom and I are of the mindset that dipping sauces are meant for dipping your food; my dad is of the mindset that dipping sauces are meant for drowning your food. At one point, I was seriously afraid he was going to start spooning the stuff directly into his mouth. Luckily he started contemplating what he could eat it on tomorrow: chicken breast, leftover noodles, as a pesto-like condiment on a sandwich . . . You get the point: by the time I decide to eat lunch tomorrow, none of it will be left. At least I'll have rice paper, veggies and shrimp left.

Shrimp Spring Rolls
Makes 10

5 romaine lettuce leaves, halved
1/2 cup carrots, julienned
1/2 cucumber, julienned
3 spring onions, julienned
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts, crushed
1/4 cup cilantro, packed & bruised
1/4 cup basil, packed & bruised
1/4 cup mint, packed & bruised
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, deveined & peeled
1 1/2 tsp. five spice powder
1 lime, juiced
4 oz vermicelli noodles
package of rice paper

1. Take shrimp and split in half lengthwise -- they will fit better this way. Mix with juice of 1 lime and five spice powder. Cover and let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes while you prep your other ingredients.

2. When you cut the spring onions, slice solid white part lengthwise, reserving the long green leaves. Split the leaves in half lengthwise and reserve for decor. Cucumber and carrots should be about 3 inches long. Crush your peanuts with a rolling pin or with the bottom of a measuring cup. Your peanuts should be skinless.

3. Take your herbs and bruise them. Just tap them a few times with the back of a measuring cup or with the end of a knife. This releases the oils and makes them more flavorful, as you are not chopping them.

4. Cook vermicelli according to instructions. While this is happening, lightly oil or spray pan and cook shrimp. They should cook very quickly, so be careful. Let both the noodles and shrimp cool.

5. Set your ingredients within easy reach on the table along with two plates sprayed lightly with cooking spray and a large bowl with water.

6. Dip a sheet of rice paper in the water for 5 seconds, making sure that all parts have been dipped. Dry portions will just crack when you roll. Place sheet on one of the plates. It will get softer within 30 seconds.

7. On the side closest to you, place down half a leave of lettuce leaving about a 3/4 inch border around the edge. Then lay down a few leaves of each herb. Then carrots, onions, cucumbers. Sprinkle with peanuts. Then lay down 4 shrimp halves. Then grab some noodles to place on top. I found that the lettuce on the bottom and noodles on the top made it easier to roll and kept the paper from breaking.

8. Grab the edge of the rice paper and fold up, rolling over one whole time. Then, fold in the sides. Place down a spring of the onion leaves so it is sticking out. Finish rolling. This is a good video for showing how to do it another way if this makes no sense.

9. Place on sprayed plate. The rolls will stick to the plate and they will stick to each other, hence the spray. So be careful not to let them touch.


Chicken Satay
Makes 4 servings

1 lb. chicken breast
1/4 cup chopped lemongrass
1 small red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 inches ginger, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 small red or green chili

1. In a small saucepan, mix soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar. Heat on low until sugar dissolves, 4-5 minutes. Let cool.

2. In a small saute pan, place coriander, cumin and turmeric. Heat on low, moving around gently. When aromatic, take off of heat and let cool.

3. In a food processor, finely chop ginger, lemongrass, onion, garlic and chili. When other ingredients are cool, add and puree.

4. Fillet chicken breast and cut into strips. Mix with marinade and place in fridge for at least an hour. Can be done the night before for more pronounced flavors.

5. If using bamboo skewers, soak before use. Otherwise, place chicken on skewers. Lightly grease your barbecue grill, as it will stick. Cook thoroughly, approximately 5-7 minutes. The chicken will be thin, so watch closely.


Peanut Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light (July 2010)
Makes 1 Cup

4 red or green chilis
3/4 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
1 inch ginger, peeled & chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped lemongrass
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. fish sauce
3/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt

1. In a food processor, finely chop chilis, peanuts, ginger, garlic and lemongrass. Mix fish sauce, vinegar, salt and sugar into water. Set aside.

2. Coat a small sauce pan with vegetable oil. Add peanut mixture, coating with oil and cooking for 1 minute. Add in water mixture. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 5 minutes until it thickens up.

3. Let cool at room temperature. To thin out, add a little water. Add extra salt at room temperature--the flavors aren't pronounced until cooled.


Lauren said...

You are officially my culinary hero of the week. I love food like this, so light and substantial and with such clean, crisp flavors.

I love fresh spring rolls and hate how pricey they are when eating out/at the grocery store. Stupid! I've always wanted to make my own.

These pictures are amazing and make me feel insecure about our turkey burgers and brownies and coffee ice cream. We are so... American.

Le said...

All of this looks great! I love chicken satay and peanut sauce!

Rambutan is one of my fave childhood fruits (when I had access to them in the Phils, sadly NZ doesnt have any). You should have def tried those potato chips! They're the best flavours ever!

I can't wait to travel to Vietnam and Thailand one day :D

Mother Rimmy said...

I love the freshness of spring rolls. Perfect for the summer months!

Frank said...

What a beautiful, light meal! I could eat those rolls by the plateful...

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

Beautiful fresh rolls! I like to eat sticky rice and larb :) You're right we don't use peanut butter but here we do haha. how funny when things are developed! Great job S!

sweetlife said...

great rolls,I love the sauce, perfect for a light dinner


Jean said...

Yum! My trip to Vietnam and Thailand was postponed until next year, but I'm already looking forward to enjoying dishes like this. I admit that I love dipping sauces and I'd most likely drown my food in the peanut sauce like your dad!

baking.serendipity said...

Wow! This looks fantastic :) I love Asian foods, but always struggle to prepare them. Thanks for all the tips :)

kattyskitchen said...

Beautifully done!

Lisa {Authentic Suburban Gourmet } said...

I love making these spring rolls! I always buy the peanut sauce but now you have inspired me to make my own. Looks fantastic.

Jen Cheung said...

yummm! this looks good! looks like those vietnamese rolls. I love them! I miss having vietnamese food now after looking at this. brings back a lot of memories :)


FrenchPressMemos said...

Spring rolls are beautiful but I am mostly jealous of your post-bar trip. Mine, with a one year old at the time, consisted of 3 days in SF sans the kid. Fun, but not like yours :)

Biren said...

Both dishes look very tasty! Love the satay and peanut sauce.

Baking Barrister said...

Thanks peoples!

@Jean - skip Vietnam and hot up Laos and Cambodia--soooo much better.

@FreshPressMemos - it was a long trip that also included Sydney and New Zealand. I think any trip--even three days in my fav city (SF!)--is the perfect post-bar trip. It, by definition, is post-bar.

Lara Alexander said...

I love love love fresh spring rolls. I used to make them as a teenager, but then I seem to have forgotten that I can do them on my own. I'll have to try your peanut sauce, much different than the one that I usually make. Thanks!

cajunlicious said...

YUM! Love your blog! Came across it on foodbuzz & am a new follower!
- Jessica @

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