Spring, Loaded

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.09.17 AMWhen you think of spring rolls, you probably envision the kind that are served as an appetizer at nearly every Thai restaurant in this country, a tangle of sometimes-identifiable vegetables rolled in a thin wrapper, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.

But spring rolls go far beyond that. They’re found all across Asia, with wrappers, fillings and cooking techniques that differ from one country to the next. Fresh spring rolls, sometimes called summer rolls, are a staple in Vietnam. Most typically, they’re made of rice paper filled with rice vermicelli, cooked meat or shrimp, raw vegetables, basil, cilantro and mint. They’re wonderful, a rare combination of substance and light.

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Posted in Produce, Seafood, Thai, Vietnamese

Vietnamese Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes and Beef


By Freya Bellin

When it comes to potatoes, squash, and root veggies, grating is a wonderful technique: you get all the starchy sweetness of the vegetable, but in a fraction of the time it would take to roast or bake!  In this recipe, the sweet potatoes become tender very quickly in the pan, and make a lovely salad-like bed for the protein of your choice. The little bits that get caramelized and stuck to the bottom of the pan are delicious, like hash browns, so don’t worry if the potatoes are sticking. The lime juice and fish sauce will also help to break that up, plus they add a zingy acidity. Fish sauce is a tricky ingredient if you’re not familiar with it. It’s a bit pungent and often takes center stage among other flavors in a dish. If you’re not sure if you like it, add only a tablespoon or so at a time and see what you think. Or, instead of fish sauce you can use soy sauce, or go even farther afield and use some other seasonings that typically complement sweet potatoes, like paprika or cumin. It will be less Vietnamese, but equally tasty. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Recipes, Vietnamese

Vietnamese Summer Rolls


Makes: 2 to 4 servings

Time: About 30 minutes

These no-cook rolls are made with wonderfully pliable rice paper. If you have leftover shrimp (or chicken or pork), you can make them in no time flat, especially once you’ve practiced on a batch or two. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

1 small fresh chile, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon rice or other mild vinegar

1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce) or soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

8 medium to large shrimp, cooked, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise, or an equivalent amount of cooked pork, beef, or chicken

1 cup grated, shredded, or julienned carrot

1 cup bean sprouts

2 scallions, cut into lengthwise slivers

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons roughly chopped peanuts (salted are okay)

4 sheets rice paper, 8 to 10 inches in diameter

1. Combine the first six ingredients and set aside as a dipping sauce.

2. Prepare the other ingredients and set them out on your work surface. Set out a bowl of hot water (110–120°F) and a clean kitchen towel.

3. Put a sheet of rice paper into the water for about 10 seconds, just until soft (don’t let it become too soft; it will continue to soften as you work). Lay it on the towel.

4. In the middle of the rice paper, lay 4 shrimp pieces and about a quarter each of the carrot, bean sprouts, scallions, mint, cilantro, and peanuts. Roll up the rice paper, keeping it fairly tight and folding in the ends to seal. Repeat this process until all the ingredients are used up. Serve, with the dipping sauce.


Posted in Recipes, Vietnamese

The Stir-Fried Breakfast


I was going to say “I don’t want to become the spokesperson for the oddball, savory breakfast,” but then I realized I do want to become the spokesperson for the oddball, savory breakfast. Or if not the spokesperson a leading advocate.

This is nothing new for me – I wrote about Asian breakfasts, which are almost all savory, in the New Haven Register in, I would say, 1984. But since the vegan-before-six thing started, it has taken on a new life, probably because there are always vegetables around. And I wake up hungry.

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Posted in Vietnamese

Can Real Asian Food be Mainstreamed?


By Andrea Nguyen

[Andrea Nguyen, a food writer and teacher who lives in Santa Cruz, is the author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Asian Dumplings. She’ll become a regular contributor to markbittman.com while maintaining the invaluable Vietworldkitchen.com. – mb]

Most sophisticated eaters don’t equate mall food and good food. And, despite my teenage love of Orange Julius and hot dogs on a stick, I’m in that crowd. But this spring, my curiosity drew me to the Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles — not just once but twice — to sample the fare at RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. It’s not a food court counter, but a new 7,500-square-foot, 250-seat restaurant – opened by the Cheesecake Factory, of all things.

On both occasions, I chatted with Executive Chef Mohan Ismail, an affable and talented Singaporean who has worked at Tabla, Blue Hill, and Spice Market. Ismail is working on how to deliver honest Asian flavors, mostly Southeast Asian and Indian, on a mass level. What he has accomplished thus far turned my head.

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Posted in American, Thai, Vietnamese

Vietnamese Food to Go


As I said last week, my intention was to go back to Turtle Towers the next morning for another bowl of pho; that happened. This time I ordered chicken. (It was certainly not going to be a vegan-before-six day; my travel days rarely are.) The broth was deeply soothing, the noodles silken, the chicken itself not overcooked. And I wisely ordered a “small” this time.

Then I headed across the street to Saigon Sandwiches (560 Larkin). I was after a few bánh mi, and I got them. They were good, though I’ve had better. (Sorry. I’d like to be raving, but if you rave about everything the truth loses impact. And they were a helluva lot better than the junk they were serving on the plane. Sheesh.)

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Posted in Vietnamese

Eating Pho, Thinking Banh Mi


Today I leave San Francisco. The eating has been terrific, though I’m well aware that flying out of New York, hitting the ground with a list of restaurants, a few selected targets, and a crowd of people I want to see is not exactly “daily life.” What if I approached New York this way? Might be interesting, though I’d never get any cooking done. (And I’d turn into Sam Sifton.)

In any case, I’m staying in the Tenderloin – generally accepted to be the least attractive of the core neighborhoods. But it does have one very strong advantage: there are more Vietnamese restaurants per block than anywhere I’ve ever been except Vietnam.   Continue reading

Posted in Vietnamese