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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vietnamese Spring Rolls With Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

I first experienced Vietnamese food in 1987.  My boss' boss at the time had come to Dallas from Vietnam.  She took our group to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in East Dallas, so we had the benefit of a Vietnamese native to direct our choices.  It was love at first bite for me.  Vietnamese food is so fresh and healthy and such a beautiful blend of all the flavors.  Vietnamese food has been among my favorites ever since.  One of my very favorite Vietnamese foods is the spring rolls with nuoc cham sauce.  Sometimes Vietnamese spring rolls are served with peanut sauce; however, I haven't found nor been able to develop a recipe for peanut sauce that even approaches the perfection of nuoc cham.  I'll continue researching Vietnamese peanut sauces, but in the meantime here are some simple recipes to satisfy your Vietnamese cravings:

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Boiled and peeled shrimp and/or marinated cooked pork (about 12 shrimp or the equivalent weight in pork)
2 ounces dried rice stick noodles or rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions
8 round rice paper spring roll wrappers (readily available at Asian markets)
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
16 Thai basil leaves
8 cilantro sprigs
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-by-1/4-by-2-inch sticks
2 large scallions, trimmed, halved, and sliced into 3-inch lengths

Cut the shrimp in half  lengthwise or julienne the pork.

Clear a work surface and place all filling ingredients in separate containers in the following order around the work surface:  Rice paper wrappers, shrimp and/or pork, rice noodles, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, cucumber, scallions.

Place a damp layer of paper towels on work surface.

Pour hot water into a wide shallow dish or large dinner plate.  Submerge a wrapper until it is slightly soft and pliable.  Remove from water and place on the work surface.

Working quickly, lay 3 shrimp halves or some diced pork in a row, just above the center of the wrapper.  Layer a scant 1/4 cup of the rice noodles over the shrimp, followed by a few bean sprouts, 2 basil leaves, and 1 sprig of cilantro.  Place 3 to 4 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 scallion pieces on either side of the noodle pile.  Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling.  Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in.  Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top.  (Think burrito style.)  Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward.  Serve with nuoc cham dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc nam)
1/2 cup lime or lemon juice (about 3 limes or 2 lemons)
1 large clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and sliced or minced
1 or more bird's eye or Thai chilies, seeded and sliced or minced
Sprinkling of finely shredded carrot

Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chili and let stand for 30 minutes before serving.  Decorate with shredded carrot.

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