Shrimp Spring Rolls with Coriander and Mint and Chili-Peanut Sauce

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Coriander and Mint and Chili-Peanut Sauce



Rule of thumb: When traveling to far flung destinations, eat as the locals do.

This has merit for several reasons.  First (and clearly stating the obvious) if you are in France, for goodness’ sake, eat French.  This is, after all, where you will find the authentic real deal.  Second, when far off the beaten path (for instance, the garden route along the south coast of South Africa circa mid-90’s) steer clear of restaurant establishments that offer such delicacies as Authentic Tex-Mex! or Authentic Japanese Sushi! Same principal yet the inverse: this is far from authentic and far from the real deal.  And, if you do find yourself far from home, hungry and homesick for a taste of your favorite neighborhood ethnic cuisine and succumb to the temptation, beware that, quite likely, you will be supremely disappointed.

This raises an interesting challenge of living abroad.  Some of the wonderful aspects of the expatriate lifestyle are experiencing other cultures, tasting the local food, celebrating the different traditions.  For all the experiences and pleasures, however, there can be moments when you simply crave the ribs from Redbones, the tacos from Olé Grill or the dim sum from China Pearl – your old favorite haunts, thousands of miles away and sadly ignorant of your self-imposed exile.  During these unsympathetic, nostalgic and hungry moments, I learned that the best way to satisfy my craving was to make the dish myself.

This recipe for Shrimp Spring Rolls with Coriander and Mint is a result of my DIY culinary curve while living in Europe in the nineties.  Unable to find a decent version in the restaurants, I learned to make these fresh, crispy, toothsome Vietnamese-inspired spring rolls at home.  They are not cooked, but wrapped in rice paper and rolled up, stuffed and bulging with fresh mint and coriander, carrots, shrimp and vermicelli noodles.  Dipped in a sweet and spicy chili-peanut sauce, these rolls are positively addictive and perfect food for the hot summer weather –  and a perfect tonic to a homesick expat.

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Coriander and Mint and Chili-Peanut Sauce
Makes 8

Remember that the key to a good roll is to have a balance of sweet, savory, heat and salt in the ingredients and to combine a variety of textures for a satisfying bite.  Be sure to prepare all the ingredients in advance, so that when you are ready to assemble the rolls, everything is in place.

3 oz. vermicelli rice noodles
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 (eight inch) rice paper rounds
4 Boston lettuce leaves, ribs removed, halved
1 cup shredded carrot
1 bunch coriander leaves, about 1 cup
1 bunch mint leaves, about 1 cup
1 english cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut in matchsticks
4 scallions, cut length-wise in julienne strips
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, cut in julienne
15 medium cooked shrimp, peeled, halved horizontally

Chili-Peanut Sauce for dipping

Make Spring Rolls:
Place noodles in a wide bowl.  Pour hot water over to cover. Let stand 15 minutes.  Drain well in a colander.  Toss with rice vinegar, sugar and salt.
While the noodles are soaking, prepare all of the ingredients, so that the spring rolls are ready to assemble.
Pour warm water into a shallow pan.  Immerse one rice paper round in water until pliable, about 30 seconds.  Remove and spread on a plastic cutting board.  Blot dry with a towel.
Arrange a lettuce leaf half over the bottom half of the rice paper round, taking care to leave a 1″ border along the edge.
Top lettuce with 1/4 cup rice noodles, arranging them horizontally over.
Top noodles with a line of shredded carrot, coriander and mint leaves, cucumber, scallions and chile.
Fold bottom of rice paper over filling and begin to roll up tightly.  At halfway point arrange 3 shrimp halves horizontally over the crease, then fold in the ends and continue rolling.
Transfer roll, seam-side down to a plate and cover with damp towel.  Repeat with remaining rolls.  (Adjust ingredient amounts to taste and to ensure the roll is plump and full, while still allowing it to be folded in and sealed.)
Spring rolls can be made 4 hours in advance.  Cover with damp paper towels and plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serve with Chili-Peanut Sauce.

Chili-Peanut Sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sweet chili sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients.  Set aside.  Can be made one day in advance.

Tip: If you have left over filling ingredients and sauce, try tossing them together in a bowl for a light Asian Rice Noodle Salad with Chili Peanut Dressing.  It works!

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style

NOMA Nordic Cuisine

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the summer solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice-style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

NOMA Nordisk Mad Cookbook

I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set and exited the sky in a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the sky was brightening and soft pink tinges nudged the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.

Chino Farms

Chino Farms

Size is not everything at this wonderful little farm stand in Rancho Sante Fe, California.  Just north of San Diego, Chino Farms is a family-run farm that has been in business for over 30 years.   Tucked in the countryside east of Del Mar, Chino Farms sells its just-harvested produce to any and all who stop at their roadside stand.  Chefs and home cooks alike patiently stand in line to choose their produce. If you dine in any of the area’s best farm-to-table restaurants, you can be sure your veggies are from Chinos.

Since we were there as tourists, and unable to return to our kitchen to prepare a farm-fresh meal, we satsified ourselves with baskets of wild strawberries to nibble on as we drove down coastal route 101 on our way to the beach.  In the evening, back at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, we were lucky enough to enjoy a meal at A.R. Valentien where we were told the chef uses fresh produce from Chino Farms.




Zucchini Blossoms


Holiday Timeout: Turkey Vegetable Soup with Swiss Chard

Holiday Timeout:  Turkey Vegetable Soup with Swiss Chard

Turkey soup

I am going to slip this recipe right in. Flanked by a Christmas Eve house party with lots of gløgg and hors d’oeuvres and a looming New Year’s black tie dinner, I made this simple, healthy and restorative soup the other day for a gastronomique time-out.

In addition to a Christmas Eve party spread of food, we roasted a turkey for our Christmas Day meal. It may sound redundant on the heels of Thanksgiving, but for Thanksgiving this year we were graced with airport and airline food as we were in transit home from a trip to New York City. While we missed the traditional holiday, it was refreshingly civilized at JFK; we enjoyed a smooth glitch-free day of travel courtesy of the Thanksgiving holiday. We comforted ourselves with the thought of saving our turkey binge for Christmas Day, instead.

So, back to the recipe:  I made this soup using the stock I made from our Christmas turkey, and filled it with vegetables left over from our party.  While the recipe calls for turkey stock and turkey meat, chicken can easily be substituted.  During the ever-so-festive-and-excessive holiday season, this homey soup is delicious, comforting and healthy.  I cannot think of a better gastronomic time-out.

Turkey Vegetable Soup with Swiss Chard
Serves 4-6

The chard adds heartiness to this flavorful soup.  Choose either red or green chard; you will find the red chard will add a deep red color to the stock.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved lengthwise, cut in thick slices
3 large carrots, sliced 1/2″ thick
4 celery stalks, sliced 1/2″ thick on the diagonal
8 cups turkey stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups Swiss chard leaves, shredded
2 cups cooked turkey meat, in large chunks

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add onion, celery and carrots.  Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 minutes.  Add turkey stock, bay leaf and thyme.  Bring to a boil, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in Swiss chard and turkey meat.  Simmer until chard is wilted.  Discard bay leaf.  Serve immediately.