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
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.
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!