One of the challenging things about experimenting with world cuisine is the inability to acquire exotic, world ingredients. Thankfully, most supermarkets are quite well stocked these days but every now and then you do run into something that you just can’t find (kaffir leaves.) I have always been lucky living in Houston because it really is a melting pot of all cultures. Just like you find China towns and Little Italys, Houston also has a little India and a mini Middle East.
In Houston, it was always easy to find what you needed to make a specific dish. I always had an Asian market close to me and an Indian market. I absolutely loved Phoenicia Foods on Westheimer and I could spend all day watching the pitta bread ride down the roller into the hands of the eagerly awaiting and drooling public (read:me) and perusing their huge food aisles. It was like visiting all the different countries of the world in one day, in one place. There were foods from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; oh, how I miss Phoenicia! Now, Phoenicia catered mainly to Europe through to the Middle East countries. They didn’t stock South Asian foods; only went as far as India and Pakistan.
The Asian niche was satisfied by the Hong Kong Markets and China town. The Hong Kong Markets in Houston, though they were incredibly smelly and staffed by, what seemed to me, the rudest people in the world, had everything I needed to make a Chinese, Japanese or Thai dinner. I usually just held my breath and was equally rude when I shopped there. Houston definitely had its advantages: from Phoenicia, Hillcroft (little India) and the Hong Kong markets, I had the world covered. So, I was a little worried that when I moved to Broomfield; where would I find all my exotic foods? To my utter delight, when I started exploring my area soon after I moved here, I discovered an Asian market, one to rival Hong Kong, just around the corner from my house! Yay! I didn’t have to bribe my dad to send tins of lychees from Houston! Pacific Ocean Market is even nicer than Hong Kong, it’s not smelly (they have a bakery on site and all you smell is fresh baked French bread..yum), it’s clean and is staffed by some gosh darn, nice, young people. I have a little India and mini Middle East about thirty minutes from me, so, once again I am ready to embark on my world food tour. Surrounded by God’s majesty and beauty at every turn, five Whole Foods within ten minutes of my house and all my exotic food stores in place, life is good.
My children, like most children it seems, love Asian food. I don’t know if it’s the food they enjoy or just the fact that they can eat that food with two sticks. Either way, it’s something they enjoy and thanks to my brother and his many Asian friends, they have experienced many different kinds. I am, therefore, always experimenting and trying to perfect my Asian cookery.
One of my favourite Vietnamese or Thai dish is the salad roll or spring roll. I always buy them ready made from Whole Foods (my lunch treat) but they are so expensive and even at restaurants, they take you for a ride. They are so refreshing and light and just delicious. I was determined to master these scrumptious and delicate rolls of simple, fresh, yet complex flavours.
I gathered my ingredients and set off to work. I poached some shrimp in water with some lemon halves and garlic. I shredded some carrots and julienned a cucumber; soaked some rice vermicelli in hot water to soften and got my lettuce and cilantro ready. I think, you can put any combination of herbs or vegetables in your rolls and even meat, though shrimp is the common protein of choice. You can do vegetarian versions with some fried tofu strips. I chose to make mine very simple with a sweet and savoury peanut dipping sauce. That’s my favourite dipping sauce and I believe, that makes mine more of the Thai style salad rolls. Thai or Vietnamese, they are delicious.
I am intrigued by Vietnamese cooking and their use of sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavours to balance a dish and how it combines such fresh ingredients to make light and flavourful dishes. I am planning on learning more about Vietnamese cookery and I hope you will join me in my discovery. But for right now, we will work on Thai Salad Rolls. I couldn’t believe how easy these were to make and how quick. I spent all this unnecessary time worrying about rolling these things when in fact, it took no time at all. I could have saved all kinds of money by making my own! Lesson learned.
I made 18 salad rolls and so the ingredients below are for that amount. There is no set rule for this, put in what you like and how much you like, but just remember, you can’t overfill the rice paper because it will be difficult to roll and may tear.
use just the soft leaf part
Take a small amount of the rice vermicelli threads, dip in the vinegar dressing, if using, and place on 1/3 of the rice paper round, closest to you. Top with the carrots, cucumber, lettuce and cilantro.
Fold over, gently, pulling the rice paper gently towards you to make a tight package.
After one fold, add the shrimp. Fold in the sides of the rice paper, and continue folding over the rest of the roll till you have a nice tight package.
Put the finished roll on a plate and cover with a damp tea towel while you finish rolling the remainder.
These salad rolls are amazingly fresh, chewy, and light. They are very easy to make and if you have been wanting to make them but have been a little apprehensive, don’t be! As long as you watch how long you soak your rice paper (not more than just a dip in the warm water), you cannot go wrong.
I served mine as a salad course along with a Thai Vegetable Curry (I will be posting that next.) The salad rolls were perfect accompaniment to the spicy curry.
I hope you have a go and let me know!