From The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking, by Mai Pham.
Serves 6 to 8
No single dish better represents the delicateness of Vietnamese cuisine than this one. Traditionally filled with juicy shrimp and pork, they also can be stuffed with grilled chicken, salmon, or just about anything, such as leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.
Cook the pork in boiling salted water until just tender, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool and then slice into 1 x 2-1/2-inch pieces. Cook the shrimp in boiling salted water until just done, about 3 minutes. Shell, devein, and cut in half lengthwise. Refresh in cold water and set aside.
Just before making the rolls, set up a salad roll "station". Fill a large mixing bowl with hot water. If necesary, keep some boiling water on hand to add to the bowl if the temperature drops below 110 degrees. Choose an open area on the counter and arrange the following items in the order used: the rice paper, the hot water, a damp cheesecloth, and a platter holding all the stuffing ingredients.
Working with only 2 rice paper sheets at a time, dip 1 sheet, edge first, in the hot water and turn it to wet completely, about 10 seconds. Lay the sheet down on the cheesecloth and stretch the sheet slightly to remove any wrinkles. Wet the other rice paper the same way and place it alongside the first.
Line the bottom third of the wet, pliable rice sheet with 3 shrimp halves, cut side up, and top with two slices of pork. Make sure the ingredients are neatly placed in a straight row. Fold a piece of lettuce into a thin rectangle about 5 inches long and place it on top. (You may need to use only half of a leaf.) Next, top with about 1 tablespoon of vermicelli, 1 tablespoon bean sprouts, and 4 to 5 mint leaves. Make sure the ingredients are not clumped together in the center, but evenly distributed from one end to the other. Using your second, third, and fourth fingers, press down on the ingredients while you use the other hand to fold over both sides of the rice paper. (Pressing down on the ingredients is particularly important because it tightens the roll.) With fingers still pressing down, use two thumbs to fold the bottom edge over the filling and roll into a cylinder about 1-1/2 inches wide by 5 inches long. Finish making all the remaining
To serve, cut the rolls into two to four equal pieces and place the cut rolls upright on an appetizer plate. Serve with hoisin-peanut sauce or Vietnamese dipping sauce on the side. Top sauce of choice with chopped peanuts and chili paste. If you like, garnish the rolls with mint or cilantro sprigs.
Makes 2 Cups
Probably one of the most versatile sauces in the Lemon Grass repertoire, this sauce is served with our signature Rice Paper-wrapped Salad Rolls. When mixed with garlic, chilies, and ginger, it's spectacular on grilled fish, chicken, or beef. It's also wonderful as a marinade!
Put first four ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Add a little water if too thick. Set aside to cool. Transfer mixture to a sauce dish and garnish with chili paste and chopped peanuts.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Makes 1-1/2 Cups
If you know only one thing about Vietnamese cuisine, know that nuoc cham is the single most important table sauce. Slightly sweet and sour, this fish dipping sauce is served with almost every dish.
According to my sister Denise, a self-proclaimed fish dipping sauce master, the difference between mediocrity and greatness is in the lime pulp. Every time she made nuoc cham, Denise not only would squeeze every drop of juice from the limes, but she also would scrape out every bit of pulp. Even though everyone has his or her secret method, the truth is, the proportion of ingredients is what distinguishes one recipe from another. In the northern part of Vietnam, or so Southern gossip has it, the dipping sauce is rather bland -- just a little water has been added to the fish sauce. As you come down to the Central region, a few chilies have been added. Then, as you approach the gastronomic South, the least you can expect is a lively concoction of fresh chilies, smashed garlic, sugar, lime juice, and lime pulp -- all garnished with fine slivers of carrots and thinly sliced chili peppers. This is Denise's recipe (yes, it's the Sourthern version). It will
keep for 1 month if refrigerated.
Combine the garlic mixture with the remaining ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Ladle sauce into serving bowls and float the carrot slivers on top.
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