Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fusion Dinner: Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Greek Casserole

The Recipes
  • My cousins let me look through their array of world cookbooks, and I couldn't pick one country's cuisine to stick with, so I decided to make a fusion Vietnamese-Greek meal.
  • The spring roll recipe is from Authentic Vietnamese Cooking by Corinne Trang. It makes 40 rolls if you use small triangular rice papers, but all we could find were larger circle ones that made 30 rolls. The fish dipping sauce comes from the same cookbook, and it makes about 2 cups, which was exactly how much we needed for all of the rolls.
  • The Greek casserole recipe is from Greek Cooking by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler. It serves 4 as the main dish - we had leftovers.

"Nuoc Cham"/Fish Dipping Sauce

The Ingredients:
5 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp water
1/3 c. fish sauce
1/2 c. 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 (optional)
1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced, rinsed, and drained

The Directions:
1. Whisk together, or shake in a jar, the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, chili, and shallot, and let stand for 30 min before serving.

"Cha Gio"/Spring Rolls

The Ingredients:
2 oz. dried cellophane noodles (aka bean noodles, Chinese vermicelli)
1 oz. dried cloud ear mushrooms (we used shiitake)
1 lb. ground pork (70% lean)
1 med yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, peeled an grated
1 large egg
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
40 triangular rice papers (or 30 big round rice papers)
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 bunch mint, leaves only

The Directions:
1. Soak the cellophane noodles and cloud ear mushrooms in lukewarm water to cover until re-hydrated, about 15 min. Drain and squeeze the noodles and cloud ears to get rid of the excess water. Finely chop the noodles and cloud ears and put them in a mixing bowl.

2. Add the ground pork, onion, garlic, carrot, and egg and season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients with your hands until evenly combined.

3. Pour lukewarm water about 1" deep into a square or rectangular dish. Separate and soak 4 rice papers at a time until pliable, about 5 min. Place a clean kitchen towel on your work surface, then place each triangle, rounded side near you, on the towel. With another kitchen towel, blot each wrapper until it is no longer wet but remains sticky. Place about 1 tsp filling 1" from the rounded edge. Fold the wrapper once over the filling, then fold in the sides and continue rolling tightly to the pointed end. Repeat this process with the remaining rice papers and filling. *If using larger circular rice papers, don't soak beforehand. Instead, dip one into a bowl of water for about 5 seconds, set on a plate, then put about 1 tbsp filling 1" from an end and continue as above. Try to roll as tight as possible or air bubbles in the wrapping will form and make it hard to turn the rolls over in the pan.*

4. Heat the oil in a wok or a deep pan to 360-375 degrees F over med-high heat. Test the heat of the oil with one roll; the oil should sizzle around the roll but not so vigorously as to destroy the spring roll. Fry a few rolls at a time, turning them once immediately to prevent them from sticking together, then turning them occasionally until golden on all sides, 3-5 min. *If using larger rolls, it may take longer. Check to make sure the insides of the pork are cooked after the first batch.* Drain on paper towels and serve with mint and dipping sauce.

*Variation: Substitute 8 oz. fresh shredded crabmeat or minced shrimp for half of the ground pork amount and follow directions.

*Hint: As you make the spring rolls, stack them, covering each layer with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out, and refrigerate.Serve them freshly fried the next day. Freeze leftover rolls for up to a month; reheat them in a 375 degrees F oven for 15 min, turning once.

Potatoes with Feta Cheese and Olives

The Ingredients:
2 lb. potatoes
2/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
 sprig of fresh rosemary
10 oz. feta cheese, sliced and then crumbled
1 c. pitted black and green olives
1 1/4 c. hot vegetable stock
salt and ground black pepper

The Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cook the potatoes in plenty of boiling water for 15 min, or until soft. Drain and cool slightly. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices.
2. Brush the base and sides of a shallow 6 1/4 c. / 2 1/2 pint rectangular oven-proof dish with some of the olive oil.
3. Layer the potatoes in the dish with the rosemary, cheese, and olives. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and pour over the stock. Season with salt and plenty of ground black pepper.
4. Cook for 35 min, covering with foil to prevent the potatoes from getting too brown. Serve hot, straight from the dish.

The Diverse Duo

My Take on the Bake
This was an intense dinner to make, and luckily I had lots of help. As the hint suggests, you could prepare the spring rolls the night before and fry them the night of the meal. The Greek casserole wouldn't have been the hardest all on its own to make. This was a very tasty meal. The two different dishes actually went well together. The casserole was a bit strong. It called for black and green olives, but we decided to use Greek kalamati olives rather than the black olives you might find in the store. Man do baked kalamati olives stink up a kitchen! Let's just say they were a bit strong. Definitely not a comfort food dish, but has a strong taste of Greek - I would serve it with lamb. Or just with regular black olives if I made it alone next time.

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