Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls with Cashew Dipping Sauce

Lunch. Fast food. Food on the go. Grabbing a bite. Sometimes, it's not all that easy. I'm learning to get creative. I do happen to have the benefit of having a fridge and microwave at school during the lunch break, so I've got a significant advantage over a lot of individuals that work or go to school without these perks. And I take full of advantage of them when I can—without a doubt! But for those of you who don't have those options or would love to have some variety or would just love to have something quick and portable like a nice sandwich, well a sandwich or wrap can be hard to beat. There's a reason sandwiches are such an important mainstay in the SAD (Standard American Diet)—they're nifty little creations! Quick, endless possibilities that are easily thrown together, are quite portable and taste delicious. Now I'm not big on substitutions (almond flour bread, anyone? UGH! I think we've already covered my almond flour disgust here). But I will say that coming up with a different way of serving a traditional item can sometimes work out wonderfully. It just takes a little bit of ingenuity on occasion.

Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls with Cashew Dipping Sauce
Cooked chicken or other meat of choice
Fresh veggies of choice, shredded or sliced into sticks
Vietnamese rice paper wraps
Cashew Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

These are the basic ingredients. Now let me elaborate:
—Chicken or meat: I cooked up a batch of chicken strips in my wok in some coconut oil. But this is a very versatile recipe. I've seen a lot of individuals on Instagram who buy whole rotisserie chickens and eat off the bird throughout the week just using the chicken in different dishes (on top of green salads, chicken salads, soups, etc). Love this idea and it works here. Any leftover meats? Sure, use that instead. I prefer chicken or shrimp in this dish because they taste the best without reheating, but if you aren't picky about that—use what you like.
—Veggies: I specifically used carrot sticks, cucumber, avocado, Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, and sliced cherry tomatoes. But the possibilities are endless. Don't care for avocado? Take it out. Purple or regular green cabbage also does well in this dish. There are also great pickled radishes at Asian groceries to try too. Broccoli or other mixed greens? Go with what you like!
—Vietnamese rice papers: I've found these at World Market or occasionally Target. I prefer the ones that are simply rice flour and water. Simplest ingredients. If you're really lucky or in a good location with a great mix of cultures: ALWAYS shop Asian grocery. I've found such fantastic prices on certain goods; sometimes up to 3-4 times cheaper!

To assemble your spring roll: Prep all your meat and veggies into strips and matchsticks if you haven't already. When all the ingredients have been prepped, take one of the rice paper wraps out of the packaging and soak in warm water for 15-20 seconds until it softens. Lay on a cutting board or plate and dab off any excess moisture with a paper towel. It will start to get a little sticky. Fill your ingredients to the desired amount in the middle. Think of this like a burrito. Fold the top over the fillings, fold the two sides over the top to create an envelope-type shape. Roll the rest of the way closed. The rice papers are a little bit more delicate than say a flour or corn tortilla, but it's pretty much the same concept if you're gentle. And the best part is the rice pretty much sticks to itself so it's actually a little bit easier. Make as many rolls as you'd like and serve with the cashew dipping sauce!

Cashew Dipping Sauce
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
½-1 cup canned coconut milk (yes, it must be canned!)
3 tsp lime juice
2 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar
3-4 tsp fish sauce
2 large cloves garlic
1 tsp ginger
Dash or two of cayenne pepper (to taste)

In a food processor, blend cashews until fine. Add a rough tablespoon of coconut milk and continue to blend. Slowly add more coconut milk in small amounts and blend as you go until the mixture is still thick but dip-like. Add remaining ingredients (except for remaining coconut milk) and blend thoroughly. Taste and make adjustments if necessary: fish sauce for more salt (this replaces the soy sauce so it's soy and wheat free), lime juice for more tang, cayenne pepper for more spice. Blend again if needed. Slowly add small amounts of coconut milk to the dip until it reaches your desired consistency. More for a runny sauce; less for a dip. Keep in mind that refrigerating the dip will make it thicker so go a little bit runnier if you plan to refrigerate before serving. Check taste again and adjust any other spices as necessary.