Here in Nashville, the undisputed champion of vietnamese food (at least, in my opinion) is a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Kien Giang. Though the menu boasts a nearly exhaustive list of vietnamese offerings, regulars come for the big, steaming, fragrant bowls of Pho. There in the bowl, perfectly cooked rice noodles luxuriate in a complex, elixir-like broth so nuanced it borders poetry, seeks the sublime, and attempts to utter the ineffable nature of the cosmos. It’s little wonder I’m not trying to give you the recipe for that. I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.
So let’s keep it simple, shall we? Delicious in their own right are the vegetable spring rolls: crisp carrot, crunchy lettuce, a mess of fresh basil and mint made neat when wrapped in a tiny bundle of chewy rice paper. And what made this snack even more special was the fact that, for the first time in my life, I have the chance to use vegetables from my own garden. That’s right: the herbs and lettuces you see above are the work of my own two hands.
Vegetable Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
Ingredients (for the spring rolls):
1 bunch of romaine lettuce
handful of mint
handful of basil
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 spring roll papers
Ingredients (for the peanut sauce):
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp chili oil
Before you begin to prep your vegetables, fill a large pot with water and put it on a burner to warm. You’ll want hot but not boiling water. By the time your vegetables have been prepped, the water should be at a good temperature. Before I give you any instructions on how to cook and then roll the rice papers, I should tell you that patience and a sense of calm will do you well. I can almost guarantee that the first couple tries will be failures: the rice paper will fold upon itself into a complicated mess, or it will tear, or you’ll drop it into the water. You will likely curse, sigh loudly, and yell “why didn’t we just order from Hunan Palace?!?” to your significant other (or your dog, perhaps). Just accept the initial failure of the first few attempts; it will get better.
Instead of dunking the entire paper into the water, hold the upper half of the paper while submerging the bottom half. Then, turn the paper as if you were turning the steering wheel of your car. After one revolution, the entire paper should be wet. Place it flat on a clean surface. Pack it with the carrot, lettuce, and fresh herbs, being sure to leave a quarter inch of space on either side. Roll it as you would a burrito, tucking in the sides to avoid the innards falling out. Place the rolls in the fridge while you make the sauce.
For the sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together. Slice the rolls on a diagonal (or leave them intact) and serve.