The Cooking Club 2017 – Vietnam Part 1

Last year, you may remember the Maisons-Laffitte cooking club.  An international group of ladies getting together to share favourite recipes by cooking and eating lunch together.  Well, it is time for the cooking club of 2017 to begin.

And what a start.  We started with Vinh in Vietnam (we wished we could actually have flown to Vietnam as France was doing its best at impersonating the Arctic).  We were initiated into the art of spring rolls, Vietnamese style.  They were amazing.

Lots of interesting ingredients waited for us

We made two kinds of spring roll with sauces to go with each – Fried Spring Rolls with Nuoc mam charn dipping sauce and Fresh Spring Rolls with a Hoisin Sauce (which be in Part 2 – people don’t like blog posts to be too long).

It was interesting for me to get hands on with South East Asian cuisine after my recent article on taste and writing about umami, the most recent addition to our set of tastes.  Vietnamese cuisine have understood that important element of taste for a long time and ingredients in these recipes are perfect examples -fish sauce, soy sauce and dried dark mushrooms are all rich in umami.  These ingrdients have been a huge part of Asian cuisine for centuries.

I was reminded of the pungent scent of Fish Sauce, really important in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine particularly, and how once added to a recipe there is no trace of that fishiness – just a real depth of flavour.

Fried Spring Rolls with nuoc mam charn dipping sauce

These crispy fried rice pancake rolls are filled with a tasty pork based filling however cooked mashed pumpkin or mashed beans could be used for a vegetarian alternative.  It is worth making loads, there is a lot of preparation so this is a recipe for a day when you can indulge in an afternoon of cooking – they are so yummy that they are worth the effort and won’t go to waste.  They can be frozen so make loads so you can have a quick meal another day.

The sauce

3-5 tablespoons caster sugar

hot water

5 tablepoons of Asian Fish Sauce

Juice of ½ a lemon

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 fresh red chilli finely chopped (optional – can keep to the side for adding to your personal bowl of dipping sauce later)

The sugar was dissolved in hot water so that it just dissolved.  Then the very pungent fish sauce was added, hard to believe that the final sauce was not in the least bit fishy – just so delicious!  Then lemon juice, garlic and chilli if you want a bit of fire.  That was it.  And it tasted amazing.  The secret is balancing the sour, umami and sweet which Vinh had to a fine art.  Very definitely done ‘au pif’ as you would say in French.

The Fried Spring Rolls themselves – to make lots!

100g Mung bean noodles briefly soaked in hot water

800g minced pork

400g carrots

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic

Rehydrated dried mushrooms

2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce

½ tablespoon caster sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs

1 tablespoon of oil

lots of rice pancakes

Lettuce and fresh herbs to serve

The mushrooms were soaked in boiling water until they were hydrated – this could be done overnight but half and hour or so should be enough.  Then we soaked the mung bean noodles for 2-3 minutes.

In a very big bowl we mixed together the ground pork, finely grated carrots and onion, finely chopped garlic, the mushrooms (which may need chopped a little more), the fish sauce, sugar, black pepper, oil, 2 eggs and the noodles (which have also been chopped).  Mix it all together.  The best way to do it is get  your hands in the bowl.

If you want to taste the mixture for seasoning then take a small spoonful of the mixture and put it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.  Once happy with the taste it is time for mass production.

Each rice pancake was dipped into hot water until it was pliable and then laid on a plate.  A spoonful of mixture was put on the pancake close to the edge towards the person rolling.  The pancake edge was pulled across the filling and then the sides were folded in.  Then the pancake was rolled firmly.

A range of spring rolls

It has to be said that there was a mixture of rolling quality.  The key was not to put too much mixture into the rice pancake so that the pancake was able to be double thickness all round so that it didn’t burst in the pan.  Not that it mattered to the taste – the ugly ones were just as tasty.

To eat properly they should be wrapped in a lettuce leaf with some fresh herbs, dipped into the sauce and enjoy.  It has to be said they were delicious.

Just as delicious were the fresh spring rolls but you will have to wait for the next post….

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