Monday, May 23, 2011

a hint of mint

Ahhh, sunshine! Let's see how long it lasts. I have jumped at the chance to spend some time in my backyard, now very overgrown with spring blossoms and fresh herbs. This month the poor garden has experienced neglect due to my heavy schedule of catering parties and further hampered by the ambush of rain on my rare days off.
A tangle of mint and chives begins to take over the herb garden.
This week found me making hors d'oeuvres for a cocktail party for thirty people in a spacious Tribeca loft. On the menu: Spring Rolls, naturally, as what could be a more perfect season for them? I like to experiment with different ingredients when I make these, but one addition I always use is mint leaves. The mint adds a freshness and a bit of an eye opening surprise. The rest of the filling is a combination of different pickled vegetables, usually radish and cucumbers with a sprig or two of blanched broccoli and bean thread noodles for some substance.
Ingredients are assembled and ready to go.
I really like playing with this recipe, trying new combinations of fillings. The challenge for me is getting these little guys rolled tightly enough. Having watched a kitchen staff at a Vietnamese restaurant expertly roll them in quick deft movement to produce perfect packages I bemoan my own still less than nimble technique. My friend Rachel, an actress and film maker who is a native of Taiwan, suggested I try using peanuts ground with sugar to help keep the spring rolls tightly wrapped, as her family traditionally does. What a fantastic idea! The results were my usual slightly limp roll, but the addition of the sugar and peanuts gave them a distinctive flavor twist that I loved.
 Peanuts and sugar crushed using morter and pestle.
Assemble your ingredients and practice the art of rolling-up. It is a fun and tasty endevour, worth the slight frustration as you attempt to master the technique.

Spring Rolls with Mint and Peanuts
 2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 cup of daikon radish, cut into julienne strips
1.5 cups of cucumber, cut into julienne strips
2 cups of bean thread noodles (also known as cellophane noodles), cooked
2 Tbs. Sesame oil
1/2 cup peanuts
1 bunch of scallions, green part only, cut into julienne strips
20 mint leaves cut into chiffonade ribbons
2 cups of cooked broccoli, cut into long strips
1 package of Spring Roll Wrappers (found in Asian markets)

Mix 1 Tbs sugar with the rice vinegar. Pour half the mixture over the radishes and half over the cucumbers and toss. Toss the bean thread noodles with the sesame oil. Crush the peanuts and 1 Tbs. sugar together in a morter and pestle or food prosesor. Assemble all the ingredients in bowls in front of you to start the rolling.  Fill a bowl with warm water. Quickly dip the rice wrapper in the water and lay it on the counter in front of you. Take a teaspoon of the peanut sugar mixture and spread it out over the wrapper. In the center of the rice wrapper lay a few strands of noodles, radish, cucmber, scallions, broccoli and mint. carefully fold over the edges left and right, to cover the ingredients, then roll up the wrapper from the bottom as tightly as possible to make a fat cigar shape. Set roll aside and continue with the rest of the wrappers, making about ten rolls. Serve immediately.

Dare I attempt this? Deb, if you find this a little challenging, I can only imagine how it will be for me! When I saw "spring rolls", I immediately thought this would be a deep-fried dish. How pleasantly surprised I am to find this is not the case. This looks like a fun, interesting recipe to play around with.

The spring rolls are light, so they call for a wine that is not too heavy. You want the body of the wine to be in synch with the "weight" of the foods you are enjoying. Muscadet is a French wine which is made in the Loire Valley region of the country. The Melon de Bourgogne grape is used (often referred to as melon). Look for wines from the sub-appellation Muscadet-Sevre et Maine (this will be designated on the label).

The wines are most often light  bodied, fresh and crisp, and might even have a "fizzy" sensation. The acidity keeps the wines refreshing, and might even have a "salty" note to them. These wines are best enjoyed young - if you are looking to buy one now, look for the 2010 or 2009 vintages. Muscadet is classicly paired with shellfish, particularly oysters. The wines are typically low-ish in alcohol (12%), which makes them extremely food-friendly.

The light, crisp nature of the wine is ideal for the spring rolls. Neither will overpower the other. La Touche Muscadet is a favorite of mine ($11.99). It has wonderful zippy acidity and beautiful minerality. Perfect for Deb's Spring Rolls!

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE spring rolls and learned how to do them from my friend who grew up in Vietnam. As the season progresses, I love to throw in other herbs like cilantro and Rau Rum which is a unique vietnamese cilantro that is impossible to find on the east coast (but I grow it). It's definitely versatile dish in that you can add and omit anything you'd like to it. I do either a fish dipping sauce or for vegetarians, a bean sauce thickened with peanut butter.


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