Looking For Love & Finding... Goi Cuon??? O.o

Since we had these for lunch today (Mads' weekly standing food request), I thought it as good as day as any to transfer this post over from the old blog.

I look at my blog stats from time to time to see how people find my blog. Most of them are predictable: lots of searches for Korean and Vietnamese recipes. And then somewhat surprisingly, at least two or three hits every week from people looking for some combination of *strawberry* and *chipotle* with some other words. Yet others through chowhound and facebook.

But sometimes, people stumble across my blog for, shall we say, more *interesting* reasons, hence this search phrase from last week:

"hot asian chicks sweet large"

Well, it's Asian. One out of five ain't bad...

I'm guessing that person didn't find what they were looking for, but it seems they decided to stick around and take a looksie anyway. Maybe they decided it would be easier to satisfy a food craving and opted to make these wings instead of looking for love in all the wrong places. After all, the wings do meet four out of five criteria if you're willing to add an *en* between the *k* and the *s* in *chicks*, AND they don't charge by the minute.

This led me to ponder how someone might inadvertently find today's recipe for goi cuon (goy KKOOuhn) aka Vietnamese summer rolls, but I was hard pressed to come up with anything nearly so intriguing as

"hot asian chicks sweet large".

But I have a feeling that sometime in the near future, a lonely and/or curious soul will unpleasantly surprise me with some interestingly inappropriate search terms that somehow relate to summer rolls. And when they do, you can be sure I'll share it with y'all...

So anyway, you already know I never do anything right. The rolls you're likely to get in a Vietnamese restaurant usually come with lettuce, bun (rice noodles), thinly sliced boiled pork, boiled or steamed shrimp, almost always spearmint, and sometimes a little Thai basil and/or cilantro.

But in our house, it's really a free for all of things that mostly make sense in the context of Vietnamese cuisine - last night we also had sprouts, cucumbers, and jalapenos on hand, so those went in the adults' rolls. We do shrimp when it's handy, but it's more often not. Boiled pork belly or shoulder is a constant, though. (But it could easily be replaced with tofu for a vegetarian version.) I usually don't even add the bun because I eat about 4 of these for a meal, and I figure the starch from the rice paper is more than enough.

We put all kinds o' crap in there.
Left to right: Red lettuce, sprouts, cilantro, peppermint that looked
like spearmint in the store, cucumbers, green onions, and jalapeno.
If I had used bun, it would have been tucked between
the lettuce and sprouts. :)

Obviously you can roll whatever you want into the rice paper, but you won't hear me suggesting non-Asian flavors or ingredients. Because for some odd reason, while I like to eat Vietnamese tacos with corn tortillas, the idea of fajitas or sandwich meats and cheese rolled into chewy rice paper does not appeal to me in the least.

The rice paper I prefer has tapioca flour listed as the first ingredient. Tapioca has a more starchy, glutinous quality to it and is more forgiving when you tuck and roll, the tucking part being essential to an aesthetically pleasing roll. But I hope you won't get discouraged if your first few forays into Summer rolling result in something more like a burrito. This stuff takes practice, and the rice paper burritos still taste good, even if they are a little more challenging to eat. Well, neatly anyways...

Goi Cuon aka Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Makes 12 rolls, or really as few as you like or as many as you have fillings for

Spearmint, cilantro and Thai basil are the herbs most often used in these rolls. I suggest using whatever combination you actually enjoy as even a slight taste of one you really don't like seems to ruin the dish for some.

- 1 package rice/tapioca paper (minimum 8" to 10" in diameter)
- a large mixing bowl full of very warm (not boiling or hot) water

- 1 pound of pork butt/shoulder or belly, cut into 5-inch squared, 1.5-inch thick pieces
- 1/4 of a bulb onion
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 medium shrimp, boiled or steamed, peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthwise (optional)

- 1 head lettuce, washed and RIBS REMOVED (red leaf is my fave, but you can use just about any kind except Romaine, which is a little stiffer than the others and increases your chance of breakage when rolling)
- 1 serving of bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli) or angel hair pasta, cooked per package instructions (optional in my book)
- 1 bunch fresh spearmint, washed. You'll only need 2 or three leaves per roll (unless you're like me and eat fresh herbs like a rabbit).
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 bunch fresh Thai basil (though I've used Sweet/Italian in a pinch)

- Hoisin sauce
- sriracha or sambal oelek
- peanut butter
- water

As I mentioned before, you could also use fresh bean sprouts and thinly sliced cucumber strips and jalapeno and still totally keep within the boundaries of Vietnamese flavors and flavor combinations.

This is one of those projects where mise en place (MEEZonPLAHSS), which is a fancyfroggy French term for having all your duckies in a row, is really important. You want to have everything ready so you can move assembly-line fashion through the process.

A caveat before I begin:


...intended to give rice paper rolling virgins the best possible outcome. If you're like me and prefer to learn by wanton trial and error, my quick and dirty advice to you is place the lettuce, bright & leafy side down first to protect the rice paper from any jagged edges from the other ingredients, and start out small. Be modest with the amount of ingredients in the beginning - you can always add a little bit more as you get more practice tucking and rolling.


1) Place the pork in a pot with the onion, garlic, salt, and enough water to cover by an inch. Cover the pot, turn the heat on to medium high until it reaches a gentle boil. At that point, turn the heat down to medium and crack the lid open a bit, boiling the pork just until the juices run clear, not pink, when pierced with a fork. This should take about 25 minutes or so after the water comes to a boil.

If you're using shrimp as well, you can throw them in when the pork is done cooking and just keep them in the water until they just turn opaque and orange, about 3 or 4 minutes. Take them out as soon as they're done and run them under a little cold water to keep them from overcooking and getting rubbery.

2) While the pork is cooking, wash and prep all your veg and herbs. Drain them well and set them out on a tray with the lettuce first, then the noodles if you're using them, going left to right. This will make the optimum order of ingredient placement second nature to you as you're filling the paper.

3) When the pork is done cooking, take it out of the water and let it cool for about 20 minutes before slicing into 1/4" thick, 5" long strips. If you're doing shrimp, peel, devein and slice them in half lengthwise.

While you're letting the pork cool is a good time to make your sauce. (Instructions below.)

Put your proteins on a plate next to your veg plate and set out a cutting board (I find the textured plastic ones work best, but that's not required) on which to roll.

4) When all your roll components are ready, fill your mixing bowl with hot water from your tap and set it  to the left of your veg and meat. Finally, set your rice paper either in front of, or to the left of your bowl of water.

From left to right you should have: rice paper, bowl of water, tray of veg, plate of protein.

Now you're READY TO ROLL. (OMG  - Did I just say that?)


5) Take one sheet of rice paper and wet it thoroughly with the warm water, but don't leave it sitting in the water. It won't feel pliable enough to roll right away, but by the time you've placed all your fillings, it should be ready.

6) Take one medium leaf of lettuce, shake off the excess water and fold it if you need to make sure it's no longer than 5 inches. Set the lettuce, bright & leafy side down aligned with the bottom of the rice paper.

If you're using noodles, now is a good time to put a small quantity (maybe 1/8 cup?) down across the lettuce. The lettuce + the noodles create a nice, soft pillow to cover some of the harder edges of the other ingredients, making it easier to roll without ripping.

If you're doing cucumbers or sprouts, this is where you want to place them. (Make sure the sprouts are horizontally straight to prevent jagged edges. Always keep the harder or less pliable ingredients cushioned in the bed of lettuce and noodles.

Now a strip of pork, a couple leaves of mint and/or basil, plus the leafy portion of one cilantro stem. Two pieces of shrimp can also go here or, you can put them near the top (you'll see the pic) if you'd like them to show through the paper, restaurant style. :)

See those two mint leaves up top? About half an inch below that
is where you'd put your shrimp, outside down (and in lieu of the mint)
if you wanted your shrimpies to show...


7) Roll gently, and tuck gently as you go. is your mantra for this dish. Begin by picking up the bottom of the rice paper with the lettuce, tuck them together, and begin rolling. Always gently tucking each new loose ingredient as you roll.

When you get halfway up the paper, hold the rolled portion down with your weak hand and fold each side in one by one with the dominant hand, pinning them down with the weak hand as you do. You'll find that the paper sticks to itself and helps you along in the process.

With both sides folded in, continue to tuck and gently roll until the entire sheet is rolled up, and there you have it: a summer roll.

These were made with shrimp on another day...
That's purple perilla (tia to) on the side -
one of my fave herbs ever.

Set aside on a serving platter, covered with a slightly dampened paper towel or cheesecloth. (By slightly, I mean just about all the water squeezed out with just enough left that it's not completely dry.)

This gets easier every time you do it. I promise.


I don't get too fancy with the sauce. My personal favorite is just some slightly watered down Hoisin, finely chopped onion, sriracha or tuong ot to taste, a pinch of sugar and a couple healthy squeezes of lime or lemon.

The usual sauce...

If you like peanut flavor in your sauce, I recommend:

- 1/3 cup Hoisin
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 Tablespoon sriracha (more or less to taste)
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon very finely chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional if you like your sauce on the sweeter side)

Stir or whisk together until completely blended. Sprinkle some chopped roasted peanuts on top for some extra nuttiness and crunch.

These are on heavy rotation in my kitchen because they're healthful, delicious, and a super easy way to get my kids to eat some fresh herbs and veg.

Come to think of it - *hot* (if you add some kind of chili to the sauce), *asian* without a doubt, and *sweet* from the Hoisin.

Three out of five ain't bad. :P




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