A CSA Twist on Vietnamese Fresh Summer Rolls
When I was in my 20’s and living in the Boston area, one restaurant that my friends and I used to go to quite often was Pho Pasteur (which is now called Le’s Vietnamese Cuisine, I think, though I’m not sure why the name changed – I think it’s the same owners.) It was my first introduction to the light, fresh flavors of Vietnamese food, and I loved it. We always ordered the fresh summer rolls (goi cuon, literally “salad rolls”) to start, which were little rolls of pork or tofu, crispy fresh vegetables, bean sprouts, and lettuce wrapped in translucent rice paper (soft and fresh, not greasy and fried like some Chinese egg rolls), and served with the most delicious peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. My friends and I used to joke that we could drink that peanut sauce all on it’s own. Actually, I think we were probably only half-joking.
Fresh summer rolls are without a doubt one of my favorite foods, and when warmer weather finally makes its appearance around here, I crave them. They’re fresh, light, so flavorful and so satisfying – a great warm-weather appetizer or even a light meal on their own (if you like them as much as I do.)
It’s been a bit cooler and rainer the past few days here, but last week, it was gloriously sunny, pleasantly warm (not hot) and I was in a summer roll mood. How lucky, then, that my craving coincided with our first CSA pick-up, which gave me so many great things to work with! I had beautiful lettuce, local pastured pork from The Piggery and Kingbird Farm, radishes and salad turnips, herbs like mint, Thai basil, and coriander growing in pots outside my front door, and some greenhouse cukes I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. In other words, a “perfect storm” for summer rolls.
The twist I put on these was to wrap them in the collard leaves that we received in our share, which I steamed just until they were tender and bright green. I saw this trick awhile back on The Victory Garden — B and I watch this PBS show every weekend while we eat lunch — where the chef used the large, flat, round collard leaves as wraps for a chicken, bulgur, and summer vegetable mixture (which looked delicious!) The collards are just about the size of tortillas, so they’re easy to manipulate around your filling, and I think they make a really nice twist on a traditional grain-based wrap.
I found a killer summer roll recipe online, courtesy of Todd and Diane from White on Rice Couple, and let me tell you: they’re fantastic. The peanut sauce alone is worth making, but the marinade for the pork is equally delicious.
I made two versions of rolls: one with grilled pork tenderloin, cucumbers, thinly sliced radishes and salad turnips, lettuce, and fresh herbs. I also made a different pork filling, made with ground pork, tamarind paste, garlic, ginger, and peanuts that I found in Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet (a beautiful cookbook, if you haven’t seen it — it’s part travelogue and part cookbook, filled with recipes from Southeast Asia, and reminds me of a coffee table book in its size and wealth of gorgeous pictures. I’ve been cooking from this a lot, lately, and it’s nice to rediscover it.)
Both were delicious — fresh, ultra-flavorful, and a nice twist on my traditional method of cooking greens (sauteed in garlic and olive oil.) And they satisfied that summer roll craving…at least for now.
Amy’s CSA Version of Vietnamese Fresh Summer Rolls
For both of these rolls, you’ll want to begin by steaming the leaves of collard greens in a large steamer basket or steamer insert. I trim off the stem, up to the point where the leaf starts, and steam them for about 5 minutes or until they’re bright green and tender (but not mushy.) The steamed greens can be set aside to cool and then refrigerated, covered, until you’re ready to assemble your wraps.
Any of the following are great to include in your rolls:
radishes, thinly sliced
salad turnips, thinly sliced
cucumbers, sliced into matchstick strips
fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, coriander/cilantro
Grilled Pork Filling
1 lb pork chops, loin, butt or shoulder, sliced thin.
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
Place slices of pork in a shallow dish or ziptop bag. Whisk together all of the remaining ingredients, then add to the container with the pork. Mix so pork gets coated, then let marinate for at least 20 minutes. Grill for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until it’s cooked to the texture you desire.
Spicy Ground Pork Filling
1/2 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (I can find this in the Indian section of our grocery store)
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 or 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons toasted unsalted (raw) peanuts, chopped
Whisk the tamarind concentrate into the warm water until dissolved; set aside.
Heat a wok over high heat, then add the oil. When hot, add the shallots and garlic and stir-fry until golden. Add the ground pork and cook until it’s all changed color. Add the sugar, tamarind juice, fish sauce, and salt and continue cooking until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and chopped toasted peanuts and stir-fry one minute more. Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste.
1 cup (8 oz) hoisin sauce (if sauce is thick, add about 1/4 cup warm water to reach desired consistency)
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 minced thai chili, or more for desired spiciness
Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, thin out to your desired consistency with a little warm water.