photo by allan.
tonight two good friends, markell and moira, my brother and i headed over to marin to do some pro-bono catering for an intimate fundraising event by the international accountability project (iap) where my friend joanna levitt is the co-director. joanna is leaving for india tomorrow night where she'll begin three months of on-the-ground work to further the causes of iap. a true hero, it was an honor to be able to contribute to the cause that she loves by doing something that i love, feeding people. since joanna is headed off for asia, a menu of small asian bites was requested. in the last few days i got to rediscover some of my favorite asian cookbooks: fuschia dunlop's "land of plenty" highlighting food from china's sichuan province, "the food of china" which is a must-have just for its photos of chinese life through food, and nancy's mcdermott's "quick and easy vietnamese," which really makes vietnamese food easy for anyone.
after taking in all the great inspiration of my cookbooks, friends and recent asian meals, i finally decided on a menu of 4 simple but tasty asian dishes: vietnamese summer rolls with flank steak; lemongrass shrimp; vegetarian mu-shu purses and pork and ginger-apple potstickers. and to round out all the savoriness, markell satisfied all of our sweet tooth's (teeth?) with an asian inspired ginger-coconut cream puff. as a red meat lover, i have to say my favorite dish of the evening was the summer rolls. my brother had marinated and tenderized the steak last night with soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar and it just tasted absolutely divine with the nuoc nam dipping sauce. the recipe below is for the flank steak version but the possibilities for summer rolls are endless. the photos above actually show summer rolls made with two different combinations: tuna & avocado and poached shrimp & cucumber. this dish is much easier than one would expect and so incredibly healthy and satisfying.
vietnamese summer rolls with flank steak
for the summer rolls:
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
1/2 tbs brown sugar
1 small flank steak
12 oz of rice stick rice noodles*
1 cup of mint, de-stemmed
1 head of green lettuce, torn into pieces
2 medium cucumber
the night before:
combine soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar in a bowl. place flank steak in a pyrex baking dish and pour marinade over. using a fork, stab the meat all over to tenderize it and also let the flavors of the marinade set in. cover and let marinate overnight in the fridge.
for the filling:
prepare the rice sticks like you would any other noodle. bring a pot of water to boil, add the noodles, cook until they’re just tender (about 12 minutes) and strain.
while the noodles are cooking, you can quickly cook your flank steak. place your top oven rack about 6” away from your broiler (that thing that spits out fire from the ceiling of your oven). place your marinated flank steak on a broiler pan and broil on high for 10 minutes. if you want your steak a little bit more well-done (shame on you), flip the steak over and broil for another 3 to 4 minutes. remove from the oven and cover with two layers of foil. let rest for 10 minutes before slicing into half inch thick slices against the grain (cut perpendicular to the grain which should run lengthwise on a flank steak).
once your noodles are ready and your flank steak is sliced, you have all your filling ingredients ready. set out your mint, lettuce, cucumbers, noodles, steak and bean sprouts in an assembly line. it’s time to wrap!
the rice paper must be soaked in a bit of warm water before it’ll become pliable for wrapping. fill up an 8” frying pan with a little less than 1 inch of water and heat over medium-low heat. the water should be warm but definitely not too hot to touch. quickly skim the rice paper through the water. you want to make sure that the entire surface gets wet but be careful not to soak it in water or it’ll end up tearing too easily. you can practice with a few until you get the hang of it.
once the rice paper is wet, set it flat on a plate and let it soften (this should not take long). i like to have two plates out, each with a piece of wet rice paper on it, to make the process a bit more efficient. you can roll one while the other rice paper is softening. once the rice paper is soft place 1 or 2 pieces of lettuce 1 inch away from the bottom edge of the paper, then add on the noodles, meat and the rest of the toppings. it’s important not to be too greedy here. the rice paper is delicate and it’s better to start with less or you may end up with an exploding summer roll. wrap by folding over the bottom edge over the filling, roll once through and then fold over the two edges and finish rolling through. take your empty plate and wet another sheet of rice paper to put on it. then fill the other plate while the other sheet of rice paper is softening. wrap until all the filling ingredients are gone.
enjoy by dipping into a bowl of nuoc nam.
*rice sticks are simply just a type of rice noodles. as their name suggests, they’re shaped like pick-up-sticks (one of my favorite childhood games which i’m sure has now been turned into a facebook application or something along those lines). they’re common in vietnamese dishes and is often served in a large bowl and topped with some julienned cucumbers and carrots, a tasty grilled meat and then tossed with the quintessential vietnamese sauce, nuoc nam. vietnamese summer rolls just take all the goodness of that bowl of noodles and packages it in a more portable form with a sheet of rice paper. they can be found in an asian grocer and even now in big-box grocers these days.
**some brands of rice paper are better than others. i prefer the brands with the rose or elephant logo. they tend to tear less.