The Basics of Asian Cooking

By Natalie Krafft

Asian food is said to be the best, the most diverse, and the most flavorful of all cuisines. With the exotic spices of India, the freshness of Vietnam, and the sophistication of Japan, who wouldn’t agree? After all, the Asian countries have spent centuries perfecting their home cooking. And we Westerners love other cultural foods. Finding authentic cultural foods here in America, however, is a difficult task. If a restaurant can’t make the authentic foods you crave, why not make it yourself?

Let us first examine where Asian foods originated from. Most people would say that Asian foods originate from China, and they would only be partially right. Japan’s first outside influence was China and then Buddhism. In the rise of Buddhism, eating meats was banned and thus, sushi was born. The Dutch and Portuguese also lent a hand in cultivating the Japanese style of eating by introducing potatoes and tempura, another way of frying. (1)

The same idea applies to Vietnam; however, they have been influenced by neighbors and invaders including Mongolia, China, Thailand, and France. China provided the base of Vietnamese cooking and Thailand offered its spiciness. When the Mongols invaded Vietnam, they brought with them beef, introducing beef into the Vietnamese diet and creating dishes like pho bo, a beef noodle soup. During colonial times, France owned Vietnam and introduced different styles of pastries and the infamous French baguette. (2)

Here is a recipe for a version of the ever famous egg roll or, in this case, an Imperial Roll that is Vietnamese inspired. The egg roll is a popular appetizer in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other various Asian countries and is often served with the fish sauce detailed below. Enjoy! (3)

 

Ingredients for fish sauce:

½ cup fish sauce

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup distilled white vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic

1 to 2 Thai chiles, stemmed and minced

 

Makes 1 ½ cup

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar or lemon juice, and ½ cup water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the garlic and chiles and stir to combine. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 1 week if made with vinegar or up to 2 days if made with lemon juice.

 

 

Ingredients for Imperial Roll:

3 cups finely diced yellow onion

1 cup of peeled and julienned carrots

1 cup of peeled and julienned jicama

2 tbsp & a separate 2 tsp of kosher salt

Canola oil, for deep frying

1 (2 oz) package cellophane noodles

3 cups julienned taro root

12 oz pork shoulder, finely hand chopped

1 cup coarsely chopped shrimp (about 7 oz peeled and deveined)

2 tsp of sugar

¼ tsp of freshly ground pepper

25, 8 in rice paper rounds

7, 12 inch rice paper, cut into quarters

 

 

For serving: (optional)

Red leaf lettuce leaves

Mint springs

Flavored fish sauce

Cooked, cooled vermicelli noodles

*Note that the carrot and jicama need to be salted and left to drain in a colander for at last two hours. This will help to keep the filling dry which will help to prevent the roll from breaking apart when fried.*

 

Serves 10 – 12, as appetizer or snack.

  1. In a large bowl, toss together the onions, carrots, jicama, and 2 tbsp of salt. Transfer the mixture to a colander and let drain in the sink for 2 hours. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the vegetables.
  2. Pour the oil to a depth of 3 inches or high sided pot and hat over medium heat to 350˚F on a deep frying thermometer. When the oil is hot, add half of the taro and try for about 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a spider slotted spoon, transfer the paper towels to drain and set aside. Let the oil return to 350˚F and fry the second batch. Remove the pot of oil from the heat and set aside.
  3. Place the cellophane noodles in a bowl and add very hot water to cover, and let stand for 10 – 15 minutes, until softened. Drain, cut into 2 inch lengths, and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture, fried taro, cellophane noodles, pork, shrimp, sugar the 2 remaining tsp of salt and the pepper and mix well.
  5. Fill a large bowl with very hot water, working with 1 whole 8 inch rice paper round at a time, dip it into water until pliable. This will take about 5 seconds. Remove the round from the water and spread it flat on the work surface. Dip one quarter of the rounds of the rice paper until pliable, the place it on top of the rice paper round, centering it with the point toward you, to form an area of double thickness.
  6. Place about ¼ cup of the filling on the double thickness of the paper, spreading it into a rectangle about 3 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Lift the bottom edge of the rice paper round, up and over the filling. Roll the rice paper away from you one turn, tightly enclosing the filling completely. Fold in the left and right side and continue rolling a tightly as possible until you have formed a tight cylinder. Place the roll on a platter or baking sheet and repeat with the remaining rice paper rounds and filling.
  7. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place near the stove. Place a second rimmed backing sheet alongside. Return the pot of oil to medium-high heat and heat the oil to 325˚F on the thermometer. When the oil is ready, add 4 o 5 rolls and fry, turning and pressing to submerge them beneath the oil for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Using the spider or slotted spoon, transfer the rolls to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, then to the second baking sheet and let cool completely. Repeat the frying process with the remaining rolls, always allowing the oil to return to temperature between batches. Set the pot of oil aside. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, bring to room temperature before frying a second time.
  8. When you are ready to serve the rolls, reheat the oil over high heat to 375˚F on the thermometer and preheat the oven to 250˚F. Line the baking sheet with fresh paper towels. Again working in batches, fry the rolls for 10 minutes, until deep golden brown and crispy. Using the spider or slotted spoon, transfer the rolls to a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain. Keep warm while you fry the remaining rolls.
  9. Cut each roll in half and place on a platter alongside the lettuce and mint. Pour the fish sauce into small bowls for dipping. To eat, wrap a roll half in a lettuce leaf with some mint leaves and vermicelli, and dip into the fish sauce.

 

Sources:

1 – http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Japan.html

2http://www.foodbycountry.com/Spain-to-Zimbabwe-Cumulative-Index/Vietnam.html

3 – Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan, pg 35; 178 – 181. Print.

 

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