Thursday, October 12, 2023

Oven-Fried Crispy Shitake Imperial Rolls

I don’t always trust a recipe. Do you? Sometimes an ingredient quantity or baking temperature or some other detail seems off, and I grab another cookbook with something similar to compare. But, there are some cookbook authors I trust completely. I know the recipes are tested, double-checked, and will work. In that category of authors and cooks, I would include Ina Garten, Maida Heatter, and Alice Medrich. And, I’d like to add Andrea Ngyuen to that list. After cooking from several of her books, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how perfectly dishes turn out after simply following the instructions exactly. She also includes helpful recommendations for ingredients with explanations for brand preferences. Her latest book, Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea of which I received a review copy, further proves these points. This latest book was written to “spotlight members of the vegetable kingdom.” It’s not entirely vegetarian. There are some meat and seafood recipes, but the animal proteins act as collaborators with the vegetables. And, there are suggestions for substitutions throughout to make recipes vegan if preferred. There’s even a recipe for Vegan Fish Sauce. Rice paper rolls, banh mi, fillings for bao, rice dishes, soups, salads, sides, mains, and sweets can all be found here. I was drawn to the Salads chapter and enjoyed learning that salads are often a big part of celebratory Viet meals. They tend to involve a good amount of prep work and are intended to have a “wow factor.” I made the Cucumber, Kale, and Spiced Cashew Salad and loved the varied flavors and textures with sweet, spicy, crunchy nuts, fresh herbs, and tangy dressing. Next, I want to try the Kohlrabi and Soy Sauce-Seared Tofu Salad. It’s not in the Salads chapter, but I also made the Shaking Salmon which tops a dressed salad of lettuce, herbs, and cherry tomatoes. From the Snacks chapter, the Crispy Sweet Potato and Shrimp Fritters were a hit. Shaved sweet potatoes are stirred into a batter with chunks of shrimp that gets formed into fritters and shallow-fried. The crispy fritters are then wrapped in lettuce leaves with herb leaves and nuoc cham. Also from that chapter, I have the page marked for Smoky Tofu-Nori Wontons. I’ll definitely be trying Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower and/or Char Siu Pulled Jackfruit and making bao, and making Vegan Bologna for banh mi is on my list as well. Today, I want to tell you more about the Oven-Fried Crispy Shitake Imperial Rolls. 

This was my first time using rice paper rounds for a cooked rather than cold dish. And, this was my first time hydrating rice paper in some way other than dunking it in warm water. As expected, the instructions worked exactly right, and the quantity of filling was just right for the expected number of rolls. For the filling, dried glass noodles were soaked in hot water, canned chickpeas were mashed, dried mushrooms were rehydrated and chopped, carrot was grated, and tofu was patted dry and grated. All of that was combined with chopped green onions, potato starch, salt, pepper, and soy sauce and mixed until it came together. The filling was then pressed into a baking pan and cut into portions. Trust this process. It worked perfectly. To moisten the rice paper, a mix of coconut cream, white vinegar, and molasses was brushed onto each side. It’s messy, but fabulous. Again, it works. A portion of filling was added on top of each rice paper round before being folded in and rolled. A cooling rack was set into a baking sheet, the rolls were placed on the rack, and they were baked. Halfway through baking, the rolls were turned, and then baked until browned. After cooling a bit, the rolls were cut with kitchen scissors and served with butter lettuce, herbs, pickled vegetables, and nuoc cham. 

It’s kind of a thrill to try something new in the kitchen and see a great result. I admit to being skeptical about brushing the rice paper rounds with coconut cream and that being enough to soften them. But, I trusted the author enough to proceed as instructed. These rolls were delightful, and I can’t wait to try more new things from this book.

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