Sunday, August 31, 2008

Soaking up the last of the summer produce: Vietnamese summer rolls

Apologies for the posting lapse! I had intended to post one last recipe before our long vacation in Maine but time got away from me and I unfortunately left without putting my post up.

We had a wonderful time in Maine. I am going through photos and will have some to share next week. It was great to get away to a completely different environment, and I’ve come back with all sorts of recipe and photography ideas that I’m excited to get to!

Before we left, I revisited an old recipe for Vietnamese summer rolls that is so perfect for lazy summer lunches or light dinners. It does light duty of cooking and makes use of fresh produce. I always feel healthy and light on my toes after a meal of these!

The recipe is informal; you can stuff the rolls with whatever you like or have on hand. It takes a little practice to wrap a nice-looking roll: the trick is to wrap them tightly, folding the ends down over your ingredients and starting with the insides placed off-center toward the long side you begin rolling from. As you go, place the ingredients you want to peak through the outside toward the end of the roll so they are visible when fully wrapped.

You can stuff the rolls with whatever appeals to you: there is no need for a formal recipe. Some favorite fillings include cellophane (rice) noodles (seasoned with a little lime juice and sesame oil), steamed, room-temperature shrimp or chicken, chives, bean sprouts, cucumber, red and yellow peppers sliced lengthwise, avocado, cilantro and mint. The vegetables are added raw and lend a fresh, satisfying crunch.

The classic way to serve these is with a dipping sauce and some nice crunchy lettuce to wrap on the outside along with the mint and cilantro.

Vietnamese summer rolls

To prepare the rice paper wrapper, dip wrapper in a bowl of warm water for five seconds, then transfer to your work area and wrap the roll. Keeping a wet towel or paper towel draped over the rolls will keep them from drying out as you finish the others. Serve rolls immediately when done.

Vietnamese dipping sauce (from Cooking Light)

½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 green chile pepper, very thinly sliced

Stir to combine and serve alongside rolls for dipping.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Purple reign: stuffed baby eggplant

I completely adore eggplant and have been feasting on it lately. In Chelsea market, there’s a green grocer that currently has many different varieties including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Zebra, and baby eggplant. They are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious.

I couldn’t resist picking up some beautiful neon Japanese eggplants and some adorable, plump baby eggplants. The Japanese eggplant got steamed and served with a spicy soy-based sauce. I wanted to use the baby eggplants in a recipe that would preserve their form and found a wonderful recipe for Geek-style stuffed eggplants with an eggplant-lamb-feta filling on the food network website of all places! I wish I could say that I added a stunningly original twist to the recipe but all I did was use baby eggplants instead of larger ones and add in some sautéed red pepper to the recipe.

The recipe sounded amazing and I knew it would hit the spot. It’s a great summer main dish. I served it with Israeli couscous which is a new favorite. The next day, I took leftover couscous, put it in ramekins, topped it with the remaining lamb-eggplant stuffing, sprinkled fresh feta on the top and broiled it in the oven for a great individually-proportioned leftover feast!

Greek-Style Stuffed Eggplant
(From Sara’s Secrets as printed on the Food Network website, adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

3 (1/2-pound) eggplants
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground lamb
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
3 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into julienne strips
1 cup crumbled feta
(optional: one red bell pepper)

Halve 2 of the eggplants lengthwise, score their pulp deeply with a sharp knife, being careful not to pierce the skins, and with a grapefruit knife scoop out the pulp, reserving it and leaving 1/2-inch-thick shells. Sprinkle the shells with 1 teaspoon salt and invert them on paper towels to drain for 15 to 30 minutes. Cut the reserved pulp and the remaining whole eggplant into 1/2-inch pieces, in a colander toss the pieces with the remaining salt, and let them drain for 15 to 30 minutes.

Pat the shells dry with paper towels, brush them with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and broil them on the rack of a broiler pan, skin side down, under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat until they are tender, about 5 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Saute the onion and the garlic until translucent (add ~ 1/2 diced red bell pepper if using). Add the ground lamb and the eggplant pieces, patted dry, stirring, until meat loses all color and eggplant is tender.

Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the parsley, mint, tomatoes, feta, and salt and pepper to taste, and divide the filling among the shells, mounding it. Broil the stuffed eggplants in a large flameproof baking dish for 5 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and golden.