I still remember the first spring roll I ever ate. I was in high school and my friend bought a lunch container of spring rolls from the grocery store. I asked him what it was and he let me try one. At the time, I had eaten the fried version of the roll from cheap Chinese restaurants.So, I had no idea what to expect. My first thought was about the wrapper. I did not know that spring roll wrappers were opaque and soft. The roll was filled with vegetables, some I had never heard of, and cooked shrimp. It was paired with a simple ginger and soy sauce. The first bite I took tasted fresh, unlike the fried rolls. In a way, it was unreal how a roll with very few ingredients could taste so good.
Ten years later, I’m living in East Asia and making spring rolls. Surprisingly, the spring rolls that aren’t fried are difficult to find in Nanjing. So, I’ve learned how to make them at home.
At first, I thought making spring rolls was tedious. It does take time to prepare the ingredients before you put them in the spring roll wrapper, especially if you are using an ingredient that needs to be cooked beforehand. When I make them with noodles, I will wait fifteen minutes for the noodles to cool down before handling them. Now that I’ve had more practice, I find it relaxing.
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with fillings to see what works and what doesn’t. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
* Cucumbers and carrots are crunchy and keep well overnight in the fridge.
* Bell peppers are good for spring rolls that you plan on eating now, but they slip out of the spring roll when you try to eat one.
* Seasoned vermicelli noodles allow the spring rolls to become a meal, instead of an appetizer, and you don’t have to make a dipping sauce.
If you have some other ingredients that you enjoy adding to your spring rolls, feel free to tell me in the comment section below.
Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Miso and Sesame Vermicelli
Peel the carrot and cucumber. Place them in two separate piles.
Cook the vermicelli per the directions on the package. While they are cooking, combine the miso, sesame oil and soy sauce in a bowl. Stir until the miso is no longer lumpy.
When the vermicelli is done cooking, place them in a heat resistant bowl and add the sauce. Mix the noodles until they are covered with the sauce.
Wrapping the Spring Rolls
Place lukewarm water in a shallow bowl or pan. This will be used to soak the wrappers.
Take one wrapper and place it in the water for twenty seconds. On the package, it may say ten seconds, but you really need twenty seconds.
When the wrapper is soft, place it flat on your counter top. Then, add your fillings near the bottom edge of your wrapper.
Next, fold the right side in, followed by the left. Finally, fold over the bottom edge and "tuck in" your ingredients. Continue rolling your spring roll. Once it is rolled, place it on a plate or leave it on your counter top.
Fried rice is one of the quickest Chinese dishes to make; it’s also one of the cheapest. When making fried rice all you need is rice and vegetables. You can make it with beef, chicken or top it with scrambled eggs. It’s very easy to make, especially for beginner cooks, and it gives me a chance to try some new Chinese ingredients.
Although I am not a vegetarian, I prefer to eat vegetarian Chinese dishes. I think that most of the sauces and spices used in Chinese cooking compliment vegetables and tofu well. Plus, Chinese vegetables are different from the ones we use in the U.S. The Woks of Life, a blog that focuses on traditional and non-traditional Chinese dishes has a whole glossary dedicated to Chinese vegetables. For this recipe, I decided to keep it simple with carrots and broccoli. However, in the past, I have used bok choy, scallions, bean sprouts, edamame and many other vegetables.
If you are going to try to make fried rice at home, I suggest that you have everything mise en place. This is a fancy French word meaning “putting in place”. Since you will have to work quickly when cooking the ingredients, it’s almost necessary to put all of your ingredients in separate bowls. If you don’t have everything in place, your food can burn and it will be disastrous, trust me.
Don’t be afraid to make fried rice at home. It’s simple to make and doesn’t require much time or money. Even in Nanjing, it’s cheaper for me to make friend rice at home than buying it at a restaurant. Lastly, it’s an easy way to start exploring the world of Chinese cooking.
In celebration of all things fall, I decided to make my squash soup. Soups are one of my favorite foods to eat this time of year. They are easy to make and you can let them cook for a while. Whenever I have no obligations for the day, I will take a couple of hours to make a soup. I love having the aromas from the spices fill my apartment.
A little less than a year ago, I made the first version of this soup. I was very proud of it but I forgot to write down the recipe. I’ve made it about five times since then and each time the soup took on a new flavor. Sometimes it was too sweet or there was way too much cinnamon. One time, I made a vegetable broth into the soup, put way too much salt in the broth and the soup turned out very salty and almost inedible. When I made the new version of this soup, I decided that I would take my time, record every part of the recipes and take lots of pictures in case I forgot a step.
One of my favorite ingredients in this recipe are the shallots. When I saw them in the grocery store, I was kind of skeptical about buying them. I wasn’t too sure about the flavor, especially since I used red onions in the previous versions. Adding the shallots to the recipe really added to the natural sweet flavors of the squash. Also, roasting the squash before hand made a huge difference in flavor.
In my opinion, this has to be the best version of my soup. It is not too sweet and is very aromatic. I think that it shows how much I have improved as a chef, and how much more I need to learn.
Since I’ve settled into my apartment, I’ve wanted to experiment with some new recipes. There is something about being in a new kitchen that makes me want to grab a notebook and write down ideas for recipes. I’ve wanted to perfect some old recipes as well. I found in one of my notebooks a recipe for teriyaki chicken that I made three months ago. The last time I made it a friend spent the night at my old apartment. So, as soon as I saw it a flood of memories washed over me. That has to be my favorite part about cooking; stumbling upon old recipes.
Also, I’ve been wanting to experiment with new sauces. Originally when I made the teriyaki sauce, I didn’t use cornstarch or any thickening agent. I liked that sauce but it was more of a marinade. I will definitely use it in the future, but it wasn’t what I wanted for dinner. I wanted that thick, sweet sauce that you get at an Asian restaurant in the mall, of course, with less sugar. I decided that the best thing for me to do was to combine the marinade with a thickening agent. I went with cornstarch and the fat from the chicken to give the vegetables a little extra flavor. Plus, I don’t like to waste food. I always try to reuse ingredients and throw only what I need to away.
I found this recipe at just the right time. I needed a chicken recipe that was simple and would challenge me to cook in a different way. It had to last for more than a day and would actually taste good the next day. I hate it when leftovers don’t taste good. It is the worst. I was able to take my old recipe, update it and make enough food to last for three days.
Simple Teriyaki Chicken with Red Cabbage and Broccoli
For the marinade: In a large mixing bowl whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, honey, garlic and ginger. Then, add one tablespoon of the cornstarch. Whisk the ingredients together one more time. The marinade should look cloudy.
Add the chicken to the marinade and let it sit for at least five minutes.
Once the chicken is done marinating, place it in an oven safe dish and let it bake for an hour at 170 degrees Celsius. *
When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, place the chicken in a bowl and leave the juices from the chicken in the dish.
Next, strain the juices from the chicken into a bowl. This will be made into a sauce.
In a frying pan, on medium heat pour the juice from the chicken in the pan. Add in the other tablespoon of corn starch and quickly whisk it around. When it’s done, the sauce should bubble up and not look lumpy.
Place the vegetables in the pan with the sauce and toss them around for two minutes. You’ll know when it’s done when the cabbage should be a light purple color and the broccoli should be greener.
Once the vegetables are done, remove them from the heat. When plating the dish add a little extra sauce from the pan on top of the chicken.
I cooked the chicken in a convection oven. If you cook it in a regular oven, it may cook in a shorter period of time.