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.
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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.
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.