Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vietnamese Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Try this fun appetizer if you're hosting any event at all this holiday season. It was my first time working with rice paper, but I found the process enjoyable and not too difficult.

For the sauce:
  • 1/2 cup organic seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 agave nectar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts
For the rolls:
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 4 teaspoons minced and peeled fresh ginger
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 3 cups Gardein chick'n strips
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce (such as Whole Foods 365)
  • 1 teaspoon hot chile sauce (such as Thai Kitchen)
  • 12 (8-inch) sheets round rice paper
  • 3 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
  • 36 (2-inch) slices julienne-cut, seeded, and peeled cucumber
  • 36 (2-inch) slices julienne-cut red bell pepper
  • 36 mint leaves
1. To make the sauce, whisk together the rice vinegar, agave, and salt.  Stir in the peanuts.  Set aside.

2. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger, garlic, and chicken; saute for 5 minutes.  Combine the chicken mixture in a bowl with the hoisin sauce and hot chile sauce.  Chill up to a few hours before putting together the rest of the rolls.

Note: if you can't find Gardein chick'n strips, buy any variety of the company's chicken breasts and cut 3 chicken breasts into 1/4-inch wide strips, omitting the accompanying sauce.

3. To prepare the rolls, fill a large shallow dish with hot water to a depth of 1 inch.  Place 1 rice paper sheet in the dish and let stand just until soft - about 15 to 30 seconds.

Note: be careful, because if you let the rice paper soak too long it will fold up on itself...but don't worry if you need a practice round or two, since there will be more rice paper sold per package than you need for this recipe.  Don't forget to keep the remaining rice paper covered over with a dish towel as you work, otherwise the sheet on top will curl up.

4. Place the softened rice paper on a flat surface.  Top half of the sheet with 1/4 cup romaine, 1/4 cup chicken mixture, 3 cucumber strips, 3 bell pepper strips, and 3 mint leaves, leaving a 1-inch border from all edges.

Note: I recommend having all of your ingredients prepped and lined up, so you can work quickly at this stage.

5. Fold in the sides of the sheet over the filling, and roll up starting from the filled side, jelly-roll fashion.  Press the seam to seal.  Place the roll, seam side down, on a platter.  Cover with a dish towel to prevent from drying out while you repeat the procedure with the remaining rice paper and ingredients.  As mentioned previously, this was my first time working with rice paper, but I marveled at how forgivable it is (unlike, say, phyllo dough), so don't worry about tearing it as you roll up.

6. Slice the rolls in half diagonally and serve with the dipping sauce.  You'll want to serve soon after rolling, or the rice paper will dry out.

Pair this appetizer with other noshes such as black bean dip, crackers, vegan cheese (especially the feta from Sunergia), or vegan shrimp cocktail.

Nutrition Info:
12 servings (1 roll, about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons sauce), Calories 176 

Tasting Notes:
So much going on in these rolls, where to begin? Delicious hoisin-smothered Gardein chicken, and the perfect crisp, fresh balance from the veggies - especially the mint leaves.  The dipping sauce had a nice balance between tangy vinegar and sweet agave.  I didn't love the peanuts floating in the sauce, and would wrap chopped peanuts up in the rolls themselves, next time.  As a personal preference, I also wasn't a huge fan of the texture of the rice paper - a little chewy and gelatinous.  I might serve the same ingredients in lettuce wraps next time.  But the flavors combined beautifully, making this a delicious appetizer nonetheless.


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