Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Breath Of Fresh Air: Nem Nướng Cuốn (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)


There's snow, and then there's 28 inches of snow.

To be honest, I've always had a soft spot for the white stuff. Only a particularly prodigious storm can turn the city into a pastoral winter landscape worthy of the collective Pieters Bruegel -- and yesterday's precipitation did just that. That being said, enjoying the snowfall doesn't mean I like the aftermath; a solid week of ice, wind, and muddy sludge collecting in storm drains. It doesn't take long to go from cabin-like security to cabin fever. The cold alone will do it to ya.

The point is this -- February can be a demanding month. Spring is just around the corner, and yet so far away. For that reason, this week's recipe gives you a reason to look ahead, a reason to remember that sunshine, green leaves, and maybe even tall, cool glasses of lemonade are only about 10 weeks away. Let's get to it.

Nem Nướng Cuốn (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)
Makes about twelve rolls

1 pound Ground Pork (fattier the better)
1 medium Yellow Onion
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons Sugar
3 cloves of Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Fresh-Cracked Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce (optional, but preferred)

Vegetable Oil

6 Scallions
1 English Cucumber
8 to 10 sprigs Mint
4 Cups Mung Bean Sprouts

1 package Rice Paper Spring Roll Wrappers

Place your Onion, Garlic, Sugar, and Fish Sauce into a food processor. Pulse at first, then turn on full blast. Allow the processor to chop the ingredients until you have a smooth and watery puree.

Next, add in your Pork and Pepper. Once again, place the processor on full blast. You will know the ingredients are well mixed when they gather into a large ball and spin around the bowl on the edge of the blade.

At this point, we have to form and cook the pork patties. These will be the "spine" of the rolls, and should be shaped accordingly. Remembering that they will shrink while cooking, form the pork into thin strips, roughly one inch wide, 1/2 inch thick, and four inches long.

Heat a skillet filled with two or three tablespoons of Vegetable Oil over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, place your patties in the pan. Cook each patty for three or four minutes a side, or until well-browned and cooked through.

Drain your patties on a plate covered with paper toweling. While the patties cool, assemble and/or chop all your veggies. Clockwise, from top left: Mung Bean Sprouts, Scallions, English Cucumber, Mint.

From here, it's simply a matter of assembling the rolls. Dip each rice paper wrapper in warm water until softened, then place it, spread out, on a large plate. At the center, put one pork patty, three or four sprouts, three or four cucumber slices, three or four scallion slices, and a few leaves of mint. Fold one end of the wrapper over the assembled ingredients, then bring in the two sides. Finish by rolling the assembled package up using the remaining leaf.

Top each roll with one or two more mint leaves, and serve with a side of Nước mắm. the final product:

This is really quite easy to make, and remarkably flexible, too. Don't have sprouts? Julienne up some Carrots. Want some strips of Red Pepper in there? Knock yourself out. With the exception of the Rice Paper Wrappers (and, depending where you live, the Fish Sauce), all of these ingredients can be found in your standard supermarket. My advice? Keep the wrappers on hand, and you'll be ready to go at a moment's notice.

This is a great snack, and the completed rolls will keep in your fridge (with a moist paper towel on top of them) for about 24 to 48 hours -- assuming you don't eat all of them by then. Make some, and I promise you; Spring will be here before you know it.

Music: Antonio Vivaldi - "Winter" and "Spring"


  1. Nice job, you gotta do what you gotta do to make nem nuong!

  2. What a crazy snow storm! I never saw anything like that during my Philly days. Your nem nuong looks very tasty!


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