Growing up, I heard story after story about my uncles. I’ve mentioned them briefly here but for a quick refresher, my mother had two younger brothers, P. and A. When P. was in high school, he was on the wrestling team with S., a young man from Japan who was boarding with a family while he attended the local high school. His family was in South America. Eventually, S. moved into my grandparents’ home and became a member of our family.
S. was born in Japan and continues to travel back and forth often. He still has an extremely heavy accent and one of my very favorite memories is listening to him talk with my cousin K., who is Israeli. It was like a meeting of the United Nations in my kitchen. Actually, to be fair, when my whole family is together, both the blood and adopted relatives, there are often several countries represented.
Since S. lived with my grandparents through college- he attended a local one and so came home on vacations- my grandmother learned how to make sushi and other Japanese dishes (she also learned a bit of Japanese. Things like, “WAKE UP!”). As a result, I grew up eating all kinds of “exotic” foods including sushi at a fairly young age. I can remember tasting saki at one point and wondering why anyone would like it– I’ve since reformed my opinion. The famous family story is that my grandmother would make chocolate chip cookies for college care packages for my mom and her bio-brothers but sushi care packages for S. He’s the only one who wasn’t asked to share in his dorm!
This is all a very long-winded way of saying that, despite being Jewish, Asian food is something I grew up eating. My grandmother learned how to cook authentic Chinese food because a friend of my grandfather’s from his MIT days lived with my grandparents for a bit and his wife taught my grandmother. That’s actually a story for another post- the couple was here for an MIT reunion but then Tiananmen Square happened and they couldn’t go home. I promise to tell it sometime. Anyway, Asian food is as much in my blood as matzo balls.
So it was embarrassing to have a friend join me for dinner and for me to completely screw up the Asian themed menu.
My friend B. is a new friend. She started working at one of my schools this year and, I will freely admit, I developed a bit of a girl-crush on her. She’s tall and beautiful and funny and so damn smart. I have many, many good friends so this is going to sound a bit odd, but I don’t make friends easily. Most of the friends I have I’ve known for years and years. Anyway, I decided I wanted to be friends with B. Luckily, she wanted to be friends with me too and we’ve managed to get together a few times outside of work. She’s fantastic with my daughter, which of course goes a long way with me, and she’s funny and still so damn smart. Plus, she got me a job teaching so I feel like I totally owe her. How do I repay my debts? By cooking for you, of course. B. contributed wine, a delicious dessert and a fabulous frosted cookie for baby G. Those were definitely the best parts of dinner!
Sadly, my part did not go well. I made the yummy asian noodle soup but added too much fish sauce so it was far, far too salty. B. was nice and choked it down but I felt badly. I had tried to fix it earlier but to no avail. That was ok, though, because I had also made a rice-paper-wrapper version of spring rolls. This was an experiment and I think they were, well, not as big a failure as the soup. I would maybe experiment a bit more with the cooking method because I am not used to deep-frying but I couldn’t make the pan fried ones stay together because the rice paper was so thin. I was using rice paper wrappers, which are usually used for summer rolls which are not fried, because B. doesn’t eat a whole lot of gluten. Some, but not a ton. I’ve made these before with wheat-based wrappers and it does work to pan fry them then. So I was looking at it as a challenge. Which I sort of failed. Sigh.
At any rate, I give you a recipe in process. Do with it what you will.
1/2 package coleslaw mix (I used a small package of “confetti slaw”)
1/2 lb. ground dark meat chicken
1-2 Tb. soy sauce
1-2 Tb. sesame oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb ginger, minced
5-6 rice paper wrappers
Heat the sesame oil in a deep pan or wok over medium high heat. Add the ground chicken and cook through. I think I may have sprinkled a little bit of Chinese five spice powder in as well but it’s not totally necessary. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute. Add the slaw mix and cook for two to three minutes. You want them soft but not mushy. Set aside to cool slightly.
If you’re using rice paper wrappers, you’ll need to soak them in hot water for a few seconds on each side in order to make them pliable. I put water on a plate and soaked the wrappers one by one, switching sides a few times. I didn’t want them to get soggy but I needed to be able to move them around. Put the soaked wrapper on a flat surface. Place a few spoonfuls of filling in the upper middle of the wrapper.Wrap the top part over and towards you, pushing the filling together. Fold in the sides and continue to roll towards you until you have a sort of fat cigar kind of thing. Set aide and continue until you run out of filling. Do not stack them, keep them separated on a flat surface. Also, can’t hurt to cover them with a damp paper towel. Now, here is where the fail started. I tried to simply pan-fry these in a little bit of sesame oil. However, I couldn’t get my pan temperature correct and so the wrapper stuck. So I decided to deep fry. I heated up a few inches of canola oil in my iron pot. I heated to about 360 degrees which is somewhere between french fries and fried chicken temperature. I dropped a few in at a time and turned them once or twice. They cooked pretty quickly and only one fell apart. They were good but a bit oily. I did let them drain on paper towels which helped.
They were good, flavor-wise (despite the oil) but I’m sure I could do better. Definitely not my best work. I’m going to have to have B. over for dinner again, when I can make something more impressive.
*sorry about the photos- I was using my iphone and didn’t notice the weird lighting in the kitchen. Clearly, this is an apology post. Perhaps I’ll have to create a new tag!