Friday, January 18, 2013

Nime Chow: Vegan Challenge

I'm not gonna lie. I wasn't too happy when the Creative Cooking Crew announced the theme for January's challenge. Vegan. Soooo not my cup of tea. I love vegetables. I eat them all the time. But the idea of replacing "real" ingredients with "vegan" ones was not something I was willing to do. I would not be purchasing vegan butter, nor vegan cheese. These items do not belong in my kitchen. I decided that if I was going to participate, I had to do it on my own terms by making something that is naturally vegan.

Nime Chow is a personal favorite dish that I order regularly at local Asian restaurants. It's a raw spring roll, sometimes called a summer roll. The recipe states that it has Cambodian origins, but I have also seen Vietnamese references, so I'm not 100% sure who made it first. All I know is that I love it with its slightly chewy exterior and fresh and crunchy filling of fresh vegetables. And the peanut sauce... it's just bomb.

The skin is made of rice paper that is soaked in water to soften. It is then filled with bean sprouts, bean threads (or cellophane noodles), and veggies. Sometimes it also contains shrimp, but being a vegan challenge I omitted that. The peanut sauce also traditionally contains fish sauce, so I included that as an optional ingredient if being truly vegan isn't much of an issue for you. If you want the sauce to be vegan like the rolls, simply omit the fish sauce.

I was actually most excited that this recipe came from a local restaurant in my home town! How random is that? I Googled and this is what came up. The current owners make their Nime Chow differently from this older recipe, and to be honest I don't really like it anymore. It's all bean threads and hardly anything else. I prefer the Nime Chow at some other restaurants in town, but I used this original recipe and made a few tweaks to make it the way I like it.

The good thing about this dish is that you can easily switch up some of the filling ingredients. Also, the dish doesn't require any actual cooking! Just soaking and assembling, so it would be really nice to prepare on a hot summer day. Sigh... a hot summer day would be nice right about now...

Next time, I would double the amount of bean threads. It was a bit skimpy, in my opinion. I'd like a bit more in there, but once again, the fun of these rolls is that you can make them to your liking. Just adjust the filling as you wish. And don't forget the deliciously sweet-and-sour peanut-laced sauce. It's not your typical peanut sauce but it is the perfect dressing for these fresh and healthy rolls.

Nime Chow
Makes 8 rolls
(Adapted from Galaxie Restaurant)

1 ounce uncooked bean threads (cellophane noodles)
12 (8-inch) round sheets rice paper
2 cups thinly sliced curly leaf lettuce
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
24 medium basil leaves

Peanut Sauce:
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional for a non-vegan sauce)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

Combine bean threads and 2 cups hot water in a bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Drain; cut into 2-inch lengths with scissors.

Add cold water to a large shallow dish to a depth of 1 inch. Cut 4 rice paper sheets in half, leaving remaining 8 sheets whole. Place 1 whole rice paper sheet and 1 half rice paper sheet in dish of water. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes or until soft (but don't over soak because then it will tear easily and be harder to work with). Remove sheets from water.

Place whole rice paper sheet on a flat surface; top with half sheet, lining up edges of both sheets. Place 1/4 cup lettuce over half sheet, leaving a 1/2-inch border around outer edge of half sheet. Arrange 2 tablespoons grated carrot, 1 tablespoon bean threads, 2 tablespoons bean sprouts, and 3 basil leaves over lettuce. Fold sides of rice paper sheets over filling; roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Gently press seam to seal; place, seam side down, on a serving platter (cover to keep from drying). Repeat procedure with remaining rice paper sheets, lettuce, carrot, bean threads, bean sprouts, and basil.

Cut each roll in half crosswise.

To make the sauce, combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Cool completely. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve with the rolls.


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