Months ago my friend Helen had promised me some of her homemade spring rolls, but as with most things in life, something pesky called work got in the way. These crispy rolls had a reputation that preceded them in the best of ways, and naturally I was sorely disappointed I would have to wait until another day to finally sample them.
Fast forward to now, and Helen mentioned she still owed me some down home cooking. Heck yeah. Bring it on. She then upped the ante and asked if I’d like to learn how to make these fried packages bursting with Vietnam’s finest ingredients. Oh yeah! Definitely teach me please! I hope to export my new found Vietnamese cooking skills back to the US so I can still savor these dishes 8,000 miles removed from their homeland.
This was the perfect set up as Helen had even done all the shopping. She plopped the ingredients down in front of me…ground pork, dried mushrooms reconstituted in water, taro root, glass noodles, omelet, pepper, and rice paper. The stuffing in a batch of moo shoo pork is vaguely reminiscent in a way, and even tastes suspiciously similar.
My instructions were to reduce the giant taro root into finely julienned strips of even size. The look Helen shot me told me right off I had failed at the simple task of taking a sharp knife blade to a simple vegetable. After about 30 minutes of practice I finally had an array of assorted sizes and shapes, and Helen sifted through the pile. She told me they were fine which I do believe was just a polite code for “what the hell is this mess?”
Rolling these things up in moistened rice paper presented an even greater challenge. If I could get the sticky sheets from tearing, forming the actual rolls was an even bigger challenge. Helen so deftly maneuvered the ingredients into perfectly tight cylinders. Just like with the taro root, my handiwork yielded a bevy of interesting interpretations of the basic Vietnamese spring roll.
Helen is just too nice. She complimented my attempts and assured me they would fry up just fine. I watched these things sizzling in oil and couldn’t help thinking that in a few minutes my guts would be doing the same from all the grease. That’s ok though. How often do we learn first hand how to make something so delicious? As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think I’ve met many foods that weren’t enhanced by a hot lard bath.
These were probably the best spring rolls I have ever had and that a friend shared with me her recipe and skills made them that much better.