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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fresh spring rolls

Despite the flurries we've been getting every few days (and the fact that I am afraid to take the studded tires off my car) it IS technically Spring!  And what better food for Spring than fresh, Vietnamese-inspired spring rolls.

We all know that crispy, deep-fried spring rolls are amazing (as demonstrated recently by a good blogger friend).  Sort of like eggrolls but more bite sized.  But have you tried fresh spring rolls?  They are served cold and present the refreshing flavours of-mint, cilantro, and cucumber.  The cucumber, rice vermicelli and grated carrot provide addictive texture.  And, you know, they are not that hard to make!

Fresh Spring Rolls

A good online recipe is found here.  Let me take you through it.

To make 12 - 15 rolls, you will need:

1 pkg rice paper wrappers (there will be some left over)
1 pkg rice vermicelli, prepared as per package instructions
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced into matchsticks
2-3 carrots, shredded
1/2 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

For the marinade:

1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp fermented fish sauce
2 1/2 tbsp lime juice

Combine the marinade ingredients.  Give 2 tbsp to the noodles, 1 tbsp to the carrots+peanuts (mix them together), and 1 tbsp to the cucumber matchsticks.  For anyone who crinkles their nose at the works "fermented fish", just let me say that fish sauce is the magical ingredient that adds that je ne sais quoi to so many delicious asian recipes.  So give it a shot!  It's like an extra flavourful soy sauce.

Now you're ready for the assembly!  I recommend having a fabulous assistant or two.  There is an illustrated montage at the bottom of these instructions.

1.  Prepare your work area:  one station should have a pie plate or shallow pan containing 1-2 inches of lukewarm water for soaking the rice paper, the other should have a clean, damp tea towel to blot the paper and do the assembly.
2.  Soak the rice paper in a few inches of lukewarm water for about 1 minute, or until the paper loses its stiffness and becomes slightly sticky.
3.  Blot the rice paper dry by laying it on the damp towel, folding the towel edges over the paper and lightly pressing to remove excess water.
4.  Add the fillings:  4-5 pieces of cuke, a spoonful of carrot+peanut mixture, a sprinkle of fresh herbs, and a glob of noodes (you will get a feeling for the appropriate amount of noodles as you make a few rolls).
5.  Now when it comes to positioning the fillings on the rice paper, I didn't think I could describe it properly so here is my feeble attempt at illustrating it for you:
6.  Now that all of your delicious, juicy fillings are in place, you can wrap that sucker up.  If you make sandwich wraps at home, it's the same basic principle.  Fold up the bottom flap so it covers or partially covers the filling, then fold over the left side, then the right side, then roll it up to seal it.  The starch in the wet rice paper provides a nice stickiness that will keep the roll together.


making spring rolls

[soaking rice paper - rice paper ready to blot - adding filling - cooked vermicelli - making bottom flap - folding left side - folding right side - rolling it up - complete]

Spring roll


One last note:  peanut satay sauce makes an excellent dip for these rolls (and you know I love dip).  For peanut satay sauce you can go fancy or simple.  Ours was more of the simple variety and paired beautifully with the rolls.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Red lentil pâté

With the summer barbecue and entertaining season around the corner, I thought I'd share this recipe for a delicious savoury dip/spread.  The texture is quite similar to hummous; the taste is much more complex.  It can be served on a cracker, with pita-toasts, with nachos or spread on baguette slices.  It takes a little more effort than, say, hummous but I think, in this case, the extra effort is proportional to the extra flavour!  And isn't cooking for yourself all about putting in extra effort for a delicious result?

Red lentil pate

The first step is to cook up your lentils.  We always have red lentils on hand since they are the base of one of our favorite recipes.  You may also recognize them from such places as my blog header.


Bring the lentils and some water (1:4 ratio) to a boil.  (I used about 3/4 cup of dry lentils for this batch because it's what we had, but the recipe calls for 1 cup.  Both amounts are reasonable.)  Add a bay leaf.  Skim off any foam from the surface and discard.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about a half hour.  Drain in a fine-mesh strainer when finished.

There's lots to do while the lentils boil.  First, let's take care of the spices...

Mortar and pestle

...with this guy.  One of Mike's birthday gifts, it's brought our cooking to a whole new level.


[1/2 tsp caraway seeds]


[1/2 tsp cumin seeds]


[1 tsp coarse sea salt]


[grind what needs grinding]

Other spices for this recipe include:


[1 tsp coriander]


[1/8 tsp cayenne pepper]

Overall, I would advise you to be quite liberal with the spices, and make a scant measurement of the salt (or you could outright reduce it to a 1/2 tsp).

Once your spices are taken care of, head back to the stove.

Pine nuts

[1/3 to 1/2 cup of pine nuts]

The recipe next calls for the pine nuts to be sautéed along with a finely diced small onion for 5-7 minutes, in 3 tbsp olive oil.  What I think would work better, in terms of getting the pine nuts to brown and give off more flavour, would be to dry toast them in a dry frying pan for a few minutes without any onion or oil, just until they all start to brown.  For those of you who haven't tried it, dry toasting raw nuts is a surefire way to increase their flavour.

After sautéing your onion and pine nuts in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, add your salt and spices to the pan along with 3 pressed or chopped cloves of garlic and a generous tablespoon of tomato paste. (Please note:  it's the tomato paste that gives the pâté it's colour.  Boiled red lentils are not red at all. You'll see.  They're not even orange.  We were out of tomato paste but I knew it was a non-negotiable ingredient, so we cracked open a can of tomato sauce and reduced it for a few minutes in a saucepan.)  Cook for another 5 minutes.

Onion-pine nut saute

[sautéing, pre-tomato paste]

You next add a shot glass two tablespoons worth of lemon juice to deglaze your pan.  I think it's obvious that you should use freshly-squeezed lemon juice if at all possible, but I was making this with what I had on hand (and I came so close) so I caved and went for the bottled lemon juice.

Lemon juice

[lemon shot]

You are almost done!  Grab your handy immersion blender food-processor attachment (or other preferred purée tool) and blend the warm, drained lentils with the warm pine-nut-and-spice combo.  The pâté can be served warm or cold.  I've had it both ways and they're both delicious.  If it's feasible to serve it warm, go for it.  If you are bringing it along to a party or potluck, it might be more practical to chill it first.



And there you have it.  A dip with a lovely texture and complex flavour.  Trust me, it's worth the extra effort!

Red lentil pate

[ready to eat]

Monday, April 18, 2011


So... a month after I left the place, I'm deciding to give you all a glimpse into an interesting little corner of Newfoundland and Labrador:  the Labrador coastal community of Natuashish.  This is an Innu community that I visited for a week as part of my month-long work/school rotation in Labrador (more Lab posts here and here).

Natuashish is unlike any place I've ever been in Canada.  For those of you who haven't heard of the place... does the name Davis Inlet ring a bell?  Natuashish is the "new" community to which the people of Davis Inlet relocated after social and environmental issues reached a breaking point in the late 1990s.  For more background on Davis Inlet and the relocation, see this article from 2005 (obviously out-of-date with regards to current conditions in Natuashish, but a reasonable history of the community)

Map of Natuashish

[town map with assigned land plots]

The Labrador coast is stunning.  It can be reached only by boat and by air.  During the winter months, small, fixed-wing aircraft is the way to go.  The airport at Natuashish is so tiny that it is actually unmanned - the pilots control the landing strip lights remotely.  When the strip lights go up, you know the next flight arrives in five minutes.


[Air Labrador plane]

labrador river

[coastal Labrador - view from the air]

Wharf in Natuashish

[the dock - out of commission for the winter]

As you can imagine, all larger items have to be delivered to the community by boat.  So do commodities like fuel oil and gasoline.  If you want a new vehicle, you had better get it taken care of before October.

Snow drift

[snow drift]

On a few days, I had to wade to work through hip-deep snow drifts.  I found it hard to believe that this winter was relatively snow-free by Natuashish standards.  Typically, winter transportation is solely by snowmobile because of the massive amounts of snowfall on the coast.  This year, cars and trucks were still fully operational throughout the winter.  It's probably a sign of climate change, but I was secretly glad to drive around in a vehicle with four doors.  Why?  Partly because of the utter cold, partly because of the packs of 10-15 dogs (!) that roamed the town.

Band offices

[Innu band office]

Healing lodge

[healing lodge]

Sweat lodge

[sweat lodge]



Spending only a week in the community does not put me in any position to critique the social, environmental and health issues of the place.  So I won't.  But it has to be said that this community has a lot of challenges facing it:  addictions, safety issues, chronic disease, cultural change.  It's a beautiful place and good people live there.  I really don't know what else to say... I really just wish the best for the people of Natuashish in addressing and overcoming some of these issues from within.

View from Natuashish water station


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More quinoa

Wow.  Last new post was on March 19th.  Sorry about that!  As you may recall from either knowing me or from this post, there are a few big changes going on in my life right now (in a good way!).  So I've been mildly distracted.

Despite my overflowing proverbial plate, a girl's gotta eat.  So here is a tasty item to put on an actual plate:  warm tomato-basil quinoa.


This recipe was given to me by my "aunt" at my wedding shower.  The shower was kitchen-themed - very appropriate!  - and each guest was to bring their favorite recipe.  I now have all of those recipes in a binder and refer to it often.  Genius idea - thank you, Sara and Michaela.

Quinoa is lovely with Asian-style dressings or served cold, as this previous quinoa post demonstrates.  But you may not realize just how savoury and delicious it can get with the right ingredients.

Like basil:




(Yes, the freeze-dried stuff.  This little bottle came in very handy during my month in the wilds of Labrador.  It tastes just like the real thing.)


fresh mushrooms

and tomatoes:


Now do what you know you want to do and fry up that garlic in some butter:

garlic butter

Obviously, the next step is to add the mushrooms (garlic-butter-fried mushrooms is my new number one crave):

sauteed mushrooms

Meanwhile, your quinoa has been bubbling away in vegetable broth (1 part quinoa to 2 parts broth).  The quinoa brand you buy will have cooking instructions on the package.  When it's time to remove the quinoa from the heat, toss in the sauteed mushrooms and fresh, diced tomatoes, like so:


Now, cover and let stand for about 5 minutes.  To finish the dish, you need to add a generous handful of fresh basil, lots of fresh-ground black pepper (use some elbow grease) and a good solid 1/2 cup of freshly-grated parmesan cheese.  Or a full cup if your hand 'slips' while grating it.  Mix it all up, and then settle down with a big plate of your newest comfort food.


It's there for a good time, not a long time:

empty plate

Well, I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as much as I do.  It's a staple in the wedding-shower binder.  Thank you Aunt Clair, for the great addition!