It could be the fact that the nearest Vietnamese restaurant is three international flights away or that I haven't personally had Vietnamese food in eons, but this meal elicited groans of "Oh, my God...." from me, and "This is the bomb!" from my husband.
It all started with this. Tofu. I had to bake it for this recipe. Half had been sitting in soy sauce for two days and the other just plain.
We ordered Chinese take out on Friday night and as my husband conferred with me as to what to order, I remembered a friend telling me that the folks at the restaurant don't bat an eye when you ask for a block of tofu to go.
So, two days later, with the tofu staring at me in the fridge and with all the fresh herbs from the market this morning, I sought out a recipe for summer rolls and found this one at Epicurious. I modified it as required, meaning using what I had on hand, which didn't require much adjusting.
NB: only the fresh herbs, cucs, carrot, vinegar, salt and sugar were purchased locally. The rest either came in our shipment, in a suitcase, or bought from a departing expat.
Here's what you need.
Rice paper rounds, rice sticks, lime juice (or True Lime since it would take one international flight to find limes), tofu, hoisin, peanut butter, sugar, jalapeno (pickled in my case), vinegar (no rice wine vinegar in my pantry), carrot, cuc, mint, cilantro and basil.
Using a cheap-o mandoline, I carefully grated the carrot and cucumber.
Next, I chopped the one pickled jalapeno.
Then I chopped up all the lovely fresh herbs.
Ran to the garden and plucked a few crunchy lettuce leaves and washed them in clean filtered water.
Then I blanched the carrot matchsticks in boiling water for 45 seconds and quickly dipped in ice cold water to stop the cooking.
After they blanched, I mixed the carrots, cucumber, jalapeno in a small bowl with the vinegar, sugar and salt and let it mingle for five minutes getting to know each other.
While that was going on I made the sweet and sour dipping sauce. Peanut butter, hoisin and a couple of tablespoons of the vinegar juice from the marinating vegetables above.
Next the cellophane noodles. Aren't they so damned cute? All bundled like that?
Those are submerged in hot water to soften for about ten minutes.
Once you have all your bits and pieces lined up in an assembly line, it's time to soak the wrappers. Two at a time in boiling water for about 30 seconds.
And once you finagle the little buggers out of the pie plate and onto your work surface, you want to line them up in concentric circles, overlapping by about an inch.
Which, by the way is brilliant! I've never done this before, and it prevents them from splitting open and letting your guts fall out. These are big rolls so they need the extra reinforcement. If I were to make these as appetizers, I'd use one wrapper and put about 1/3 the filling in.
Next, you start piling on the goodies. Lettuce, cellophane noodles, baked tofu, pickled veg and chopped herbs.
Next, wipe the sweat from your brow, take a deep breath and start rolling, tucking the sides in after one complete flip. Really make it snug. Keep rolling and at the same time, pray that it works and you don't have to scrap the post altogether because of a ruptured summer roll.
But when this happens, do a jig. And make it a big jig. The wrappers, once you get them on the work surface are very forgiving. They are sticky and pliable and will do just about anything you ask them to.
Then, hand this to your husband and bask in the certainty that you get to choose which TV show to watch tonight. It's all about House, Season Five, my friends and not Ken Burns' America on Thomas Hart Benton.