Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 194! Vietnam ~ Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Nuoc Cham (Vegetarian) - Up Next Yemen

Tuyệt vời - That's as close as I can come to the Vietnamese translation for the word awesome. Vietnamese food is my very favorite Asian cooking style, as it relies on fresh, clean flavors and is much lighter than my close second favorite, Thai cooking. Plus the standard combination of mint, lemon grass and basil is just insanely, insanely sexy -- in an herby way. Without even thinking about it, I can tell you that  any time I'm lucky enough to get to a Vietnamese restaurant, I always order the Spring (Summer) rolls. I love the look and texture of the the rice paper wrappers, crunchy fresh vegetables, chewiness of the tofu, cellophane noodles and sweet/hot mix of the accompanying sauce. And of course, they're just so pretty. I've made won-tons, pot stickers and egg rolls before, but have never attempted these until today. All I can say is...dayyyam, these are slammin'. Working with rice paper took a little getting used to as it's super thin and very delicate, but after a couple of clumsy tries, I got it down. I hope you will too!

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
Vietnam is the eastern-most country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Bordered by China, Laos, Cambodia and the South China Sea, this beautiful country boasts lush countrysides, mountains, a sparkling coastline and rolling rice fields. Having survived colonialism, communism and capitalism, Vietnam has finally come into its own and now considered one of the most spectacular countries on the earth to visit. The country became independent from China in 938, but was later colonized by the French in the mid 19 century. After the fist Indochina war, the French were expelled from the country, leaving Vietnam divided into south and north Vietnam. Following the Vietnam war in 1975, a communist government ruled the country until 1986 when market-based economic and political reforms took hold.

Cuisine in Vietnam is influenced by Chinese, French and Indian traditions. Dishes differ from region to region, but for the most part, fish sauce, shrimp paste soy sauce, rice fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables form the basis for this extraordinarily healthy food. Herbs such as lemon-grass, mint coriander and Thai basil leaves flavor and scent Vietnamese cooking. Unlike Chinese cooking that uses a fair amount of oil, Vietnamese cuisine uses far less oil and relies on fish, chicken, pork beef and seafood for protein. Known for beautiful, healthy vegetarian dishes (influenced by Budhist traditions and values), broths and soup-based dishes are also commonly eaten.

The basics: red leaf lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, mung beans, chilies and daikon
 Mint - the stuff that takes over my garden
 Julienned carrots and cucumbers
 Serrano chili for the Nuoc Cham sauce
 Rice paper wrappers (made in Vietnam)
 Working on a damp tea towel, lay the rice paper out, then put the lettuce leaf on first then layer the other ingredients - roll into a tight cylinder, tucking the ends in 1/2 way through.
 Slice on the diagonal and serve with sauce

Vietnamese Summer Rolls (Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Asian Cookbook)

8 rice-paper rounds, (12-inches in diameter)
8 red-leaf lettuce leaves, stems removed
2 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 15 min. and drained
1 carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1/2 small cucumber, peeled and seeded, then finely shredded
1/2-lb. block extra firm tofu, cut into 16 slices, each 4-inches long by 1/4-inch thick
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh mint
leaves from 1 bunch fresh cilantro

Working with 1 rice-paper round at a time, soak the round in warm water.

To assemble each roll, lay a lettuce leaf horizontally on the bottom half of the moistened rice paper. At the base of the lettuce place several strands of noodles, 1 teaspoon of the bean sprouts, and several leaves of mint and cilantro. Be careful not to over-stuff the rolls. Lift the bottom edge of the rice paper and carefully place over the noodles and other ingredients, then roll once to form a tight cylinder. Fold in the sides of the rice paper and continue to roll the rice paper and filling into a cylinder.

Place the prepared rolls, seam side down, on a platter and cover with a damp kitchen towel. The rolls can be held at room temperature for several hours before serving.

Just before serving, cut each roll in half at an angle. Serve with Nuoc Cham.

Nuoc Cham (condiment)

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon grated carrot
1 tablespoon grated daikon

Using a mortar and pestle (or mini food processor_), grind together the garlic and sugar until a paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice and 1/4 cup of water. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl and add the chile, carrot, and daikon. Makes about 2/3 cup.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 193! Venezuela - Alfajores: Dulce de Leche and Coconut Cookies - Up Next, Vietnam

Got myself a nasty little spring cold, but that's not enough to stop me from trying these amazing Alfajores cookies. I mean really - cognac, lemon zest, dulce de leche and coconut? A litle Hennesey will surely help with the congestion, and what sick girl doesn't feel better with a plate of cookies? I am a woman of appetite. Said to be traditional tea time or snack cookies, these have a wonderful, somewhat biscuit like texture that I love, and despite the ultra-rich dulce de leche filling, the cookies themselves are not over the top sweet. There are recipes for dulce de leche from scratch, but I used the quick version in which sweetened condensed milk is simply baked until golden brown. If you want a special cookie, with a unique South American flavor, I highly recommend you try these little gems of goodness.

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
Located on the northern coast of South America, Venezuela (Bolivian Republic of Venezuela), borders Columbia, Guyana and Brazil. This beautiful country's biodiversity includes habitats that range from the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Basin Rainforest, Llanos Plains and the sparkling Caribbean coast, to the Orinoco River delta in the east. Animal life includes manatees, Amazon River dolphins and crocodiles (to name but a few), as well as at least 1,417 bird species. Literally thousands of fungi and plant varieties grow wild in Venezuela, as well as at least 25,000 varieties of orchids. One the world's largest exporters of oil and oil reserves, Venezuela's economy has recovered from difficult years spent laboring under dictatorships, economic crisis and attempted coups to become a significant player in the global economy.

Cuisine in Venezuela varies greatly by region, but is influenced by indigenous and European influences, as well as by African and Native American traditions. Corn, rice, plantains, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, squash, beef and chicken are all staple foods enjoyed in this country.

Cream butter, sugar, then add egg yolks and egg
 Lemon zest gives the dough a wonderful, citrus flavor 
 Corn starch and all-purpose flour make a light cake flour
 Can anything with Hennessy by bad? That's a rhetorical question
Kneed the dough, then let rest for 15 minutes
 Cut into 2" rounds
 Spread dulce de leche on one cookie, then top and roll sides in coconut
 At my husband's suggestion, I drizzled a little dulce de leche on a few cookies
 Presto - these lasted about 10 minutes in my house before the dudes devoured them

Alfajores (Recipe Adapted from

12 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac
2 1/2 cups cornstarch
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Dulce de Leche
Grated coconut

Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the remaining ingredients except the dulce de leche and coconut until well blended. Knead on a floured work surface until the dough is smooth and let rest for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 20 minutes. When cool, spread some dulce de leche on the bottom of half the cookies and press another cookie on top, allowing some of the dulce de leche to squeeze from the sides. Roll the sides in the coconut until the sides are covered.

To make dulce de leche:

Pour 1 can sweetened condensed milk into 9-inch pie plate. Cover with aluminum foil. Place the pie plate in a in larger shallow pan filled with hot water. Do not allow the water to cover the smaller pan. Bake at 425 degrees F for 1 hour or until thick and caramel-colored.

© 2010-2012, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 192! Vatican City - Potato Gnocchi with Roman Gravy - Up Next, Venezuala

Today was the first day in several weeks that I've had a big enough block of time to dig into cooking a meal from the Vatican City. Delving into recipe ideas, I came across several for potato gnocchi with Roman gravy. Never having made gnocchi, I decided to give this a try, and boy was I glad. The recipe was easy, fun to make and the gravy was absolutely delicious. I used a small top round roast which I ground in my food processor. The result was a gravy with wonderful flavor and texture. My husband came home from work and promptly scoffed down an entire bowl - which I will just call dinner. If you've never tried making these and have kids, it makes a great family cooking project. If you don't have sweet little ones underfoot, make them for the fun of it and throw down a big old bowl along with a glass of hearty chianti classico. Ciao!

Established in 1929 by the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the Vatican City is a landlocked, sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. The Vatican City is also the smallest independent state in the world in both area and population. An ecclesiastical or sacerdotal  monarchical state, it is ruled by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, who also holds judicial power as well as principal legislative and executive power. Owing to its mild, Mediterranean climate, the Vatican Gardens (which cover more than half of the territory), are an impressive and beautiful tourist attraction with rich historic and botanical value. Initially planted during the Renaissance and Baroque era, the gardens are also enhanced by magnificent fountains and statues. Some of the most famous and magnificent art work is also housed within these ancient walls.

Roman cuisine is generally simple, relying on seasonal availability. Peas, artichokes, and fava beans are staple vegetables and lamb and goat are commonly eaten meat. Pecorino Romano and ricotta as well as strutto (pork lard) and prosciutto are enjoyed. Olive oil is used as well, but mostly for cooking and frying. Pasta and meat sauces are naturally enjoyed in homes and in restaurants through out the city. This is some of my personal favorite kind of eating.

I used starchy russet potatoes
 Peel and boil in salted water
 Mash through a sieve for best results 
 Add beaten eggs
 Add flour
 Blend until mixture is smooth, but not mushy
 Roll out into finger width strips (size of strip and pieces depends on your preference)
 Roll each piece down the back of a fork - then cook in boiling salted water
Roman Gravy: Top round beef, carrots, onion, celery and parsley
 Grind beef in food processor
 Fry vegetables, add meat, tomatoes and wine, then simmer until thick but not dry
 Ground peeled tomatoes
 Serve with gravy and pecorino cheese

Potato Gnocchi

3 large russet potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
sea salt

Peel potatoes and boil in salted water until soft. Reserve potato water.
While potatoes are still warm, mash through a sieve. Mix in eggs, flour and salt until mixture is soft.
On a floured board, roll potato mash into long, finger-thick strips and cut into 1" pieces (or bigger if you like).
Using the back of a fork, roll each gnocchi down the back of the fork to make a grooved imprint on each one (this apparently catches the gravy better)
Bring the pot of salted potato water back to a boil, then add gnocchi and let them cook until they rise to the surface.
Once they've risen, let them cook another 15 seconds, then remove and drain.
Serve with lots of gravy and grated pecorino cheese.

Roman Gravy (Adapted from

1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 handful of parsley, chopped
1 pound top round beef
1 16 ounce can ground peeled tomatoes
1 glass red wine

Season meat with salt and pepper, cut into chunks then pulse in a food processor until ground but still with plenty of texture.
Heat olive oil in a heavy pot and fry onion, carrot, celery and parsley.
When browned, add beef and fry, then add red wine and tomatoes.
Simmer until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened.

© 2010-2012, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved