The weather here’s been just beautiful this week and I think it’s finally safe to say that we’ve left winter behind us–though you never really can tell in Michigan. You just take things as they come day by day and pray that the weather report for tomorrow is actually going to be semi-accurate. This week’s forecast was for sunny skies and mid-to upper 70’s.
And guess what? That’s EXACTLY what we’ve been getting. Which, makes me happy. I’m already excited for Memorial Day when my older sister (who’s good at barbecuing/grilling) can fire up our charcoal grill with the meat and I (who am NOT good at grilling whatsoever) can make everything else. Heh.
Today’s recipe really complements the summer weather, as it’s one where you’re not going to need to crank up the oven and make your house/apartment anymore stuffy than it may be already if you’re trying to wait as long as possible to turn on the A/C (like us lol) Additionally, if you’ve got a grocery store in your area that makes good rotisserie chickens, then over half the work’s already done for you.
I was a Banh Mi late bloomer. Up until a couple years ago, I wasn’t even 100% sure of how to pronounce it correctly. (It’s okay if you still don’t either and go from here to Google to find out; that’s how I learned too.)Typically, it’s a Vietnamese sandwich consisting of a crusty baguette style bread that’s split in half and layered with marinated grilled pork or chicken, fresh herbs, and pickled carrots and radishes. I’ve seen versions that also involve pate spreads and spicy chili sauces, but at its core, the above is a good place to start for a Banh Mi virgin.
Banh Mi sandwiches, if you’ve got a place that can REALLY do them well, are bound to become a quick favorite. Seriously, they’re just really hard NOT to like. There’s a Vietnamese/Creole (yeah, I know. Peculiar combination) restaurant just down the road from where I live that makes them and also made the meal that served as my official induction into the club of Banh Mi sandwich appreciation. There’s also another dish that they make that I simply MUST get each and every time I go there: the spring rolls.
Up until this place opened, I had also never had a Spring Roll that wasn’t made of the standard egg wrappers and fried in oil. I’d certainly see and heard of the translucent rice paper wrappers, but never tried them before and of course–never prepared a dish with them.
Like the Banh Mi sandwich, from that first taste I got of a rice paper spring roll, I was just hooked. First of all, the restaurant’s seasoning of the pork inside was sublime, and the even though they crammed it full of both meat, veggies and herbs I still walked away from the meal without feeling ‘too full’. There was just a wonderfully refreshing ‘lightness’ to those rice paper spring rolls that’s really made me never want to go back to the old fried way I used to eat them.
Although, don’t get it twisted: I still have MAD love for a deep fried egg roll. That, I’m never changing my mind and/or taste buds about.
What’s so great about today’s recipe is that it combines both of the dishes from the Vietnamese restaurant near me and makes it into a dish that gives me the best of both worlds; the core elements of the Banh Mi sandwich are rolled altogether in the spring roll rice paper to make a super delicious appetizer, snack, side dish or even meal if you’re game for eating several of these bad boys. I know I am.
This was my first time quick-pickling veggies and using rice paper wrappers and I was pleased to find out it wasn’t that big a deal. Once you’ve rolled your share of egg rolls (and I have) then using the wet rice paper isn’t that big of a challenge. Just as few minor tips:
Make sure your cucumbers are sliced VERY thin, or they may tear or poke holes through the wet rice paper. Be sure to roll you ingredients up nice and tight. Place the finished rolls seam side down once you’re finished to help them “seal” better while you make the rest. AND most important: keep the leftovers wrapped in plastic wrap to keep the rice paper rolls moist. They have a tendency to get a little chewy and tough when left exposed to the air for too long, even if you keep them in plastic containers.
These are super yummy, guys. The pickled carrot and radish provides a tangy acidity that isn’t overpowering when tempered with the savory chicken that’s been juuuuuuust slightly sweetened from being mixed with the Chinese five-spice powder. Depending on the herb(s) you decide to use you’re going to have a different flavor profile but because I prefer it’s mild sweetness I went with the fresh mint leaves that paired very well with the cucumber. This is PERFECT summer food, plain and simple.
Banh Mi Spring Rolls
For Pickled Veggies:
- 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 (3-ounce) carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 (3-ounce) daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
For Spring Rolls
- 8 to 10 rice paper wrappers
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (I used rotisserie chicken)
- 2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
- 1/2 English cucumber, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (small leaves)
To Make Pickled Veggies:
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the carrot and daikon and let cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to stuff into rolls.
To Assemble Spring Rolls:
Fill a round cake pan with warm water. Place 1 rice paper round into the water, turning it gently with your fingertips until softened. Carefully remove the sheet from the water and lay it flat on a plate.
Toss the chicken with the five-spice powder. Arrange some of the seasoned chicken in a horizontal line on the wrapper, positioning it about 1 inch or so from the edge nearest you and about 1⁄2 inch from each side.
Top with some of the drained pickled veggies, cucumber, and a sprinkle of mint leaves.
Lift the edge of the rice paper nearest you and place it over the filling, then roll once to form a tight cylinder. Fold in the sides of the rice paper and continue to roll to form a tight cylinder (be careful not to rip the rice paper).
Repeat with the remaining rice paper and filling. Cut each roll in half crosswise at a diagonal and serve with the dipping sauce, if you like. To store, wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.