Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

..aka Summer rolls or more accurately, Gỏi cuốn, these little Vietnamese beauties are super-fun for younglings and still quite an exotic concept in the UK. They were staple lunchtime fayre back in our Australia days due to the proximity to South East Asia and its heavy influence in the region.

They’re a pretty healthy alternative to the ubiquitous sandwich, and well worth adding to your repertoire as there’s an infinite list of variations that makes them versatile and accessible for all.

The most challenging thing about this recipe is getting hold of the rice papers themselves – I’d head for your nearest Asian supermarket although some big chains are catching on and starting to stock them too. You’ll probably find them labelled as bánh tráng. I’ve just ordered some from Amazon of all places.

The concept couldn’t be simpler; just re-hydrate the rice paper in some warm water for 10 to 15 seconds, lay it flat on a plate or clean surface, top it with your favourite combination of flavours and roll it all up (as neatly as you can). Serve the rolls with a dipping sauce of your choice and prepare to be delighted by the clean, light and vibrant appeal of this delectable little dish.

Get the kids involved and you’ll be amazed by their intrigue and willingness to get stuck in. Imagine making a sandwich for the first time!

Ok, so you’ll probably find that there’s a bit of a knack to handling the delicate rice papers, but persist and you’ll master it in no time at all. The trick is to work quickly but calmly. They’re incredibly cheap so you won’t beat yourself up about the ones that you tear or throw across the room..

Here’s a classic recipe to set the scene.

Ingredients:

(makes about 10)

  • 100g vermicelli noodles
  • 10 rice papers
  • 10 large cooked prawns
  • ½ carrot
  • Lettuce
  • ½ chilli
  • Fresh coriander leaves

Method:

  1. Place the vermicelli noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them to stand for 15 minutes until softened (or follow the packet instructions), then drain.
  2. Meanwhile, wash and prep all the vegetables by slicing them into roughly even matchstick-sized pieces.
  3. Butterfly or halve the prawns along their length.
  4. Slide a rice paper into a shallow bowl/dish of warm water and leave it to soak for 10 to 15 seconds until softened.
  5. Carefully place the rice paper onto a board or plate.
  6. Lay a few strands of each ingredient on the rice paper. (Not too much – you’ll get a feel for how much will fit).Vietnamese Rice Paper filling
  7. Fold the side nearest to you over the filling.
  8. Fold the sides in.
  9. Roll away from you to close the parcel.
  10. The tacky rice paper will seal itself.
  11. If larger than bite-sized, slice diagonally across the middle and serve with a dipping sauce.

Variations to think about include pork (perhaps cold belly pork), avocado, fish, tofu, beansprouts, sugar snap peas, beetroot, peppers, shredded chicken, pea shoots, cucumber, lettuce, spring onion, any soft herbs you fancy – Thai basil or mint work really well. Try a few combinations and make them your own!

Here’s a top tip that I read about recently – to make it less fiddly, wrap all of your filling together in a lettuce leaf before placing it on the rice paper and rolling it up.

Dipping sauces

Hoisin, Soy, Kecap Manis, oyster, plum or Sweet Chilli sauces are all easy to buy in bottles, but you may like to try a simple homemade dipping sauce.

Here’s a quick authentic Nước chấm recipe that will take your taste buds to the next level.

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 small chilli
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

Method:

  1. Place everything in a food processor.
  2. Blitz.
  3. That’s it.

Pop a few slices of chilli on top if you’re feeling fancy.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Nuoc Cham

 

Let me know how you get on!!!!

 

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

Little Fish From The Garden

Peixinhos da horta or ‘little fish from the garden’; a tempting little treat. The recipe is Portuguese in origin and interestingly the precursor to the world renowned Japanese tempura. Who’d have thought.

One of our lovely Food Revolution ambassadors, Cátia Albino, shared this recipe with me and it’s been a real winner in our household ever since.

The concept is remarkably simple. Make a thin batter, blanch some green beans, dip and fry. We’ve even tried a gluten free version using rice flour and the results are equally pleasing.

Ingredients:

  • handful of green beans (about 200g)
  • 2 eggs
  • salt & pepper (twist of each)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 200ml water

Method:

  1. Make your batter – just whisk the ingredients together.
  2. Dip your green beans in the batter and then deep fry your ‘little fish’ until they turn beautifully golden. (It’s advisable not to overcrowd the pan/fryer so you may want to cook them in batches).
  3. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve. (pair with white wine for utter bliss).

gorgeous Peixinhos da horta

I like to enjoy them with a spicy tomato chilli sauce:

little fish (green beans) with chilli tomato sauce

Happy days!

 

Peixinhos da horta

Food Education Review

The results are in, and it doesn’t make for happy reading. An expert group including The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Food Teachers Centre, British Nutrition Foundation and the University of Sheffield have now completed a commission to undertake a comprehensive review of food education and culture in England’s primary and secondary schools. Thanks to all of you that got involved, filled in surveys and took part.

Jamie Oliver believes that “Every kid in every school no matter their background,
deserves to learn the basics about food – where it comes from, how to cook it and how it affects their bodies. These life skills are as important as reading and writing, but they’ve been lost over the past few generations. We need to bring them back and bring up our kids to be street wise about food.”

Focusing on the curriculum, the whole school approach and behavioural change, the report highlights an alarming disparity in standards, overshadowing the success of the 2013 campaign for compulsory food education.

There’s a stark difference between schools doing a great job at delivering appropriate food education, and others struggling with a lack of time, resources and support. The report also highlights the unhealthy food environment at secondary schools which is in turn compromising pupils’ ability to make good food choices, and interestingly found that teachers, pupils and parents are all calling for a healthier school environment.

The report goes on to make four recommendations to counter these findings and ensure that children receive a better start in life:

  1. Schools should be healthy food zones
  2. More support should be given to the school workforce
  3. Improvements in food education qualifications and resources are needed
  4. Stronger reporting and evaluation needs to be in place

You can read the full report here:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B6vmekGX5OPfTm9xMzc5VkpCUTg

Something that really struck a cord with me as a parent and a change professional was the opinion of Dr ​Caroline ​Hart ​from ​the ​University ​of ​Sheffield – she referenced the environment in schools and concerns about the ‘cake-culture’. I myself have been flabbergasted by the mixed messages around healthier lifestyles, as schools attempt to implement good practice, but unfortunately contradict themselves in their policies around unhealthy snacks, allowing treats for birthdays, and routinely supporting and enabling regular fundraising through the sale of junk food. It’s a tough one, as it’s always hard to change and move away from things which are ‘easy’.  ​

Dr Hart wrote:
“For ​many ​primary ​schools, ​a ​major ​concern ​is ​the ​prolific ​sale ​of ​cakes, ​sweets, ​cookies
and ​crisps ​as ​part ​of ​fundraising ​efforts. ​In ​many ​secondary ​schools, ​a ​key ​issue ​is ​the
lack ​of ​healthy ​food ​offers ​that ​enable ​pupils ​to ​put ​their ​food ​education ​into ​practice.
Pupils ​told ​us ​that, ​when ​sugary ​drinks, ​super-sized ​cookies ​and ​‘chip ​only’ ​options ​are
available, ​it ​made ​it ​hard ​for ​them ​to ​select ​healthier ​alternatives. ​The ​vast ​majority ​of
parents ​responding ​to ​our ​survey ​supported ​the ​reduction ​of ​unhealthy ​food ​offers ​in
school.”

We’re heading in the right direction as momentum builds and media coverage increases, but as a nation trying to overcome rising childhood obesity rates, there’s still a long way to go. I expect that big changes in government policy are on the way as a result (fingers crossed…).

 

Pasta for Italian Day

What a great day. I’d forgotten just how much fun it is to make fresh pasta; very satisfying. I’d also forgotten how much hard work is required to knead the dough, especially when you have an audience of 8-year-old schoolchildren. This is the 10 minutes or so between the lovely eggs nestling in a flour well on your work-surface, and that perfectly formed, smooth ball of elastic dough (which is routinely skipped over in every TV cookery show you’ve ever seen).

Nonetheless, it’s a joyous and virtuous task with a far more delicious outcome than a trip to the gym.

Year 4 from St James C of E primary school did a Stirling job helping me roll and shape said pasta into lasagna, tagliatelle, angel hair (capellini) and farfalle. They learnt about the origins of pasta, its ingredients, geometry, gluten, composition and chemistry, the extrusion manufacturing process, not to eat raw pasta… etc. 

Italian day was a blast and has got me thinking about classes for parents too. 

Eggs and flour

The basic principle of making egg pasta is as follows – go on, dig that pasta machine out of the depths of your kitchen cupboard and get the kids involved.

Ingredients:

  • 400g Tipo ’00’ (super fine) flour
  • 4 Eggs

Method:

Beat your eggs and gradually mix in the flour. You can do this on a clean work surface by making a well in your mound of flour (like a volcano as the children cleverly observed) and cracking your eggs into it, or just bung it all in a food processor and pulse it a few times.

As it all starts to come together, give it a good knead as if you were making a loaf of bread. You’ll be surprised how what appears to be a particularly anhydrous mixture will turn into a beautiful smooth dough with a bit of elbow grease.

You’ll know when it’s ready as it’ll become smooth and silky to the touch.

At this point it needs to rest; wrap it tightly in cling film so the air can’t get to it and pop it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

When you’re ready, you can start to cut it, roll it out (using a rolling pin or a pasta machine) and form it into a plethora of shapes.

measuring pasta

If you’re cooking it fresh it will only take a minute or two in a pot of rapidly boiling salted water (traditionally as salty as the Mediterranean sea), or alternatively, you can dry and store it.

Have fun!

 

pasta machine

pasta shapes

Gluten Free Granola

Homemade granola? So easy – so much easier than you’d think!

This is my last recipe in this series of twists on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution healthy breakfasts.

I’d planned to simply create a homemade granola recipe for my twist on Jamie’s Banana & Cinnamon Porridge, but a little research has led me towards using buckwheat and making this recipe even more inclusive. The GFG!

Granola is such a delicious, nutritious and flexible breakfast that you can make in batches and store so that it’s always on hand.

making granola

Ingredients:

  • 200g buckwheat
  • 200g oats (certified Gluten Free)
  • 200g mixed nuts, roughly chopped
  • 100g mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed)
  • 75g coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g dried fruit (cranberries work well)
  • Milk, honey, yoghurt and fresh berries to serve (all optional)

Method:

The key here is to watch your granola like a hawk whilst toasting it in the oven – ovens vary tremendously – don’t let it burn! Turning it frequently will make sure it’s evenly cooked.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).
  2. Except for the dried fruit, mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Melt the coconut oil in a small pan over a low heat.
  4. Add all of the wet ingredients to the bowl and mix well.
  5. Spread the mix out on a couple of baking trays in a single layer (or bake in batches).
  6. Bake in the oven for 20 – 35 minutes, turning roughly every 10 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
  7. Allow the granola to cool, mix in the dried fruits and store in a clean airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
  8. Serve plainly with milk, or perhaps yoghurt with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey for a more decadent breakfast.

granola

 

gluten free granola

Variations:

This recipe doesn’t have to be gluten free (GF) if you’re not on a specialist diet – regular oats are much cheaper and taste exactly the same. Technically, oats are GF anyway (oats contain a similar but more tolerable protein than gluten, called avenins), however there is a risk to those suffering from coeliac disease as they may have been stored or packaged in the vicinity of barley, wheat or rye grain.

You may wish to adapt this recipe to suit your taste, in fact, I’d implore you to do so; try switching the maple syrup for honey, the coconut oil for olive oil, add cacao nibs and chia seeds, experiment with different nuts or even add a little cardamom. Have fun with it and soon you’ll be batch-cooking your own special blend on a regular basis.