Inspired by a Malaysian cooking class today at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and a gluttonous late lunch at a Malaysian restaurant, I decided to celebrate Independence Day Eve by grilling out...Southeast Asian style.
Not only does this meal use up a ridiculous amount of herbs, especially mint and basil which many gardeners are drowning in right now, but it's also light, easy and fun to eat. Pair with some good Asian beers (When I'm not knocked-up, I really like Export 33 and Singha) and you've got a party...a party that doesn't even need utensils!
First up: Summer Rolls
These are not authentic and are serving as the "salad" for my BBQ. In fact, they are derived from Mark Bittman's recipe in The Best Recipes of the World. I've tried other recipes and often what happens is that the roll only tastes fabulous if it's liberally dipped into peanut sauce. Otherwise, it's just kind of "blah." However, Mark Bittman gave me a revelation: His recipe has almost equal parts herbs and lettuce. This, my friends, is KEY. For the rolls to taste similar to those at your favorite Vietnamese or Thai restaurant, you need to put more herbs than you think is strictly necessary. Trust me on this. The more herbs, the merrier.
Now, you could very well make these rolls an hour or so ahead of time (store in fridge with damp towel over them and don't let them touch), or you could turn it into a Summer Roll Bar. Recently I had these made more in the shape of a "taquito"/cigar than a "burrito" from a Thai restaurant. IMO, this is brilliant. It's easier to do and it really does lend itself to make-on-demand.
If you are one of those people that think cilantro tastes like soap, simply up the mint and basil by 1/4 cup each. You can get the rice paper, vermicelli and Mae Ploy at Asian supermarkets. If you'd like, you could also add some cooked, sliced tofu or shrimp. And, if you want these flavors but are feeling REALLY lazy, you could turn this into a traditional salad. Just mix all the ingredients as listed below and drizzle a thinned-out peanut sauce over top.
8 rice paper sheets (10-12 inches)
4-oz of rice vermicelli, cooked according to package instructions & well rinsed. (Beware that these cook very fast. Mushy noodles are gross, so keep an eye on these)
1/2 c mint, chopped
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
1/2 c basil (Thai basil if you have it), chopped
2 scallions, minced
2 carrots, shredded
4 leaves romaine or similar lettuce, chopped
1 tsp of Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce), plus more for dipping
1. In one bowl, mix herbs and lettuce. In another bowl, mix Mae Ploy, scallions and vermicelli. And, finally, in the last bowl, put shredded carrots.
2. To rehydrate the rice paper, put several inches of hot tap water (110-120*F) in a low, wide bowl (a pie plate often works well). Dip a sheet of the rice paper in the hot water, flipping once, until soft. This could take about 10 seconds. Place on damp towel. If you get one too many tears in the rice paper, you can double up on wrappers.
3. Next, build your summer roll. Add desired toppings to bottom 1/3 of rehydrated rice paper and roll up like a taquito. Alternatively turn into more traditional burrito shape: roll up just enough so filling is completely enclosed in the rice paper, tuck in sides and then continue rolling.
4. Consume! Dip in Mae Ploy or peanut sauce.
Second up: Chicken Satay
Generally, when I think "chicken satay," Thai is what comes to mind. However, satays are all over Southeast Asia. This version comes to you from His Hotness, Tyler Florence. It's almost Indian with its yogurt and curry powder marinade. But, as you know, there are lots of Indian influences in that part of the world.
One thing I want to caution you about is to use GOOD curry powder. Either make your own (I use Mark Bittman's Hot Curry Powder recipe) or get it from a place that has high curry powder turn-over...like an Indian market or maybe an Asian grocery (meaning, using an Asian brand. Malaysia makes some good ones). Stale curry powder is gross.
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 Tbsp good curry powder
1.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced in half
1. Put skewers in a bowl with water to soak so they won't burn on the grill.
2. Mix remaining ingredients together. Let marinate for 2 hours.
3. Thread chicken on skewers and grill 3-5 min per side.
4. Consume with peanut sauce.