In college, I lived with three other girls, two of whom were Korean and Korean-American. I was already more familiar with Korean culture than the average American from growing up playing classical music, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I started marinating bulgogi from scratch with my roommate Fritz, making kimchi fried rice as a late-night meal, cooking spicy duk bok ki with my roommate Emily, or steaming rice with a handful of soybean sprouts.
So what started with loving to make and to eat Korean food has spilled over into other East Asian cuisines. And with Pho Cafe being one of my favorite cheap(er) eats on the East Side, I decided to try my hand at making Vietnamese spring rolls, a favorite of mine.
While these were tasty for a first try, next time I’d go heavier on the herbs and choose a softer cut of meat. (I should have known from the name “beef knuckle” that I was going astray. Be warned!)
I don’t even think I can tell you exactly what I put in the peanut sauce, so I’m posting this peanut sauce recipe with the caveat that you should just keep tasting and tweaking it until you get it right. But hey, that’s half the fun of cooking anyway.
Fresh Spring Rolls with Hoisin Peanut Sauce
For marinated beef:
- ½ lb. thinly sliced beef
- 6 tsp. mirin or rice wine vinegar
- 4 tsp. honey
- 4 tsp. Asian sesame oil
- 2 tsp. soy sauce (Tamari is gluten-free)
- 1 tsp. red chili flakes
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed
Whisk all ingredients except beef together well. Massage or fold marinade into beef; cover, and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, preferably a few hours. Beef can be frozen and thawed later, if you’d like to make extra for another time.
Heat a heavy non-stick pan til very hot. Cook beef until just cooked through and sugars are charring slightly on both sides. Set aside, and when cool, slice into strips.
For spring rolls:
- 2 carrots, julienned or shredded, and marinated in a dash of rice vinegar or Mirin (rice wine vinegar)
- 1 cucumber, seeded and julienned
- soybean sprouts
- Boston red lettuce, washed and torn
- large mint leaves (one bunch)
- cilantro (one bunch)
- rice noodles, cooked 2-3 minutes, shocked in cold water, and drained
- spring roll wrappers (they make both rice and wheat wrappers so read the package)
- cooked and sliced marinated beef
- grilled shrimp
Warm some water in a pie pan or flat shallow dish with a diameter larger than the diameter of the spring roll wrappers. Soak one wrapper at a time until soft, then place on a smooth work surface. Arrange vegetables, noodles, herbs, and beef or shrimp in center of the wrapper. Fold the short ends over the filling, then roll until the wrapper holds itself closed. Tip: Don’t overfill them. Serve immediately.
For hoisin-peanut sauce:
- Hoisin sauce (available in specialty food aisles or specialty food stores)
- peanut butter, unsalted, crunchy or creamy
- rice wine vinegar
- soy sauce
- grated fresh ginger
- crushed chili flakes or Sri Ra Cha sauce (available in specialty food aisles or specialty food stores)
Mix 3 parts Hoisin sauce with 2 parts peanut butter, 1 part mustard, and 1 part rice wine vinegar. Add honey, soy sauce, ginger, and chili to taste. Add water until sauce reaches desired consistency, like thick barbecue sauce.