Friday, December 17, 2010

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

Everybody loves Vietnamese rice paper rolls, they are incredibly refreshing to eat. It’s one of the most ordered entrees at Vietnamese restaurants.

I’ve come across quite a few recipes for Vietnamese rice paper rolls and cringe when I see chicken and capsicum listed in the ingredients for the filling. These are not ingredients that are traditionally used in a Vietnamese rice paper roll. The Vietnamese rice paper roll can fall into one of those dishes where people think that they can put in whatever they want, roll it up and whola! Sure, people use whatever meat/vegetable combination they want but I think that there are a certain balance of flavours that go well together to really make a good Vietnamese rice paper roll. Too many ingredients can overwhelm the simplicity and light taste of the roll and some ingredients just don’t sit well in the scheme of things (ie: capsicum).

When I make Vietnamese rice paper rolls I like to have the following ingredients for the filling.
rice vermicelli
lettuce, shredded
bean sprouts
carrot, grated
cucumber, thinly sliced
mint leaves
cooked prawns, peeled and sliced in half

The type of rice vermicelli I use is Happy Swallow – it has the right thickness and texture. You need to cook, strain, rinse the vermicelli under cold water and then leave it to dry for about 30 minutes so that has a sticky texture. 

Other types of herbs can be used as well like basil, Chinese chives and coriander but I just like to use mint only. Mint brings out refreshing and cool tones to the rice paper roll against the other ingredients. I don’t like to include more herbs as I find it overwhelming, using just one herb makes it clean cut.

I personally like to use the thinnest rice paper so that it is very translucent and light around the filling. 

If you get thicker rice paper, it will be a bit tougher, it can feel rubbery and like you are chewing into latex. However, using super thin rice paper means that you have to be very careful and delicate in your handling of it as it breaks easily. 

To make Vietnamese rice paper roll

Fill a wide shallow bowl with lukewarm water.

Dip a piece of rice paper into the bowl and rotate the sheet around so that it is immersed in water. All you need to do it wet/moisten the rice paper and then quickly remove it from the bowl and spread it out on a flat work surface, after about 30-60 seconds it will soften further and become usable. 

Place all the fillings except for the prawns on the bottom half of the rice paper - make sure you have a good balance of each ingredient and also don’t add to much as the roll with burst. Arrange the fillings so that it has a rectangular shape and will conform to the shape of the roll.

To form the Vietnamese rice paper roll, pull up the bottom flap of the rice paper over the filling, then fold in the side flaps. Place the prawns in the rolls with the orange side facing down, along the crease. Then roll everything up together tightly, tucking in the fillings as necessary but gently too so you don’t break it until you complete the cylinder and it seals. Rolling up the rice paper roll is not easy, you need to make sure that you have rolled it tightly and that the filling remains intact but also be careful not to break it.

When you first begin to roll the rice paper rolls, you will experience many burst ones and much frustration. It takes some time and practice to know how to layer the ingredients and the amount of pressure applied to rolling so that it is tight but you don’t end up breaking it. When I layer the ingredients, I add the rice vermicelli and lettuce first and I will layer the cucumber, carrots and bean sprouts (the more pointy ingredients) on top. As the vermicelli and lettuce are softer, they cushion the outside of the rice paper from breaking. I add the prawns later on for appearance sake so that they can be seen nicely on the front of the rice paper roll. The prawns can also provide some cushioning from the carrots and bean sprouts poking through. 

There is much method in the madness of making rice paper rolls. Although it looks easy to make, there is quite a bit of skill involved in getting a perfectly rolled rice paper roll. Enjoy!

Vietnamese rice paper rolls can be served with 
Nuoc cham
Sweet chilli sauce
Hoisin sauce with crushed peanuts and chopped chilli

Vietnamese rice paper rolls are perfect for summer picnics.

(At the Sommerville Auditorium for Lotterywest Festival Films)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greenhouse, Perth

“The Greenhouse is about designing and operating better places for people. Places that let us touch natural materials, understand where everyday things come from and taste fresh food straight from the garden... The Greenhouse aims to harness the growing understanding of the human footprint to offer alternative solutions that tread a fine balance between functionality, sustainability and beauty.” 
- you can read more about the concept behind the Greenhouse and it’s eco-friendly construction from their website

The Head Chef, Matt Stone received the 2011 Gourmet Traveller Best New Talent and the 2011 Good Food Guides Best Young Chef awards this year.

In spite of all of this acclaim, it appears to have received mixed reviews. I like to read up on a place before I check it out. On Urbanspoon, an average of 46% like it and many users presented critical reviews. However, most Perth blogs (see AbstractGourmet, HoldtheBeef, nook & cranny, Tannic Teeth, Perth Food Engineers) have given positive reviews of the Greenhouse. 

So what’s the deal? 

The Greenhouse was highly anticipated and attracted a lot of attention before it opened and still continues to attract a lot of attention for its ‘concept’ so people generally go in with some pretty ‘high’ expectations. When you rock up to the Greenhouse, you cannot help but be impressed by its wall of little strawberry pots, rooftop vegetable garden and very street decor. One of the things that I really like about the Greenhouse is how it has used recycled materials. Old street signs have been reconstructed into chairs. All dishes are brought out on a mis-mash of plates which makes me think of a sharehouse situation where the collection of dishes have been derived from the Salvos or through years of changing housemates. It’s quite unique and something that has never been done before in Perth. The food is simple, fresh and tastes great but it does not have the same ‘wow’ factor as the setting and design of the restaurant. 

Expectations play an enormous part in our experience of food. Over expectations generally lead to disappointments. Having lower or no expectations can create more satisfaction as we approach things with a less critical mindset and accept it for what it is.

I suffered the phenomenon of over expectation when I watched the movie Inception earlier this year. I had heard so much about Inception being the most amazing movie ever and I did enjoy the movie but I just didn’t think that it was as good as everyone made it out to be. I felt that it was a great concept, but the execution was sometimes flat. I also think that I didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have because I went into the cinema with some great expectations which it didn’t live up to. 

I went into the Greenhouse with mixed expectations formed from favourable blog reviews and a barely passable score on Urbanspoon. It made me a bit confused on what to expect but I was alert to the possibilities and would also not be alarmed by disappointments. 

My first experience of eating at the Greenhouse was only a recent endeavour. Funnily enough, it was about a week after the first episode of Iron Chef Australia where Matt Stone battled it out with Neil Perry. I was organizing to catch up with a friend for breakfast and as we were discussing options I insisted on going to the Greenhouse so that I could finally have an opportunity to check it out. Ever since I heard about the Greenhouse it has been on my list of places to check out but I have never gotten around to it. 

We booked a table just in case it was busy on a Saturday morning but when we got there it wasn’t to full so we had a choice of where to sit. We decided to sit outside to enjoy the sunshine.
(This was my seat)

After mulling over the menu for a while I finally settled on the charred toast, jamon, roast tomato & goats curd and my friend had the crushed peas & basil, poached eggs & toast. The elements of my dish went together really well and my friend’s report on her poached eggs were good and the combination of the peas with a subtle hint of basil were a perfect match.

We had a very enjoyable meal at the Greenhouse. The food satisfies. We received great service and I am especially thankful that the waitress noticed bird shit on our table and cleaned it up for us because we weren’t aware of it. I’m sure we would have found out at some point, but how, I don’t know, we averted a possible unfortunate incident. 

The best thing about the Greenhouse it that Perth owns it! Yes, the concept is by Melbourne’s Joost Baker and Melbourne did briefly flirt with it but Perth took it to third base and established it as a successful venture. Perth is proving to be a city which people can invest in and take risks. Now there will be a Melbourne Greenhouse opening next year and I love how all the media is saying that Melbourne is ‘replicating’ Perth’s Greenhouse. Yes, REPLICATING!

Perth, the city that always seems to be a bit behind on the times and slow to embrace hip and happening things is coming out in front. At the moment, quite a few peeps are opening new establishments, creating not only more choice and diversity in Perth but also places with a point of difference. These are exciting times. Keep it up Perth!

Greenhouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sayers Food, Leederville

On their website ( Sayers tells you that they are serious about food. How do we know this?...well they provide pink salt for diners. The fact that they provide good quality salt for diners to use is a testament to their commitment to providing quality food.

I was given the task of organising a place for my work Christmas lunch. Looking for somewhere nice and a little bit fancy, I booked lunch for six at Sayers.

Sayers has a relaxed casual dining atmosphere and its features walls, textural wallpaper and lines of cushions provide this place with a quaint character and a touch of class.  

A large glass cabinet at the front provides a display of daily prepared savoury dishes, an assortment of wraps, quiches etc. as well as homemade cakes and slices.

You order and pay for your meal at the counter, and help yourself to water, salt and pepper from a side table. This arrangement minimises the need for extensive human service but to their credit after two sips of my wine I managed to somehow knock over my glass and staff immediately came to my aid and cleaned up the mess that I had made.


I ordered the braised rabbit with homemade gnocchi, roasted carrot and fennel seeds, and almonds. The dish contained big chunky pieces of gnocchi which had been pan fried to provide a golden slightly crisp exterior but the inside was light and fluffy goodness. The gnocchi was accompanied with falling off the bone braised rabbit, sweet roasted carrots flavoured with fennel seeds, wilted spinach, pesto and a spicy red pepper relish, scattered cubes of feta, roasted sliced almonds and shaved parmesan. This dish had lots going on, many different flavours and textures, which makes it an adventure to eat. With every forkful I would be piecing together different elements of the dish for a different taste sensation...a bit of gnocchi with some rabbit and pesto, and then maybe a bit of gnocchi with some carrot and spinach, and so on. Everything complimented each other and it was great to see such an intricate and tasty dish bring offered for lunch. 

My manager ordered the cumin cod cake, poached egg, rosemary scented tomato, toasted ciabatta, wilted spinach and hollandaise. The assessment of this dish was good. The cumin cod cake was crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside with a hint of cumin and filled with potato (and frankly anything with potato in it tastes good!). The poached eggs were a little overcooked though, apparently not coddled enough but this did not affect the overall enjoyment of the dish and in fact my manager liked her eggs a little less runny. Seeing a diner across from us with the same dish we asked her how her eggs were and she informed us that they were perfectly poached and runny. Poached eggs can be tricky, a matter of seconds can make or break it.

Some of my colleagues tried the savoury dishes offered in the glass cabinet. The quiche with field mushrooms and goats cheese was most appealing and tasted great.

Of course lunch had to end with some cake on display at the front (…also an excuse to prolong going back to work). The cakes were brought out slightly warmed with a big dollop of cream.

Carrot Cake
Orange and Poppyseed cake (gluten free)

Sayers is a place that you want to go back to again and again as the menu offers an extensive range of delightful meals that have a bit more thought put into them than your average café.

Sayers on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coriander, Century Duck Egg and Pork Balls Soup

Coriander (also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley) is one of the most versatile and widely used herbs in the world. Coriander is used extensively in South East Asian cuisine, particularly Thai cooking, some Mediterranean and South American cuisines (hello salsa and guacamole!) and is an essential ingredient in curry powders and mixed spice. Chopped coriander leaves are commonly used as a garnish on cooked dishes. Coriander also has many medicinal properties

It is also a herb that stimulates much venom in people who find it quite repulsive and view its distinctive smell as quite rank and its taste as ‘soapy’ and unpleasant. The flavours have also been compared to those of the stink bug. The hate for coriander is so great that there are websites ( and Facebook groups ( dedicated to bringing people together who have cilantrophobia.

So why the love-hate divide? According to some studies, it’s genetic. (Read Harold McGee's article in the New York Times on the basis for cilantro hating).

I personally LOVE coriander and this soup will give you a coriander overdose!

This is a simple homemade soup that my mum used to make.

Almost half a kilo of coriander is used (well around 400g) and the heat spreads the potency of the coriander throughout the soup, perfuming it with the aroma of coriander and giving you a pungent burst of coriander with every sip. Coupled with the salty tones of the century duck egg and savoury-sweetness from pork meat balls…this soup will enliven your senses!

To visually present to scale the amount of coriander used in this soup.

Here is my hand and the coriander.

Here is a cup with the coriander.

Here is an orange beside the coriander.

Here is the recipe.


~400g coriander
2 preserved duck eggs
~3.2 litre water
500g minced pork
    o 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
    o ½ tablespoon fish sauce
    o 1 ½ teaspoon cornflour
    o 1 teaspoon salt
    o 1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon fish sauce
pinch sugar
(century duck egg)

Put the pork mince into a bowl and add some oyster sauce, fish sauce, salt and pepper. 

In a large pot of boiling water, spoon tablespoons of the pork mixture in so that it forms balls and then turn the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Then add in the duck eggs and simmer for another 45 minutes. 

After the total of 90 minutes of cooking, season the soup - add a little salt, fish sauce and sugar to taste.

Add in the coriander last, just before serving.

(The coriander will reduce to a third of its size)