My Christmas consisted mainly of something I like to call ‘chain snacking’. No sooner was my right hand picking the last of the mince pie crumbs off my expanding belly, I would find my other hand ferreting tentacle-like in the box of salted caramels nearby. My right hand, not to be outdone, would then search out a cube of Turkish delight and be ready to shotgun it before the caramel had even had the chance to cling to one of my teeth. I suspect I looked like a combination of Homer Simpson and Vishnu, each of my 8 hands tossing the next treat into open jaws while a bowling ball sized lump expanded steadily at my midriff.
So now it is time for penance, and it will take more than holding of the breath and prodding of the belly to loosen these trousers. But the depths of winter is no time to turn to salads, so we must instead make comfort foods that are satisfying and wholesome, yet light. Most importantly, we cannot sacrifice flavour, otherwise our snouts will be back in the biscuit box before you can say oompa loompa.
South East Asian food is the answer, with it’s combination of intense flavours and subtle chilli heat to satisfy and stimulate the taste buds, but with a lightness to the food that will not leave the waistline swelling.
As usual, try to use seasonal vegetables where you can as they’ll give you extra natural sugars and flavour (which means less salt and sugar needs to be added), so feel free to vary the mix below, but keep the carrot/leaf/spring onion base. Rice pancakes are flat, translucent white discs available from most supermarkets, health food shops or asian stores. The rice vinegar, sesame oil, Mirin and five spice are good store cupboard ingredients to keep on hand as they help make the definitive Chinese and Vietnamese flavours (e.g. sesame oil + honey + five spice = spare ribs sauce).
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as starter, or 1 hungry chain snacker.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes, optional extras 10mins
8 rice pancakes
1 spring onion (scallion), sliced lengthways
equal amounts (about 1 cup each) of:
Chinese leaves (pak choi, bok choi or similar) – shredded
radish – daikon or normal radishes, grated
chilli, finely chopped, amount to taste
2 teaspoons chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp mirin
2 tsp gluten free soy sauce (Tamari is the ideal option)
1 tsp sesame oil (if you’re going to have oil, make sure it tastes good)
2 tbsp gluten free soy sauce
1 chopped red birds eye chilli (to taste)
a smidgen of minced garlic
- Combined the vegetables, coriander and add the dressing ingredients. Mix well and set aside for as long as you can be bothered (allow the flavours to develop, or some such nonsense).
- Put some boiling water on a plate, then soak one rice pancake in it for about 30 seconds.
- Dry the pancake on some kitchen towel (or just waving it about a bit usually dries it enough) and put on another plate or board to fold. To speed things up, pop another pancake in to soak before you start folding.
- Following the pictures above, place around a desert spoon of filling just below the centre of the pancake. Try not to get too much liquid in there. Wrap the sides into the centre over the filling so that they go to the edges.
- Fold the bottom flap over and tuck it in, then continue rolling until fully rolled.
- Once all are rolled, set aside and mix the ingredients for the dipping sauce, then place in a small bowl, and serve!
- However, there is one more thing you could do to these little morsels. Despite what we’re about to do, these will still remain pretty healthy, but, er, a bit less so. Plus, this is the picture that appears at the top of the page, so we all know it’s what you really want.
- Put about 1cm of oil in a frying pan. Heat over a moderate heat (too hot and the oil will burn the pancakes very quickly, too cold and they’ll just sit there and sweat).
- Place a few pancakes in the oil – try not to let them touch, otherwise you’ll end up with Siamese spring rolls.
- Turn several times until golden all over, then set aside on kitchen towel.
- Once all are cooked, you can give them all a quick fry again just to crisp them up, then serve. Double cooked spring rolls, no less.