Spring Rolls for the XC Ski team

On Friday the Cross Country Ski team was having their end of the season pot luck. Everyone was strongly encouraged to bring a dish to pass. With it being a Friday during lent I had to come up with a dish that was easily shared, delicious and meatless. This was also a perfect opportunity to cook asian food. I decided that spring rolls would be an easy dish to make for everyone.

The recipe I used can be found here. I would consider the type of spring rolls that I made of either a vietnamese or Indonesian variety, similar to fresh vietnamese spring rolls or Lumpia Basah. However the flavors of my spring rolls may have had a little Thai inspiration, with generous amounts of cilantro. They were fresh, not fried with a spicy peanut sauce.

Making the spring rolls was extremely easy. I used pre-made rice wrappers. All you have to do is soak them quickly in warm water, place a fair amount of the filling in the middle closer to one side and then wrap it like a burrito. The trickiest part was figuring out how long to soak the wrappers. If you soaked them too long they became extremely sticky and hard to work with. If you did not soak them long enough they were not sticky or stretchy making them difficult to roll up. I also had to cut the vegetables into small matchstick pieces. Cutting up the carrots really tested my knife skills, however I came out unscathed.

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For the sauce I had an idea as to what ingredients were supposed to go into it, but I did not have any measuring devices, so everything was measured just on guesstimation. I started off with the peanut butter, and added the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili sauce in small amounts until the flavors balanced each other.

Once I was done I met up with everyone for our pot luck. For being a very not diverse group of people our dinner represented a mixture of different cultures. We had homestyle mac and cheese, sourdough rolls, tacos, and spring rolls. The spring rolls were a big hit. Alone they were not very exciting. However when dipped in the sauce they were delicious. The rolls themselves were very fresh and crisp. Also they had many different textures to chew on. The wrapper was chewy; the vegetables added a nice crunch and the bean threads almost felt as if they popped when you bit down on them. The sauce was spicy, sweet, and salty. The peanut butter was not overpowering, but instead it added a nutty undertone. It was a prefect pairing to the spring rolls. Also according to a few people the sauce went well with Mac and Cheese. It’s not something I would suggest but I guess that is for you to decide.

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Throughout the making of this dish I began to question the exact origins of this dish. I wasn’t sure if I was making a vietnamese fresh spring roll or an Indonesian Lumpia, or some other variety that I had never heard of. It was also very possible that I was combining many varieties to come up with one that I came to know as a spring roll. Before our discussion in lecture I was not even aware of all the different types of spring rolls. All I knew was that you could have fried ones or fresh ones. I agree with Chan Yuk Wah in a way; I don’t know that it is even necessary to determine the exact origin of the version of the recipe I followed. However for other reasons I do not agree with Chan Yuk Wah. In lecture it was stated that most scholars believe that spring rolls originated in Fujian, and took many years to get to Southeast Asia (Lecture 21 slide 18).

It appears that the spring rolls that I made were of a vietnamese influence, which we now know were of a Chinese influence. I determined that the spring rolls I created were most similar to the vietnamese fresh spring rolls because the filling was raw vegetables and bean vermicelli, and the sauce was a spicy peanut sauce. These things are typical to vietnamese spring rolls. A vietnamese spring roll often has fresh herbs such as green onions and cilantro (Wikipedia, Spring Rolls). However I think that my spring rolls mostly display a layered influence and cannot be called a solely vietnamese, Chinese or any other specific culture. I would also have to say that my spring rolls show the power of local adaptation. For the most part spring rolls have some sort of protein in them, however with my religious view and cultural upbringing I could not have meat on a Friday, and I did not have any tofu around so I changed the recipe to omit those ingredients.

Sources:

Chan Yuk Wah, “Banh Cuon and Cheung Fan: Searching for the Identity of the ‘Steamed Rice-flour Roll,” in Tan Chee-Beng, Chinese Food and Foodways in Southeast Asia and Beyond (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2011), 156-74.

Lecture 21 (Spring Rolls).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_roll

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Carbo-Loading with Pad Thai

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Starting the century

Over spring break I went down to Florida with the 24 athletes from the University of Michigan Triathlon team to do a week of spring training. It was decided that Tuesday was going to be our attempt at a century ride. A few of us in the group became the designated cooks and every night it ended up being a competition between the cooks. For the night before the long ride the group I was cooking for decided that they wanted to have a meal with a large amount of carbohydrates. It has been shown that rice is a very great source of carbohydrates for athletes before a race or large workout. It is easily digestible and not particularly high in fiber. While for the most part this may not be the healthiest it was exactly what we were looking for. Most of the carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is your body’s most easily accessible form of energy, and fat and protein is much harder for your body to access and takes more energy to burn (McDowell). We all wanted pasta but I also wanted to make a dish that would be more impressive than spaghetti. I decided I would try my hand at making Pad Thai.

As a group we also are not the most timely and hardly think ahead. Due to both of these facts I did not make it to the store until it was already 5:30. I had been working out all day and everyone was starving. I and a group of five others split up and ran around the store getting all the ingredients as quickly as possible. While I would have preferred to make my own sauce we determined that it would be easier and faster for us to just buy a pre-made sauce. Besides the packets of sauce, and boxes of rice noodles all the other ingredients were fresh typical of Thai dishes.

You can find the recipe I used here.

As soon as we got back I assigned duties to others so we could be eating as soon as possible. One person was on chopping dicing, and slicing duty. Another person was on rice noodle duty. I had another person pound the chicken breasts while I cut them into bit sized pieces. One of the difficulties that we had, that I did not anticipate was finding proper cooking utensils.We were staying in a large rental house with two kitchens. However everyone was cooking at once and pots and pans were a scarce commodity. We had to find a pot large enough to cook three boxes of rice noodles and the only knife I could find was steak knife.

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Luke Pounding the Chicken
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Sauce going into the eggs

While the rice noodles were cooking I pan fried the chicken. Once the chicken was done I cooked up the eggs. This was the first time that I had ever cooked chicken or made scrambled eggs. Both, it turns out, are quite easy to do. Then I added the sauce and vegetables. I then mixed this into the noodles. Each person individually garnished their own dish with cilantro, lime, jalapeno and peanuts.

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Ellen mixing everything together

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The Pad Thai turned our delicious. I don’t know if I was just incredibly hungry or if I actually made a really good dish but everyone loved it. It was fresh and filling, but it wasn’t the uncomfortable filling where feel sick. The pre-made sauce actually didn’t taste fake or processed, but authentic, or as authentic as I know it should taste with my only experience being No Thai. The lime juice accentuated the sweetness of the sauce and the saltiness of the peanuts and the jalapeno gave the dish some heat. Everything came together to make a perfect pre-century ride meal.

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Pad Thai appears to have originated as a dish of stir fried noodles brought in by Viet Traders (Wikipedia Pad Thai). It was subsequently changed to use mostly fresh ingredients, such as lime, green onions and cilantro, like what happened with Thai curry (Lecture 8). The dish originally called for a different Thai chili, but the grocery store was limited and we ended up with a jalapeno. However both of these chilies would have entered Asian foods through the Indian Ocean trade. The the Prime Minister of Thailand between 1938 to 1944 and from 1948 to 1957, was trying to westernize the country. In 1939, he supported the change of name of the country from Siam to Thailand. At the time, wheat noodles were very popular in Thailand, but Plaek Phibunsongkhram sought to eliminate Chinese influence. His government promoted rice noodles. As a result, a new noodle made of rice named sen chan, the noodle used in Pad Thai, was created and the dish we know today as Pad Thai (Wikipedia Pad Thai).

Sources:

McDowell, Dimity; Fill ‘Er Up

Wikipedia Pad Thai

Vegetable Chickpea Curry

I decided that it was time to again try something new. I looked up recipe after recipe until one for vegetable curry caught my eye. It was soon decided that I would make this for dinner. A friend of mine ended up going shopping with me and he ended up getting himself invited to dinner.

You can find the recipe I used here.

Like last week I adapted the recipe to suit my tastes and to use ingredients easily and cheaply found. Instead of a typical curry that has either dairy or coconut milk the one I chose was water based. Just like curries have changed and evolved as it traveled from place to place, I also took creative liberties on the recipe. Due to the Indian Ocean spice trade this type of dish was influenced with ingredients throughout the world (Lecture 8)._DSC0971

The curry that I made was probably closer to an Indian curry than a Thai curry. It did not have a plethora of fresh ingredients like that of a Thai curry but instead utilized dried and powdered spices. My curry also shows how ingredients of the new world quickly worked their way into the culinary practices of the old world. The curry was simmered in crushed tomatoes and their juices, which are native to the new world.

My friend and I really enjoyed the curry. I also brought some home on Friday for my Mom who is vegan. She was “mad” at me because last week I brought my dad home some of the dumplings, and she didn’t get anything. This time she wasn’t mad at me, and told me it was very good.

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The curry was sweet and spicy. As all the ingredients were simmered together the flavors that developed were rich and deep. The dish just felt homey, earthy, and rustic. There were multiple layers to the flavor. At first it was mostly sweet, with the tomatoes and cooked carrots. As you continued to eat it the spice began to build, but the rice and the chickpeas kept the spice in check, so you were never overwhelmed. It was like a bowl of chili on a cold winter day, warming and filling.

Chinese Dumplings

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The pictures of dumplings in class on Tuesday left me craving a dish I had never even had before. I was planning on going to the store after lecture anyways so I decided that I would have the perfect opportunity to try my hand at dumpling making. On the bus ride up to Kroger I looked up a recipe for the dumplings, scraping my previous shopping list.

You can find the recipe I used here.

The dumpling filling has to sit and marinate for a couple of hours before you make the actual dumplings. I figured that the appropriate time to make this filling was right before my classes on Wednesday. So I got up early and mixed together all of the ingredients. The recipe called for steamed cabbage, but being a college student I did not have any way to steam the cabbage in conventional ways I figured out a way to steam it in the microwave. I then mixed together all of the ingredients and left my apartment smelling of garlic, fresh ginger and sesame seed oil.

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When I arrived back to my apartment late from my classes, I immediately set to work on making the dough. This time I even let the dough rest for the appropriate half hour. It was much easier to work with once I let it sit compared to when I made noodles the week before. I cooked them in batches of 8, for exactly 3 minutes.

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The sauce was not what the original recipe called for. This is a classic case of local adaptation. I did not have many of the ingredients it called for so I went with what is commonly found in my fridge, soy sauce and sweet Thai chili sauce.

The dumplings were delicious. The dough was chewy, very much like perfect fresh pasta. It was al dente. The filling was garlicky, and oniony. The flavor of the ginger was subtle but still present. One of my favorite spices of all time is ginger, so if a dish has ginger you can basically guarantee that I will like it. Dipping the dumplings in the sauce enhanced the flavor by adding a sweet and salty element combined with a little bit of heat. They hit all of the five major tastes besides bitter. The pork was light, and absorbed the flavor of the sesame oil, which added a bit of toasted, nutty flavor.

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The history of the dumpling is a complicated one. The question is whether or not dumplings are originally Asian. We know that there is written evidence of pasta in China by the 300 AD, in the “Ode to Bing” but there is no definitive evidence of pasta in Italy until the 13th century (Lecture 6 slide 17). Also from our in class lecture we learned that there is linguistic evidence that supports the claim that the Turks were the first to name the dumpling. The Chinese word mantou is probably a Turkic loan word coming from the Turkish word manti (Lecture 6 slide 32). Finally through the reading of “On the Noodle Road,” by Lin-Liu, we learn that along the silk roads, pasta dishes are very similar. It is not surprising to learn that Kyrgyz cuisine and Italian cuisine resemble one another (Lin-Liu 127). Both groups consume a large amount of dairy and pasta. This suggests that the spread of pasta, and dumplings was along the silk roads, probably transported through the Mongol conquest. To answer my original question as to the origins of dumplings I would say that yes dumplings are of Asian origin.