May 30, 2013

"Fresh SPAM" Spring Rolls?

Fresh SPAM Spring Rolls
Click on photo to enlarge
Whether you like it or not, Spam definitely has it's place in Hawaiian cuisine. I never paid much attention to Spam until I moved to Hawaii. It wasn't until I was invited to share in local food that I realized that the people of Hawaii have been cooking with Spam for a long time, and have mastered the art of cooking with it. Until now, I guess musubi would have to be my favorite use of Spam, a slice of grilled Spam between two cakes of sticky rice, wrapped in nori... ono! 

So I decided that if Spam has merit, then I will invent another use for it. Something to offset its saltiness. Something that is full of healthy vegetables. Something that has sweet local fruit. Something that is sort of Yin-Yang. Something like a fresh spring roll with SPAM. 

Fresh spring rolls are a delicious Vietnamese appetizer combining fresh Asian vegetables, pork and shrimp, rolled up in a round rice paper called banh trang. It is then usually served with a sweet and sour or peanut butter dipping sauce. I have taken this idea and have made a few island changes to make it more Hawaii-style, and even more delicious. It's a little work but worth the trouble, and great for your next potluck get-together. Feel free to add your own personal touches.

"Fresh SPAM" Spring Rolls?
There's something odd about saying "fresh Spam", but here goes...

1 teaspoon salt
1 pound small shrimp, peeled, and deveined
1-12 ounce can of Spam, thinly sliced into 1/4 inch strips
8 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles*
1 package 8 1/2 inch round spring roll wrappers (rice paper called "banh trang")
1 head napa cabbage, use the tender inner leaves, removing the tough stem, then cut leaves into 1/2" strips
1 bunch fresh mint leaves, using only the leaves
teriyaki sauce (small bottle)
1 Japanese cucumber, thinly sliced, with the peeling left on, into 2 inch long strips
2 fresh ripe mango or papaya, peeled, pitted, and cut into thin 2 inch long strips
16-20 chives, or green onion tops cut lengthwise and then into 5 inch strips

Follow package directions and cook rice vermicelli noodles. However sometimes the package is in another language, so I usually soak my rice vermicelli in warm, not hot water for about 15-20 minutes, until the noodles are completely pliable. Then cook in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the top to stop the cooking and to wash off any starch which makes them stick together as they dry. I usually put a couple of drops of vegetable oil over the top and mix it in, this stops the sticking together problem. Set the noodles aside while you prepare the other items.

Fill a small saucepan half full of water, add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp, reduce heat to simmer for 2-3 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the shrimp with slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Next, cut the spam into thin 1/4 inch strips and saute them in a little teriyaki sauce for about 5 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

Lay cooked shrimp flat and cut in half horizontally.

Fill a large frying pan with warm water and quickly dip and spin a piece of rice paper into water; make sure to wet the entire piece for about 5 seconds. Lay it down on a large cutting board or work surface. Working quickly, place a few Napa cabbage leaf strips on the near side of the rice round. On top of the leaf strips, add a small amount of rice noodles, a couple of Spam strips, a little cucumber, and mango/papaya evenly across the rice paper.

Roll the rice paper forward (in egg roll fashion), one revolution over the filling, and tuck it underneath. Add 3 mint leaves, 3 shrimp halves with the sliced side facing up. Fold the sides inwards and add a chive/green onion strips over shrimp with 1 inch sticking outside of a folded side. Continue rolling while keeping tension on the rice paper for a tight roll. The roll will seal itself. Continue making rolls until ingredients are exhausted. Serve rolls with dipping sauce of your choice (recipes below). Makes 16-18 rolls. With a sharp knife, cut rolls into 3 pieces for bite-sized pupus (appetizers).

*Rice vermicelli are thin noodles made from rice and are a form of rice noodles. They are sometimes referred to as rice noodles or rice sticks, but they should not be confused with cellophane noodles, which is another type of vermicelli. They are available in the Asian section of most grocery stores, and are a key ingredient in fresh spring rolls. Here on Moloka'i, I have gotten them at Misaki's grocery store for $3.39 for a 16 ounce package, which is twice as many noodles as you need for this recipe, so put the other half away in a zip lock bag for another time.

Note: These rolls should be prepared no earlier than 3 hours before serving, otherwise the rice paper gets tough. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve with dipping sauce. Below you will find 2 different dipping sauces. You can make both or just one, whatever you like.

Ingredients for Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

To make the sweet and sour dipping sauce:
Combine the water and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over moderately high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir the cornstarch slurry into the saucepan, decrease the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, 3-5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. The sauce will continue to thicken a bit more as it cools.

Note: If you are lazy like I am sometimes, or just don't have the time to make a great sauce, then try bottled Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce from Thailand. It's available in the Asian section of your grocery store. It is a fairly thick sauce that is slightly sweet and is ideal for fresh Spam spring rolls.

Ingredients for Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce:
1 small piece of lemon grass, chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (available in the Asian section of your grocery store)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

To make a peanut butter dipping sauce: 
In a small sauce pan, simmer lemon grass for 6 minutes, strain out the lemon grass, then add the remaining ingredients to the lemon grass water and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Pour into individual serving cups and serve with spring rolls.

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