The woods are busy with activity this time of year. Long-legged fawns are foraging with their mothers. Rabbits bound by low-growing stag ferns. The barred owl who lives close by swoops and dives between trees at dusk. Warblers join with the finches while the pileated woodpeckers punctuate the chorus with their staccato sounds.
Walking through the woods the other day, I was listening. So much life. So much going on.
Somehow, it made me hungry.
As I rounded the uphill trail on the way home, this is what I hoped to stumble across.
I didn't find it in the woods, so I walked across our front lawn, past the pair of young deer who were staring at me. When I got inside, I made these rolls.
There is nothing more refreshing in warm weather (finally!) than biting into something cool, crisp and full of quietly rambunctious flavors. This is the Vietnamese Beef Roll.
We’ve had the good fortune to be the temporary caretakers of our neighbors' kitchen garden while they are in California for several weeks. The garden has been abundant with baby lettuces, spinach and red romaine, among other things.
Red romaine...have you seen the stuff?
If not, you must run out immediately to get some. I urge you to know its beauty. It is nothing less than remarkable.
These rolls have been a good way for us to use the early Pacific Northwest bounty well. They are so easy to make too.
Other than cooking the beef, which you can do ahead of time, there is absolutely no stove top time involved.
You can use leftovers, as well as chicken or pork if you have that instead. All you have to do is cut up your veggies, pickle the carrots (easy peasy) and roll it up nicely.
Cut your roll in half on the diagonal, dip it in a little sauce. Take a bite.
Magical as the woods this time of year.
Vietnamese Beef Rolls
Two small sirloin steaks or other lean, boneless beef
Lettuce leaves of your choice (Red romaine and butter lettuce are nice)
A medium carrot
Round rice paper (banh trang)
¼ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons honey
Small red chili pepper
1 teaspoon Fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand), or substitute salt.
Cooking the beef: Season steaks with salt and pepper. Set aside while you your heat oven to 500 degrees (you may also cook the steaks on your outdoor grill instead). Place a cast iron skillet in the oven.
When your oven reaches 500, remove the skillet and put it on the stove top, over high heat. Place steaks on skillet for 4 minutes to sear. Move pan into oven for another 4-5 minutes, depending on how cooked through you want the meat to be. Rosy pink is nice. Remove from oven when meat has reached your desired level of doneness. Remove beef from pan and allow the meat to rest while you work on the veggies and sauce.
Preparing the Veggies: Halve the red chili pepper, scrape out the seeds to discard and chop the chili finely. Place in a small mixing bowl. Add the rice wine vinegar, honey, fish sauce and sesame oil and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Peel cucumber and carrot if you wish. Cut cucumber into matchsticks. Julienne carrots. Place carrots in the pickling mixture you have already made. Allow carrots to pickle for at least 20 minutes.
Wash lettuces and herbs. Tear mint and basil into small pieces.
Slice rested beef into thin slices.
After the carrots are pickled, place everything on a counter or tabletop so that all ingredients are at the ready for assembly. Place a plate with some warm water in it on your work area.
Dip one sheet of rice paper into the warm water to soften. It will still seem slightly stiff when you remove it, but will continue to soften as you work with it.
Place lettuce leaves on paper wrapper first. Add a slice or two of beef. Top with pickled carrots, cucumber, herbs.
Fold sides (left and right) slightly over filling. Roll from bottom end to top, rolling as tightly as possible as you go. Make sure to keep your filling tucked in on the sides. If for some reason the ends are not holding together, wet slightly with more warm water.
Roll as many as you'd like to eat and/or serve.
The pickling brine for your carrots also doubles as your dipping sauce. Easy!
Now go eat!
Note: This is fun to do with a group of friends or family. Everyone can fill each roll the way they want and eat as much as they want. Play around with the filling if you want. Today, for instance, I also added Sunflower Sprouts from our CSA. That added a nutty taste.