Monday, September 8, 2014

The Ethnic Grocery Store: An Unabridged Version

I have always been a fan of ethnic grocery stores, more for the museum aspect and less for the shopping aspect. Going to the store would be an adventure, and I would wander the aisles, wondering what I could do with fresh lychees or squid ink. I quickly realized that most of these purchases were for naught, as, for example, I would excitedly buy an entire jar of tahini, use it for one recipe, and then let it languish in my fridge for years. So I became an ethnic grocery store tourist, not a local. 

Buuuuut, I'm getting gutsier in the kitchen. And I have a new commute. And VH Foods is my new go-to store. Here are the pros: 

1. It's the only grocery store I drive right by on my way home from school. 
2. It's in a former Kroger, so it's huge and a veritable melange of ethic foods. 
3. It's not Kroger. Blah. 
4. It's CHEAP! Among others, I took advantage of these sales last week: Limes were 15 for $1.00. Green peppers were five for $1.00. True story. 
5. I'm supporting a local business. I guess (?) They don't have a website, and I'm not really sure about the ownership situation, but the employees are all very nice, and it has a laid-back, halcyon atmosphere.
6. I could go on, but you want a recipe, right? 



So I say all of that to tell you I've been on an ethnic foods kick lately. I've made lots of lettuce wraps and noodles and curries, but the most exciting new thing I've made has been these spring rolls. What, you want some pros to spring rolls? Here they are: 

1. They're delicious. Light and fresh, yet the protein still provides satiety. 
2. They're easy and fun to make. Easy, meaning uncomplicated. Fun, meaning if you like to cook, you'll enjoy the process. They do involve many steps. 
3. They're healthy. Veggies, protein, carbs, healthy fats. Good to go. 
4. They're cheap. The prices below are for about eight rolls. 

I was inspired to make them by the giant vat of raw, head-on shrimp at VH on Saturday. It was a serve-yourself sale, and at $3.00/pound, I took advantage. Now the heads meant a little more work, but it also meant more shrimp parts for the stock I made. 




One man's shrimp trash becomes my shrimp treasure with celery, carrot, onion, peppercorn, water, and about an hour on the stove. 

Back to the spring rolls. Don't be turned off by the long list of ingredients. Hopefully you already have some in your pantry. And if not, hopefully you have a VH Foods nearby. 

For the rolls: 
rice noodles (often called vermicelli) I looked for the skinniest I could find
shrimp (Buy any kind you like. Even pre-cooked would work.)
carrot
cucumber
green pepper 
mint
cilantro
basil
green onion 
rice paper (spring roll wrappers)

For the sauce: 
peanut butter
Huy Fong chili garlic sauce (like Sriracha, only better)
hoisin sauce
lime juice
soy sauce
brown sugar

The Process: 
Prepare the rice noodles. I boiled mine for about 6 minutes and them let them sit with the heat off for about 3 more minutes. I've seen recipes in which you just pour boiling water over the noodles as they sit in a bowl. I'm not sure which is better, as I'm still a spring roll newbie. Once the noodles are done cooking, rinse them in cold water and let them sit at room temperature for about an hour. Don't worry, you have a lot to do over the next hour. (Price of entire package: $1.39. I made 8 spring rolls with about 1/3 of the package, so  $0.46)



Get another pot of water with a steamer basket boiling. De-head, peel, and devein the shrimp. (Save all that trash for a shrimp stock. Waste not, want not!) Rinse the peeled shrimp well, pat dry, and season with a little S&P. Steam for about 90 seconds. (Next time, I'm going to steam with the shells on. I think that will impart more flavor on the shrimp. They were a bit bland.) You'll know they're done when they turn pink and curl up. Let them cool in the fridge. (Price of ~24 small shrimp: $1.75.)







You can now make the sauce, a sweet and spicy punch of flavors. I didn't really measure, so don't quote me on this, but here goes. Combine about 2 T of creamy peanut butter, 1 T chili garlic sauce, 2 T hoisin sauce, juice of one lime, a dash of soy sauce, and about 1 t brown sugar. Whisk it all together, taste, and adjust. (Price: ??? The cost of this is going to be a bit heavy at first, but nothing here is exorbitant.)

Julienne a peeled carrot and about half a peeled cucumber. (I also put green pepper slivers in a couple rolls.) Get your herbs ready. I used lots of mint, cilantro, basil, and green onion. I also did a rough chop, but feel free to leave them whole. You're going to want a lot. (Cost of vegetables: $0.67*)



Has it been an hour? How are your noodles looking? (Disclaimer: I have no idea how they are supposed to look. I just read that you should let them "air dry" for an hour before using.) If you're ready, get your rice paper ready. Dip it in a shallow bowl (or plate) filled with water for about ten seconds to soften. It won't feel totally soft, but once you're ready to roll it up, it should be fine. It might take you a couple of tries to get the hang of it. 





Pull the rice paper out of the water, and lay it on a cutting board. Pile on a portion of noodles about the size of small bar of soap. Add on cucumber, carrot, and herbs. Then place three shrimp on top. Roll it up like a burrito, tucking in the sides. It should come out with the shrimp beautifully placed right on top. If not, it will still taste the same. Whew! (Price of rice paper: $1.49 for a package of 15, so I used $0.79's worth.)


  



Total price: $3.67 for eight spring rolls. If I add in a side of fruit, that's three meals for me. 


Mic drop. 





*Here's the breakdown: cucumber: $0.79, and I used about 1/2, so $0.40; carrots: $0.69/lb, and I used about 1/10, so $0.07; mint: $1.30/bunch, and I used about 1/10, so $0.13; cilantro: $0.69/bunch, and I used about 1/10, so $0.07, basil and green onion, I had on hand.