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Playing with Food

Experiment with international flavors.

When I was a child, my mother led us on a quest of cultures naturally explored through food. We’d buy woks, cleavers, and tree ears in Chinatown, roll matzoh balls for Hanukkah, eat black-eyed peas with greens for New Year’s luck, and hide evil rubbery tripe in our napkins. There were a few constants like washing endless salad greens, but they weren’t iceberg or romaine. Navigating around the hairy chicory, which no child would willingly eat, must have trained my adventurous palate.    

Today a few neighbors gather together for international night each month. We are not the first to do this, but we feel somewhat daring all the same with our new-to-us recipes. Cookbooks are consulted as we armchair travel throughout the world. Sometimes we wear cultural props, play music native to that country, and share tidbits from actual journeys. Invariably someone buys from the local ethnic restaurant to supplement with some authenticity.

Thanks to my brother bringing back an easy cookbook from his vacation in Vietnam, and my friend Cindy crafting them one year for my birthday, I felt able to tackle these delectable spring rolls. I pass the easy method on to you!

Fresh Spring Rolls

Though this takes about an hour and a half to do, it’s worth it! Most Far Eastern countries have a variation of the spring roll, but this fresh, healthy version with peanut sauce seemed right for “Thai in July” night. These are not fried, and the noodles, vegetables, and chicken bursting with fresh herbs make a delicious meal. You can also use fish or make them vegetarian. Makes about 24, which serves 6-8 as an entree, or 12 as an appetizer.

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (I use skinless thighs)

1/2 head napa cabbage, sliced very fine

1 large carrot, grated

2 scallions, sliced fine

2 tbsp. garlic chives, chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

2/3 package Sobu buckwheat or Somen noodles boiled for 30 seconds and drained

3/4 package rice spring rolls skins

Fold all ingredients together except for skins. Season with bio-salt to taste. Warm an inch of water in a large shallow pan. Gently sweep a skin across the water and lay it on a clean kitchen towel. Lay 1/3 cup of filling at one end and roll, folding in sides after one turn. Place in large zip lock bags until you are ready to serve to preserve moisture and shape.

Zesty Peanut Sauce

Dip a finger into this savory peanut sauce that tastes like more! We even preferred it over the local Thai restaurant’s sauce because it’s not pasty. For the vegetarian version, substitute lite coconut milk or vegetable stock for the chicken stock and miso for the fish sauce.

6 tbsp. natural peanut butter

1 cup low-fat chicken stock

1/8 cup light tamari

2 tbsp. teriyaki sauce

1 tbsp. sweet chili sauce

1 tsp. red curry paste

1/2 tsp. fish sauce or to taste

In a non-stick saucepan, slowly melt the peanut butter, adding the chicken stock a bit at a time until smooth. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature in bowls for dipping.

Here in the United States where so many countries are represented, it is easy to be part of an international community. For us it’s the adult soccer field and our neighbors; for my sister, Sarah, it’s her condo and coworkers. She threw a dinner when we visited her new place in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her friends from the U.S., Columbia, Cuba, and El Salvador shared apple martinis and the requisite beans and rice.

I would have liked to bring this tomatillo salsa which I made for our neighborhood Mexican night. Thanks to Josephina Ledezma, co-owner of Senior Fox located at Red Mill Commons, for this recipe!

Salsa Verde (Green Sauce)

I urge you to discover this versatile condiment, dip, marinade, wonder of nature. You will probably find tomatillo, serrano chili, and cilantro close together in the produce section because salsa verde is a staple of Mexican and Central American culture, and for good reason.

Cilantro cleanses and chelates toxic metals from the body; tomatillo is a tart yellowish green, husk tomato full of vitamin C; and garlic and chilies are good for whatever ails you. There are many ways of making this. For instance, you can add a tablespoon of lime juice plus a couple of shallots to expand the flavors. This basic sauce lasts a week in the fridge, and it’s great on chicken enchiladas, fish tacos, eggs, and just served with tortilla chips. Makes 2 cups.

10 tomatillos, husks removed

2-3 serrano chilies (2 mild, 3 med./hot)

2 large garlic cloves, pressed

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, stems removed

1/2-1 tsp bio-salt to taste

Simmer tomatillo and chilies in a covered saucepan for about 7 minutes until just soft and beginning to burst. Save cooking liquid for cooking rice, refried beans, or chili! Puree all ingredients until finely chopped and serve.

Contrary to what we tell our children, it’s okay to play with your food!

Anya Wolfenden, M.A., is a Product Innovator for Nutraceutical Corp. Anya formerly served as communications director for what is now Heritage Natural Market—www.heritagenaturalmarket.com—where these organic ingredients can be found.


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