Good morning Vietnam

Grilled chicken summer rolls
Holidays = new discoveries, cultural revelations, enlightening moments, and best of all foodie adventures. A recent trip to Vietnam has reignited my appreciation for meals containing fresh, minimally cooked veggies. Vietnamese cuisine in comparison to the offerings of its South East Asian neighbours, by far contains some of the healthiest and wholesome dishes. Unlike Indian food that cooks down veggies into an unrecognizable pulp or Malay food that drowns greens into a soggy mess, the natural texture and flavour of veggies is often the centerpiece of Vietnamese food. Vegetables tend to be eaten fresh to preserve their original textures and colours – if they are cooked, they are boiled or only briefly stir-fried.

The renowned gỏi cuốn (summer rolls) are packed with crunchy (non cooked!) herbs while even the traditional pho is always accompanied by a plate of fresh bean sprouts and even more herbs. Peek into a Bánh xèo (omelette) and you will surprisingly be greeted with an array of colorful, light veggies (instead of grease and onions a la the Malay omelette). Some of my travel buddies even pointed out that the Vietnamese seemed to consume a garden with each meal! This healthy approach to their meals is reflected by the fact that Vietnam has one of the highest life expectancy rates out of the developing countries within South East Asia, complemented by a low obesity rate (although obesity amongst children is becoming a trend in the more developed areas of the country). 

In an attempt to prolong the celebration of light, fresh, and wholesome food, I recently created my rendition of the favourite Vietnamese summer rolls (recipe inspired by Taste for Adventure). These veggie-packed parcels were my constant London summer picnic basket staple. Not only are they perfectly refreshing on a hot, sunny day, it is also so easy to impress guests with this dish as everyone always seems surprised that I would go through the effort to assemble all the ingredients and delicately fold the rolls. Here the traditional prawns are substituted with a marinated grilled chicken since I wanted a protein fix to help fuel a much overdue post-holiday run. I also substituted the usual ingredients (bean sprouts and basil) for whatever I had left in my fridge – rocket leaves and red peppers – a slightly Western twist to a Vietnamese classic!

Grilled chicken summer rolls

The Ingredients
 Chicken breasts cut into thin slices, vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, rice paper sheets, 1 cup glass noodles, 2 carrots – shredded, 2 cups rocket leaves, 1 red pepper, coriander, 1 tsp brown sugar, lime juice, salt and pepper.

The Preparation
1. Marinate chicken with vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, and minced garlic. Season and leave in the fridge for half an hour. Grill.

2. Make sure all ingredients are ready to go – carrots are shredded, red pepper sliced thinly, glass noodles hydrated, and coriander is chopped. 
3. Fill a shallow dish with warm water and add a rice paper sheet one at a time for about 5 to 10 seconds. Remove from dish and place on a flat surface. Top with glass noodles, red pepper slices, shredded carrot, sliced chicken, and coriander leaves. Fold both ends and roll the sheet tightly. 
4. For the dipping sauce combine soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, lime juice and chopped coriander. Serve with summer roll.
5. Folding the spring rolls can become a tad boring after a while – if you give up half way, combine all ingredients into a bowl, add sliced cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced mangoes for a refreshing salad!

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