Cuốn Diếp

Vietnamese Lettuce Roll

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Preparation info

  • Serves

    6

    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

Do you think it is pretentious that I have insisted on including the polytonic* accents on the Vietnamese name of this lettuce roll and its fermented fish sauce? I definitely have no idea what they portend as to pronunciation. My spoken Vietnamese is limited, to say the least. But I am proud of being able to get these exotic marks to display on my computer screen.

The culinary interest of this recipe is also polytonic, so to speak. First, and foremost for our current purposes, is the use of lettuce instead of the emblematically Vietnamese rice-pancake “spring roll” skin called bánh tráng. These skins are much crisper than their Chinese counterparts and, after they have been softened with egg yolk, are the canonical wrappers for the omnipresent spring rolls called chá giò.

Second, these equally ubiquitous lettuce rolls are wrapped in raw lettuce, a feature of some Chinese dishes, but what is germane here is that the raw lettuce provides the crunch all by itself that bánh tráng do for chá giò after being soaked in egg and then fried. Whatever lettuce they use in Danang, the locally available American alternative would seem to be iceberg.

Third, the ineluctable Vietnamese fish sauce nὐὀc mấm is, however challenging it may be to the palates of round-eyed first-timers, a living ringer for the oldest recorded sauce in the Western tradition: garum. This barrel-fermented, anchovy-based condiment was a fundamental feature of cooking in ancient Rome.

Ingredients

  • 1 iceberg lettuce
  • 4 ounces (¼ package) medium rice sticks (bún) or 1 packet of thin Japanese wheat noodles (somen), boiled for 2 or 3 minutes, drained, and cooled under cold water
  • ½ pound medium shrimp, boiled, shelled, and halved lengthwise
  • ½ pound pork belly or other boneless pork, boiled for 20 minutes and sliced into noodle-thin 2-inch by 1-inch strips
  • 1 handful mint leaves
  • 1 handful coriander leaves (cilantro), roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch scallion greens, blanched for 30 seconds
  • One recipe Nὐὀc Chấm Sauce

Method

  1. Cut the lettuce leaves in half along the central vein. Rinse and dry.
  2. Lay out the lettuce leaves on a clean counter. At the root end of each piece, place 2 tablespoons noodles, a shrimp half, a pork slice, 3 mint leaves, and a pinch of chopped coriander leaves. Roll up tightly and tie in the middle with a scallion green. If any lettuce leaves are left over, use them in a green salad at another time.
  3. Trim the ends of the rolls and place on a serving platter. Pass the Nὐὀc Chấm Sauce.

*More than one diacritical mark per letter. Ancient Greek is a polytonic language.

†In Microsoft Word’s standard toolbar, click on Insert, then in the menu that appears, click on Symbol. Find the character you want, click on it, and then click the box labeled SUBMIT. This will cause the desired character to appear where you left the cursor in the file you were creating. Of course, if you have a Vietnamese font installed on your computer, this dodge is unnecessary.

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