I sincerely hope after this recipe goes live that no one pounds me with a beating of 20 lashes because I broke some rules. Sometimes a girl needs a little culinary excitement in her life and if it means venturing outside my cultural comfort zone to feed myself, I’m game for the challenge. I’ll also brace myself for the bruises.
The person I’m most concerned about is my Mother, the kitchen diva who lives to feed everyone with her own two hands before she even thinks of nourishing herself. She has always put others before herself and I adore her for that.
Before I delve further into my public apology to Mom, there’s a back-story that you all should be aware of. Mom is a hard-core traditional home cook and although she’s stretched her cooking wings to experiment with other non-Vietnamese dishes, the woman is still deeply rooted to her culinary history. She won’t compromise on technique, flavor, spice, freshness and more intensity of spice.
If the food is bland, she’ll tell you. If she puts a dish in front of you and she changed her mind and is not happy with it, she’ll take it away. And you will starve. Seriously friends, I’m not kidding. We don’t eat unless she’s completely happy with the dish.
But if she’s happy with her dishes for the day, we all beg her for mercy to stop the feeding. We all wave our surrender flag from the food coma pains. Again, I’m not exaggerating.
Now that I’ve made it more clear how deeply, passionately and lovingly abusive she can be when it comes to feeding I hope you can understand why I’m apologizing to my Mom.
Fresh spring rolls wrapped with rice paper, fresh vegetables, herbs and delicately grilled meats was always a staple in our family. When Mom and Dad asked what we wanted for dinner, we’d all call out for hamburgers, pizza and macaroni and cheese. Most of the time, those requests went un-answered.
Our back-up dinner request was always fresh spring rolls because we all loved making the rolls ourselves. We’d have bowls of water on the table and secretly splash water from the rice paper bowls at each other when Mom and Dad weren’t looking. Dad was always the head-meister at the table top grill, nurturing the meat to the perfect, fragrant char. He never really saw the little food fights that were we were battling across the table.
Little brother #3 would throw a cucumber at brother #1 and Dad wouldn’t leave his sight from the meat. He really loves his beef, it’s such a luxury for him.
After a few episodes of annoying the heck out of each other, all six of us kids would focus back on rolling our dinner. A tear of crisp green lettuce layered on top of soft, pliable rice paper was the first step to playing with our food. Next, a few fresh herb leaves were plucked from their garden fresh stems. We’d lace the rice paper with some bean sprouts and cucumber for crunch. A final, thin serving of grilled lemongrass beef would grace our pile of greens.
Our small hands would gather the fillings to one end of the rice paper and roll till we produced a perfectly right spring roll. Dip in fish sauce, bite, enjoy and do it all over again. That’s why we loved spring rolls so much. It was such a fun, communal meal and every bite was different, fresh, satisfying. It was *almost* better than frozen pepperoni pizza.
So, as I grew up, I started to experiment more with what I could roll in a spring roll. I shared this amazing way of eating with Todd and over the years, our love of spring rolls was the brain-child of our first cookbook idea (this cookbook story is another post).
I’d often tell Mom what I was doing with the rice paper and all the interesting, yet respectful preparations I was making with spring rolls. She would cringe and ask me how that would pair with nuoc cham fish sauce dip. Her life resolves around fish sauce and everything makes more sense when it has fish sauce in it.
I would offer to make her some of my unique spring roll creations and she’s shake her head and tell me it’s too odd for her. If it doesn’t have grilled pork, tofu or lemongrass beef, she won’t touch it with a 10 foot chopstick.
Regardless of the verbal lectures I’d get from her about the oddities of my cooking and traditional culinary rule breaking, I’d continue to carry on in the kitchen with my erratic spring roll behavior. I’ve tried almost every variation and recipe I can think of for rice paper.
With this BLT spring roll, I’ve totally broken some rules with my Mom because there is no fish sauce in this recipe. But there is pork. I’m respectful of that.
I’ve also committed some seriously offensive spring roll crimes because I added raw tomato and bacon, two ingredients Mom and my ancestors would ever think of adding. I can hear them now, “How blasphemous this child is! Who raised her?!”
I wanted to have a fun, fresh, yet still devilishly-bad bacon creation for the spring roll and thus, the BLT spring roll is born. These rolls are satisfying, gluten-free, low carb and are the perfect lunch to hold you over till you want to crash with your carbs. Think of this recipe as a BLT sandwich in a roll that you can eat a lot of and not feel overloaded on bread.
Mom doesn’t know about this recipe yet and she’ll probably double-freak-out because I didn’t pair it with a fish sauce dip.
So Mom, I’m apologizing to you ahead of time for totally breaking the rules here. But please, to her and all of you traditionalists, don’t judge me until you’ve taken a bite. Or two. Or the whole darn plate because they’re so good!
Respectfully, your Spring Roll Rebel,
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