It is tradition in American culture to bestow paper upon one’s beloved in recognition of the first wedding anniversary. While The Astronomer and I usually buck tradition, there was something awesomely antiquated and strangely appealing about this age-old gift giving ritual.
A special book, a letter written by hand, or a magazine subscription would have all made very nice gifts for The Astronomer; however, none of these things resonated with me personally. I wanted to give him something truly unique to honor the occasion.
After plotting and planning for a few weeks, I came up with a quirky idea. Rather than define “paper” literally, I decided to interpret it edibly. For our first wedding anniversary, I presented The Astronomer with rice paper in the form of gỏi cuốn and bò bía. My husband’s the kind of guy who really appreciates cleverness, ingenuity, and deliciousness, so this gift was absolutely perfect for him.
Gỏi cuốn is a popular snack food in Vietnam and is usually ordered as an appetizer in Vietnamese restaurants stateside. It is comprised of tightly wrapped rice paper bundles filled with pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles, herbs, and greens. A Hoisin-based sauce topped with crushed peanuts is often served on the side for dipping. The flavors and textures present in this dish are fresh, snappy, and satisfying, kind of like our first year of marriage.
For gỏi cuốn (pork and shrimp rolls)
- 1 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 pound pork leg (or any other lean cut)
- 8 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles, cooked according to directions on package
- 1 head red leaf lettuce
- 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
- 1 cucumber
- 16-20 garlic chives or Chinese chives
- 1 package rice paper
For nước tương (hoisin dipping sauce)
- Hoisin sauce
- Broth from cooking pork and shrimp
- Peanuts, toasted and crushed
Prepare shrimp and pork
Bring a small saucepan filled with salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until just cooked through. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. While the water is still boiling, add the pork. Reduce the heat and poach the pork at a low simmer for 15 to 18 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the pork and set aside to cool. Reserve the stock for the Hoisin dipping sauce.
Once the shrimp have cooled, slice each one in half horizontally. Once the pork has cooled, cut across the grain to create thin slices of pork. Set the shrimp and pork aside.
Prepare herbs and greenery
Wash head of lettuce thoroughly and remove the ribs. Remove the seeds from the cucumber and slice thinly. Wash and trim the mint and garlic chives as necessary.
Assemble gỏi cuốn
Quickly wet a piece of rice paper under running water, making sure to moisten both sides. Lay it down on a cutting board. Place a lettuce leaf at the lower end of the rice paper. Add rice noodles, pork, mint, and cucumber evenly across the rice paper.
Roll the rice paper over the filling and tuck it underneath. Add the shrimp with the sliced side facing up. Fold the sides inward and add a chive over the shrimp. Continue rolling as tight as possible without tearing the rice paper. Repeat until there are no more shrimp and pork.
Make nước tương (Hoisin dipping sauce)
In a small saucepan, whisk together 1 cup of Hoisin sauce with 1/8 to 1/4 cup of the pork and shrimp broth and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Use less liquid for a thicker sauce and more for a looser one. Heat over a low flame until the sugar has dissolved, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, top with peanuts, and serve with the gỏi cuốn.
Makes 16 to 18 gỏi cuốn.