Sometimes, in the pantry, you've got to be ruthless.
Ted and I just designated for our upcoming yard sale an enormous platter with a turkey embossed on the bottom; we never use it for anything other than Thanksgiving turkey -- which we only make once every few years (and I think it was designed to hold a 25-pound bird). I'm also parting with a wok that's too big to fit on the stove (will we really use it on the fire pit some day?) and some of the extra whisks and spatulas I picked up at someone else's yard sale for almost nothing. And maybe a few springform pans, none of which seem to be exactly the right size for ... well ... anything.
When it comes to food in the pantry, I have a much harder time letting go. (The same can be said about cookbooks, but let's not go there.) So, as I travel through my pantry with you, looking carefully at each item and learning more about it, I've been asking myself, "Is this something I use in more than one way, in more than one dish, more than once a year?"
In the case of rice paper wrappers (banh trang), the answer is yes, yes and yes. Although associated almost exclusively with fresh Asian spring rolls (also called summer rolls or salad rolls), this ingredient passes the "more than one" test and earns its place on the pantry shelf.
Made from rice flour, salt and water, rice paper wrappers are flat, brittle, semi-transparent circles that come in rounds from 6 to 14 inches in diameter, and also are available in quarter-rounds (shaped like little pie wedges). Sold in round plastic boxes, these noodles must be moistened in lukewarm water to make them pliable. Rice paper wrappers can keep forever in the pantry, but the older they are, the more likely they are to break or to tear when moistened.
Banh trang -- also called rice paper rounds or sheets -- have no flavor, so they are perfect carriers for any combination of taste and texture, from banana turnovers to apple strudel, to rolls filled with everything from smoked salmon to mango to swiss chard.
What do you wrap in rice paper wrappers?
Salmon and Asian pesto potstickers
Makes 20 two-bite appetizers.
For the pesto:
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
Large bunch of cilantro, leaves only
Large bunch of Thai basil, leaves only
1/2 cup peanut oil
Sea salt, to taste
For the packages:
1-1/2 lb skinless salmon fillets
20 dry rice paper rounds, smallest available (preferably 6-inch size)
20 whole parsley or cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp peanut oil
Dipping sauce: your choice of sweet chili sauce, soy sauce or nuoc cham
Put all pesto ingredients in a small food processor and grind to a fairly smooth paste. Set aside.
Cut the salmon into 20 two-inch squares. Dip a rice paper wrapper in warm water to soften, and lay it flat on a clean dish towel. Put a parsley or cilantro leaf in the center, then top with a piece of salmon and a teaspoon of pesto. Fold up the sides of the wrapper to form a neat square (trim edges if wrapper is too big). The damp wrappers will stick closed. Place on a plate, seam side down (the pretty leaf will be facing up, visible through the rice paper). Repeat until all of the salmon and rice papers are used.
Heat peanut oil in a frying pan and cook the parcels, sealed side down, for 3 minutes until brown on the bottom. Transfer to a steamer set over boiling water and steam 4-6 minutes, OR add 1/2 cup water to the frying pan, cover, and turn the heat to simmer for 4-6 minutes. Check every couple of minutes to make sure there is still enough water in the pan to create steam. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold, with dipping sauce of your choice.
*** Note: The packages can be made ahead and fried ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap, and chilled. Steam when needed, or cook completely in advance and serve cold or at room temperature. You can also freeze the parcels before cooking.
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