Sunday, September 25, 2011

homemade cha gio

for awhile i've been talking to jen and ben about making pho. since they are allergic to gluten, they have ventured into rice noodles and rice papers. awhile ago we made spring rolls which they loved.

we finally made a date in our diaries to make chicken pho (vietnamese noodles). i was able to find most of the ingredients, but i never saw thai basil at any of the asian grocery stores. however, last week, i was ecstatic to find it at the korea food grocery store in new malden! also i needed bean thread vermicelli, and ben suggested using rice vermicelli instead. i gave him this look and said, "c'mon. what kind of foodie are you? " i explained to him, "if we're going to make it, we're doing it the proper way." luckily i found the bean thread vermicelli at korea foods as well.

i packed all my stuff and headed over to jen and ben's. it's a good thing i started at 1:30pm b/c it was an all day process.

we started off by preparing the broth (recipe given to me by my friend, juicy, when she visited me back in april 2011). i didn't want to run out of broth so we prepared 4 pots of stock. i might have overestimated just a little bit. it's a good thing their family likes chicken b/c there's loads of it leftover.

i was excited to make the cha gio (fried spring rolls). this appetizer is one of my favorite vietnamese dishes. i found a recipe on wandering chopsticks blog. so that's the recipe i followed. thankfully jen had a food processor which saved us a lot of time in chopping.

while i continued to roll the spring rolls, she fried the cha gio. i chuckled each time she declared, "no touching! don't get naked." apparently when the rolls touch each other in the oil, they tend to lose their rice paper skin. i suggest not frying too many at once.

when i explained to jen that these spring rolls are best wrapped in lettuce, she slapped me on my arm while exclaiming, "get out!" she was so excited to know that this meal was not just fried food. i mean, who doesn't love fried food? but what i love about this dish is it is healthy as well when eaten with lettuce. i demonstrated to everyone how to eat the cha gio by wrapping the cha gio with lettuce, pickled carrots (recipe below) and cucumber then dipping in the fish sauce. as you take a bite, you can hear the crunch of the crispy rice paper and lettuce. i think i heard jen making lots of happy noises as she took a bite of her cha gio. at first, ben was a bit skeptical about wrapping the cha gio in lettuce, but he too was convinced that it was the better way to enjoy the cha gio.

we enjoyed our pho and our cha gio. i was very happy to share good food with good friends.

Below are the recipes for the cha gio, fish sauce and pickled carrots.

Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls (Gluten-Free Cha Gio)

For about two dozen egg rolls, you'll need:

1 lb ground pork
1 package rice paper wrappers. I prefer Three Ladies brand. (if you use small ones, will make about 3 dozen rolls)
1 small section bean thread vermicelli. They're sold individually or in packages, but the packages will tie a small bundle together. You just need one.
½ large onion, finely diced or grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 tsp salt, adjust to taste
2 tsp sugar, adjust to taste
1 tsp black pepper, adjust to taste
2 tsp nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce), adjust to taste

Optional: Ground turkey or chicken may be substituted for the pork. Add 1 cup minced shrimp if you're not allergic. Add finely shredded cabbage if you'd like more vegetables. Add minced crab to make it even more flavorful. Vegetarians may substitute the meats with fresh tofu. Add 1 cup dried mushrooms, soaked and sliced, or 1 cup Tree/Wood Ear Fungus/Mushroom, soaked.

Place the bean thread vermicelli noodles into hot water to soften. Squeeze vermicelli and mushrooms dry and allow to drain. Cut vermicelli into two-inch segments. I use a pair of scissors for ease. Cut off mushroom stems and slice thinly. Sometimes tree ear fungus is sold pre-sliced, if not, then slice into strips.

Grate the onion first and squeeze to remove excess water. Grate one or two carrots. Add 1 lb ground pork.

Add 1 tsp salt, 2 tsps sugar, 2 tsps fish sauce, and 1 tsp ground black pepper to the pork mixture. Mix everything thoroughly. To check for taste, I usually take a tiny lump of the meat and pop it into the microwave for 30 seconds or so. It's easier to adjust seasonings if necessary this way. Just remember to factor in that the fish sauce will make the mixture saltier as it gets absorbed and cooked.

You should only wrap enough egg rolls for however many you plan to eat right then. They don't keep so well. Store the filling in the fridge if you plan to make more egg rolls over the next few days. Otherwise, you can also freeze the leftover filling for use the next time you have a craving.

It's best to work with about two rice paper sheets at a time. On the left is the rice paper before being wetted, on the right, I've just splashed it with water on both sides. Have a large bowl of warm water on hand and just wet the rice paper in the bowl or do it under running water. There is no need to let the rice paper sit in the water. It will become pliable in a few seconds.

So wet one rice paper sheet and leave it to become pliable. Then wet a second sheet and leave it to become pliable. Return to the first sheet and it will now be pliable enough to roll. When you finish rolling, set the spring roll aside to dry out. Wet another sheet, and leave it. Return to the second sheet, which has now become pliable, and roll it. Repeat as desired.

Now, in rolling an egg roll, don't be greedy. A tablespoon or two is more than enough filling. Spread it out on top of the wrapper. See the other sheet in the top corner? It has just been wetted (Yeah, I made up that word.) and is just resting until it becomes pliable?

I usually fry on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the egg rolls.

Drain on paper towels or paper bags.

Serve with lettuce and Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce).

Nuoc Mam Cham Ngot (Vietnamese Sweetened Fish Dipping Sauce)

For a 24-oz jar, you'll need:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

Optional: Chili peppers

Boil 1/2 cup water. Actually, you don't have to boil the water, just get it hot so that it can dissolve the sugar more easily. Stir in 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup fish sauce, and 1/2 cup sugar. Taste and adjust if necessary. Add crushed chili peppers if you wish.

The taste should be slightly sweet and rather mild, the pungency of the fish sauce quite muted.

Store in a jar in the fridge. Serve with cha gio.

Vietnamese Pickled Vegetables (Dua Chua)


  • 250ml/8 fl oz distilled white vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1.2 tablespoon salt
  • 2 carrots, sliced 3mm/1/8 inch thick
  • 675g/1 1/2 lb white cabbage or Chinese leaves, cored and cut into long shreds about 1 cm/1/2 inch wide
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and cut into 5cm/2 inch lengths


  1. Put the vinegar, sugar, salt and 600ml/ 1 pint water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil; stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove form the heat and leave to cool until just warm to the touch.
  2. Put the carrots, cabbage and spring onions in a large ceramic bowl and pour the brine over the vegetables from floating.) Cover and leave to stand at room temperature until the vegetables turn sour, 4-6 hours or overnight.
  3. The pickled vegetables will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Drain before serving.

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