Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

The Morning After: How Everything Turned Out

When I awoke this morning, the aromas from last night?s dinner still hung in the air?mint and cilantro, ginger and garlic, turmeric and nuoc mam. There were lots of leftovers too?spring rolls, soup, baby greens, cellophane noodles, spring vegetables, papaya relish and sorbet...a little of everything except the grilled pork. And there were plenty of leftover ingredients too, which I will be using to make an Indian fish curry, and a batch of Arabic fatoosh later in the week.

And now for the details of the dinner...

The cold summer rolls were delightful, with all the fresh raw ingredients, especially the mint. And despite my skepticism regarding my first experience cooking with nuoc mam, the nuoc cham dipping sauce was the star of the show. The fried spring rolls were another story however. Although they were quite tasty, they were a little greasy, and didn?t crisp up and brown as I?d hoped. I don?t know if it was because the filling had too much moisture or what. The oil was plenty hot, so I don?t think that was the problem, and since the rice paper wrappers are so delicate, I think that particular filling recipe would have been better suited for wonton skins.

The lemongrass consomme with the seafood dumplings was a nice surprise too. The lemongrass added an intensely redolent flavor element, and although they were labor intensive, the seafood dumplings were not only beautiful, but very tasty too.

The green papaya salad turned out beautifully, but after watching the film, I realized that my papaya was not really ?green?, but was rather just a little under-ripe. Nevertheless, it was a good flavor to compliment the cellophane noodles and the baby greens. I had originally wanted to use watercress, and still think that would be the best choice, but watercress is hard to come by in Napa this time of year, and what little I was able to find was an odd variety that didn?t look anything like the watercress I know and love, and? it was way overpriced. So I chose baby greens instead, which were an excellent substitute. They provided a lovely balance of sweet and bitter, and one of the leafy varieties in the mix tasted just like rose petals. Finally, the Hanoi yellow fish nuggets turned out perfectly and looked so beautiful as the centerpiece of the salad. All the flavor components came together with the lime-mint-rice vinegar dressing for a light and lovely salad.

The pork loin was another unexpected success. For the marinade, I wrapped it in aluminum foil with some of the nuoc cham and dusted it with a whisper of Chinese five-spice powder. Never having used that particular seasoning before, I didn?t want to be too heavy-handed with it. The little bit that I used turned out to be just the right amount. And after much ado about the clay pot for cooking it, at the last minute, I chickened out and decided to grill it on my little George Foreman electric grill instead. Another wise choice. The outside turned a rich caramelized brown, while the inside was still ever so slightly pink, and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The only problem: there just wasn?t enough of it. We both could have gone for seconds.

I served the pork loin with jasmine rice seasoned with ginger and garlic, and a fresh papaya-chili-red pepper-mint relish?the perfect compliment for the rich, deep spice of the meat. And for the vegetable side dish, I lightly steamed a medley of baby bok choy, julienne carrots, snow peas and mushrooms, which I then tossed in the wok with a little nuoc mam and sesame oil.

For dessert, I served a light sorbet that I made from papaya-pineapple nectar, lime juice, ginger and mint essence, finished with a little coconut milk. Both flavor and texture were absolutely perfect, and I served it with slices of ripe papaya. It was a wonderful conclusion to one of the best meals I?ve ever prepared.

Tune in tomorrow for recipes...