An Aside on Resourcefulness

I often write about resourcefulness. It’s one of my favorite food topics — whether I’m encouraging people to turn all the wilted veggies in the fridge drawer they were about to throw out into a soup, or reflecting on how to get five or six different dishes out of a single duck.

Vietnamese spring rolls

The other night, we hosted a Mexican dinner party. Mariachi played on the iTunes, my famous margaritas were flowing, and the menu was robust. In other words, I made too much food. We began with chips, guacamole and salsa, and moved on from there to chile rellenos and queso fundido, while a fruity Baja shrimp cocktail stood by in the fridge. For the main courses, pal Nat Parker brought several pounds of skirt and flank steak from the new celebrity lesbian butchers near his work, and I slow roasted a pork shoulder crossed between Yucatan cochinita pibil and Monica Schneider’s Dominican pernil — black beans and fried plantains on the side. By the time we got to the main courses, everyone was full and friend Jon was passed out on the couch.

I woke the next morning with a surprisingly light hangover, and stumbled toward the kitchen in search of juice. Opening the fridge, the first thing I saw was my large bowl of Baja shrimp cocktail, forgotten and unserved.

As you know, I hate to waste food. But there was little chance I would be able to eat two pounds of shrimp cocktail in one afternoon, especially with little support from the wife and kids. The following day it would be no good. And I was sad. Then, I remembered that we had dinner plans that evening at our friends Chris and Sue’s house. Chris was making a slow-cooked chicken dish with Kafir lime leaves and basil and coconut milk — and asked me to bring an appetizer. Now, of course, I would not bring a Baja shrimp cocktail as an appetizer to an Asian dinner. But I could improvise!

There are distinct similarities between Mexican cooking and Southeast Asian cuisine. In addition to the shrimp, my Mexican cocktail also featured mango, onion and cilantro, all ingredients I might use anyway if I was starting from scratch. I removed the shrimp from the fruity Baja cocktail marinade, and washed them off — allowing cilantro and mango to come along for the ride. The tails and shells removed, I chopped the shrimp finely, along with a bit of the pork shoulder I’d made for Cinco de Mayo. To this I added mint from the garden, chopped peanuts, more mango, the juice of a lime, some garlic, a drizzle of sesame oil and a splash of nuoc mam fish sauce. I wrapped them in some bánh tráng rice papers, and voila! A Vietnamese spring roll.

Next time you have leftovers, consider that there may be something more or different that you can do with them than simply reheating — leftover fried chicken makes a spectacular salad, for example. Leftover steak can become tacos, a Southeast asian salad, a Japanese stir fry. When you eat out, if there are leftover veggies and garnishes on your plate, take ’em home and make a soup! Think of it as a fun creative exercise! And enjoy…

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Vietnamese spring rolls
serves 4-6

2 lbs. cleaned, de-shelled shrimp
1/2 lb. cooked pork shoulder or other cut, shredded
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup diced ripe mango
2 tbsp. chopped mint
1/4 cup slivered onion
1 large garlic clove, grated
juice 1 lime
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. nuoc mam or other Southeast Asian fish sauce (available in Asian markets or online)
1 tsp. sesame oil
12 medium bánh tráng rice papers (available in Asian markets or online)
nuoc cham dipping sauce (recipe follows)

Mix together the shrimp and the pork until thoroughly integrated. Add peanuts, mango, mint, onion, garlic, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and sesame oil and mix vigorously (I use my hands!) until you’ve created a sticky filling.

Two or three at a time, wet the rice papers and lay them out — not touching (they will stick together) — on a wooden cutting board. Put a heaping tablespoon of the filling into the center of each. Begin rolling, tucking the side edges in, as you would a burrito. When the spring roll is finished, set it aside on a platter. Continue in this manner until all filling is gone. You should have between 10 and 14 spring rolls.

Serve immediately with small bowls of nuoc cham dipping sauce. (You can also make the spring rolls a couple hours early, cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.)

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Nuac cham dipping sauce:
Juice 3 limes
3 tbsp. fish sauce (nuac mam in Vietnamese)
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp. sugar
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Make the sauce. Combine the lime juice, water and fish sauce, and stir in sugar, whisking vigorously until it has dissolved. Add garlic and red pepper, stir and set aside for 30 or more minutes to let the flavors integrate.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    May 08, 2012 @ 02:35:43

    My mom used to always say it wasn’t a party unless we left something in the ‘fridge that we forgot to serve. Good save, though!


  2. mom
    May 08, 2012 @ 03:40:12

    This appeals to me, I am the master of no waste. I was at an impressionable age during WW2 when we were admonished to ‘clean our plates because there were children in Europe starving’. I’ve never forgotten it. All my favorite charities have to do with children in need. I don’t know how it happened but I’m glad my son inherited that gene.


  3. scolgin
    May 08, 2012 @ 18:33:02

    I just threw all my remaining leftovers from Cinco de Mayo — roast pork shoulder, black beans, stale tortilla chips — into a pot to make tortilla soup. Somebody stop me!!!


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