By: Shannon Smith | Category: Restaurants | Issue: May 2020
This year will mark the beginning of one of the most extraordinary times in history as we’ve all taken shelter in our homes to stay out of harm’s way. When the news of this mysterious “coronavirus” hit the worldwide news in January, I was traveling in Southeast Asia. For most of the month, I explored food markets and took cooking lessons in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. News of the virus was in the headlines, but life was buzzing along normally in most of the cities I visited. But when I traveled to Macao, which is the “Las Vegas” of Asia on the southernmost tip of China, there wasn’t a soul in the streets. Ordinarily, this city would be bustling with tourists and revelers, and I remember thinking, “this would never happen in our Las Vegas.” Looking back, I realized I got a glimpse of what was to come.
I returned home in February, full of new recipes and a new appreciation for Asian food, particularly Indonesian. I was preparing for my Asian cooking classes when the world came to a halt just a few weeks later. Not only were my classes on hold, but it also seemed my whole life was on hold. So, the only way I knew to cope was to get in the kitchen and cook. As I stood over my stove, stirring pots of soups and stews, I wondered what I could possibly do to help others during this time of uncertainty. Since food is my love language, I decided to do what I do best - feed people. I dropped off meals at my friends’ doorsteps. I fed nurses and police officers. I baked cookies for farmers who delivered eggs to my doorstep. Then, I was asked to make cooking videos to help those stuck at home who needed a little inspiration for meals while in sheltering in place. Nearly every day during the month of April, I have taught someone how to cook—and I’ve never felt so useful.
I’ve also spent more time outside and even planted a garden. I probably jumped the gun a bit, but I couldn’t help myself during those sunny early spring days. I’ve stopped to watch the birds as they build their nests and sing to each other. They sit on the fence watching me pick weeds, probably wondering why I am spending so much more time in their territory and wishing I would go away so they can get back to normal.
In many ways, I do look forward to going out into the world again, eating in my favorite restaurants, traveling the globe, and, of course, hugging my friends. But in some ways, I will miss this slowed-down life, watching my lettuce grow and baking cookies while listening to the birds tweet. As much as I enjoy being on the go, I’ve found a new appreciation for the smaller, quieter moments.
I hope you have found some joy the past few weeks, and I hope you got some time to try out new recipes and share it with those you love. If you’d like to add a little Asian influence to your repertoire, you’re going to love my recipe for spring rolls that I brought back from Vietnam. I have been obsessed with making spring rolls lately, and they are as easy as to whip up as they are delicious. The basic ingredients can be found at most grocery stores, but I encourage you to fill them up with veggies grown with love by your local farmers. This summer may be different from those in the past, but I encourage you to still seek out locally grown foods and support our farmers who have worked tirelessly to produce delicious vegetables and herbs. You can find more of my recipes at ChefShannon.com.
Vegetable Spring Rolls with Sweet Chile Sauce - Serves 8
I love spring rolls because you can really fill them with whatever you’ve got in the fridge. When I was in Vietnam, we filled them with sautéed beef and vegetables, and they were delicious. But, I like the vegetarian version better, actually. Many spring rolls have raw vegetables inside, but these have both cooked and raw, which gives you a lot of different textures and flavors. If you don’t have all these ingredients, add whatever you want. Spring roll wrappers are readily available in nearly every grocery store, and they are easy to use. The rolls are best within two hours of assembling, so plan accordingly.
Sweet Chile Sauce:
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, carrots, celery, onion, jalapeño, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. Cook for about five minutes, until just soft, but not mushy. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Remove from heat and put on a plate to cool. Meanwhile, on another plate, arrange the radish slices, mint leaves, basil leaves, green onions, and flowers. Set aside with the vegetable plate. In a bowl, add 3 cups of hot water. One at a time, dip the rice paper into the hot water and press to submerge. It should soften in about 30 seconds, and remove to a plate or board. At the bottom, one-third of the circle, place 3 tablespoons of the cooked vegetable mixture. Top with 4 slices of radish, 3 mint leaves, 2 or 3 basil leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of green onions, and some flowers. Fold in the left and right sides of the rice paper, then fold the bottom edge up and over the filling, rolling tightly toward the top. Repeat with remaining rice paper and filling. Replace the water with hot water, as needed. The rolls can be made two hours in advance. Cover with a damp cloth until you’re ready to serve them. Serve with sweet chile sauce.
I’m Chef Shannon Smith, creator of chefshannon.com, a website where I share my travel adventures, cooking experiences, jewelry creations, life stories, world travels, recipes, cooking classes, and jewelry art. In the past ten years, I’ve traveled to 52 countries, and I hope to add at least that many more over the next ten years. In every country, I am blessed to meet interesting people, learn new cultures, and try all kinds of delicious food. I take cooking classes, join food tours, meet with chefs, and often dine with people in their homes or restaurant kitchens. I’ve lived in Tulsa for over 30 years, and I love teaching people how to cook, especially dishes learned while traveling around the world. Some of my favorite cuisines are Indian, Moroccan, Turkish, Israeli, and Italian, although Indian is the cuisine that makes me the happiest. I’ve collected numerous recipes and methods for making delicious food, and I share those recipes on beadsandbasil.com. I teach classes several times a month when my travels allow. Those classes are advertised on the website but are almost always filled within hours after posting, so I also occasionally teach cooking classes to private groups. My readers and viewers get to learn about my cooking adventures, utensils and appliances. At last count, I have eight grills, two tagines, 22 knives, and ninety-four thousand serving dishes - at least according to my husband. My refrigerators are filled with nuts, cheese, and dried fruits I’ve brought from other countries. And my spice cabinets contain a menagerie of exotic and odiferous seeds, pods, and dried herbs that I use so many ways. Jewelry art is my other favorite activity. I create jewelry from beads and trinkets collected on my travels, including amber from Russia and Estonia, glass from Murano, Italy, paper beads from Rwanda, and old Yemen prayer capsules from Israel. I have an Indian friend who has some of the most beautiful semi-precious stones that he cuts into beautiful shapes. Several times a year, I attend national bead and jewelry shows where I search for unusual items to complete my creations. Many more adventures are planned for the future, and I’m excited to share them with you in my monthly column in Values Magazine, including recipes, cooking tips, interviews with my favorite Tulsa area chefs, cookbook recommendations, travel stories, my favorite local food trucks, and ways we can give our time and talents to our fantastic community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram at Chef Shannon.
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