Vietnamese Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tau Hu Cuon La Nho)

Vietnamese Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tau Hu Cuon La Nho) Recipe

This recipe is the result of one of my many experiments. The plants in our garden are starting to sprout beautifully. We have a small grape vine, so I used the leaves as wrappers for some Vietnamese vegetarian appetizers called tàu hũ cuốn lá nho (grape leaf wrapped tofu).

If you want to make the dish truly authentic, you should use betel leaves, but I find this version served on occasion. Betel leaves have a peppery, slightly bitter taste and I think the grape leaves taste a lot milder. The choice of the filling is really up to you. I filled them with bean thread noodles, fried jicama, shiitake mushrooms, fried tofu and fresh soy bean paste (packed with protein).

Either way, they make the perfect snack or appetizers. They're healthy, tasty and packed with good nutrition.

Ingredients

Yields: 6 servings

30 fresh grape leaves
1 Yukon Gold potato
1 lemon, freshly squeezed
2/3 cup peanut oil (or regular vegetable oil), as needed
¼ cup fresh soy bean paste (see tips)
½ jicama (see tips)
½ (12-ounce) package firm tofu
5 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
½ carrot, shredded into grain-like threads
1 (2-ounce) package dried bean thread noodles
1-½ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
½ teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked using a mortar and pestle
3 tablespoons caramelized onions (see tips)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped


Directions

For the bean thread noodles: Place the whole package of dried bean thread noodles in a bowl. Don't forget to cut the little threads and discard them! Soak the noodles in cold water for 30-40 minutes and drain. Chop into 1 inch threads. Set aside.

For the tofu: Drain any liquid from the tofu. Pat dry with a paper towel. Slice the tofu into ½-inch thick pieces. In a large pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil; pan-fry the tofu slices until slightly golden. Don't overcook the pieces or they'll start to get hard. The tofu should still be moist. Transfer the tofu to a plate. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips. Set aside.

For the jicama: Peel and slice horizontally into ½-inch thick pieces. In the same pan, add more oil (if necessary) and fry the jicama slices until golden brown. Transfer to a platter, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips, then finely chop them. Set aside.

Frying potatoes: Peel and shred the potato. Place in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain all the liquid. Pat dry.

In the same large pan, add about 2 more tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle about 4 tablespoons of shredded potato evenly into the pan. Do not stir. Wait for at least 2 minutes until one side is nicely fried, crisp and golden. Flip the potatoes using chopsticks. Continue until all the potato is fried. Add more oil if necessary. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels.

Making the filling: In the pan, add the shallots; cook until fragrant. Add the soy bean paste. Separate into small lumps using a spatula, then add the chopped mushrooms. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes, then add carrots and the bean thread noodles. Make sure the temperature is high so the filling doesn't become watery. Turn off the heat. Season with mushroom seasoning, sugar (if used) and pepper. Allow to cool a little. Add the shredded tofu, potatoes, jicama, caramelized onions and cilantro. Mix well. Check the seasoning. Add more mushroom seasoning if necessary.


Assembly time:

Place a grape leaf, vein side down, and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the tofu filling at the base of the leaf. Form a log with the filling and roll the wrapper once towards the top corner of the leaf. You want to make sure not to over-fill the leaf; otherwise the excess filling will burst out of the sides while cooking. Using kitchen shears, snip the excess ends of the leaf. Secure a toothpick into the Vietnamese "dolmades" (see tips). Repeat until all the ingredients are used.

Brush a pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Place the tofu stuffed grape leaves on the pan. Sear them for about 2 minutes per side until the leaves change color. Drizzle with ½ cup of water. Cover with a lid and let simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove and discard the toothpicks.

Serve warm; you can serve them as a snack or appetizers. You can garnish cilantro and a dipping bowl of nước chấm (Vietnamese vegetarian mock fish sauce) on the side.

Bon appétit!


Tips

I find making vegetarian filling so much easier than using meat filling. The filling is already pre-cooked prior to frying; it's a much safer bet than adding ground chicken or other meat, plus they're just as delicious.

I used fresh grape vine leaves from my garden. You can find the same product in any Indian market (If you live in the Bay Area, check out Taj Mahal, 3109 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051).

After several tests, Thanh Son tàu hũ (tofu) is hands down the best kind to use for this recipe. If you live in the Bay Area, they sell in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose. The tofu is freshly made daily. Thanh Son's main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose. They recently expanded the main store.

Jicama is a large, sweet, firm turnip that is used in vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine to imitate the juicy pork fat and pork skin (when fried). It's crunchy like an apple and filling like a potato. You can find it in most supermarket produce departments or any Vietnamese store; it's called củ sắn. You could replace jicama with water chestnut to add crunch to the filling.

You can find small packages of dried bean thread noodles in any Asian stores. I buy the Ba Co Gai (Three Ladies) brand.

Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the broth. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.

Frying onions is easy. Chop the onion. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a skillet. Fry the onion in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning until the color is evenly golden brown. Drain the oil on paper towels. I always make extra so that I can vacuum-seal and store them in the freezer for future use. I place about one cup per bag. You can store them up to 3 months. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn.

I bought soy bean paste at a Korean store. Soy bean paste, also known as okara, is the solid remnants from squeezing freshly-made soy milk. It's fairly easy and fun to make but it's time-consuming (I'll try to post the recipe soon). Soy bean paste is a great substitute for meat and it's very nutritious.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on May 16, 2011.


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