Even though I come from a large Italian family and my childhood is filled with memories of baked ziti, simmering pots of tomato gravy and golden pyramids of struffoli dripping with honey and studded with rainbow sprinkles, my parents’ favorite foods to cook were Indian curries, rice and chapatis. Then in my 20s, I moved to New York to learn classic French cuisine and soon after married into a Swedish family with an entirely new canon of family cooking. It never ceases to amaze me how all across the globe, different cultures have cultivated wildly different types of cuisines with layers upon layers of microcuisines formed by regions, neighborhoods and families. But there is only one part of the world where the flavors, smells and textures find their way into my dreams — East and Southwest Asia.
Having lived in Chicago for over a decade, one of my favorite lunch spots was an Asian American restaurant called Urban Belly, and I dreamed of my favorite dishes there for years after we moved. Lucky for us, chef Bill Kim came out with a cookbook of all his incredible recipes called Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces. This is where I learned to make one of the best dipping and dressing sauces of all time — nuoc cham. The veggie wrap is a fresh, easy and healthy lunch or dinner … and the sauce? Well that’s what makes it dreamy and craveable.
Add whatever your favorite veggies are right now, and feel free to add protein to these. Grilled chicken, fish and shrimp are my favorite ways to mix it up.
Veggie Wraps with ‘Nuoc Cham’
Total time: 30 minutes;
makes: 4 servings
For the nuoc cham:
¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup water
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 green Thai chiles, minced or sliced with seeds
For the wraps:
1 bunch of collard greens (with nice big leaves), washed and dried well
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 cup cucumber, matchsticks
2 cup red cabbage, sliced
½ cup cilantro and/or mint leaves
2 avocado, sliced
Make the nuoc cham: In a bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, water, garlic and chiles until the sugar is dissolved. Store in an airtight container in the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can all meld together.
Now it’s time to make the wraps: Lay out your collard green leaves on a clean work surface. Add carrots, cucumber, cabbage, herbs and avocado to the center of each leaf. Fold over the sides, then roll each one. Lay them seam side down to keep closed. Cut each roll in half and serve immediately, using the nuoc cham as dipping sauce.