Tag Archives: naturally gluten free

Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Zucchini Noodles

Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls, or gỏi cuốn, are also called salad rolls or summer rolls. They are light and refreshing, and much healthier than fried spring rolls. Over ten years ago my friend, Quentin, invited me over to dinner at his mother’s house. She is originally from Vietnam* and put out a spread of delicious ingredients for us to roll our own fresh spring rolls. I’ve never forgotten it. (*Similar to how I’ve learned a lot of Mexican sweets living in San Diego, we also benefit from a large Vietnamese population here.)

how to make fresh vietnamese spring rolls

I think “Salad Rolls” is a better description for fresh spring rolls, as they are light and fresh with lot’s of greens, herbs and lean proteins. Many restaurants also put in rice vermicelli noodles. I took it one step healthier and used raw zucchini “noodles” made from cutting an enormous garden zucchini with a julienne peeler. Handy gadget. The wrappers are made from rice. The rice paper comes in hard discs that are softened in a few seconds in warm water.

How To Make Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls

You can’t get more straightforward instructions than the back of the packaging!

fresh spring roll instructions

Here are my suggested fillings, feel free to only use what you like and to get creative:

  • Grilled Shrimp, Leftover Chicken, Steak or Tofu
  • Salad Greens
  • Fresh Herbs including Thai Basil, Mint, Cilantro , Scallions and Lemon Basil (use a LOT of herbs)
  • Cooked Rice Vermicelli or Raw Zucchini Noodles
  • Chopped Peanuts
  • Bean and Pea Sprouts and other raw veggies

Dipping Sauces for Salad Rolls:

  • The most common is a peanut sauce, easy recipe follows.
  • Another traditional is called nước mắm phawhich is a clear, sweet and sour with a little fish sauce. A girl I once worked with gave me her mom’s recipe, I’ll have to hunt around and see if I still have it.
  • You can’t go wrong with Sriracha!

fresh vietnamese spring rolls with zucchini noodles

Easy Peanut Dipping Sauce for Fresh Spring Rolls

That’s it! Warm in a sauce pan over low heat to mix easier. You can add a little water to thin, if needed.

True story: When I first made these rolls at home, I went to a Vietnamese market in search of peanut dipping sauce. I asked the young man stocking where it was. He didn’t think they had it and asked his grandmother. She laughed and (with her grandson translating) explained they always made it. She swore all you needed was these two ingredients. I usually can’t restrain myself from throwing in a little sriracha and nước mắm, but try it as is!

Shopping Notes:

The best prices are in Asian markets. These ingredients are pretty common, so you can usually find them on the “ethnic” aisle of big grocery stores. If you can’t find them easily, I’ve included some affiliate links to Amazon. Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!

Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka with Cardamon

Finally! This is a recipe I have been wanting to share since I first made it six months ago. I made up this variation of lamb moussaka after going to a new Middle Eastern grocery store in town and finding pomegranate concentrate.* This pomegranate and lamb moussaka with cardamon instantly became a “keeper,” a regular go-to meal in my rotation. I have since made it about ten times and my family loves it.

Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka

Traditional Greek Moussaka layers sautéed or fried eggplant, a meat and tomato sauce, and is topped with Béchamel or white sauce (butter, flour and milk.) Some say it is analogous to lasagna for Americans, but I say it is more like a Shepard’s pie. My take on the classic Greek dish highlights tart pomegranate instead of tomato paste or sauce and flavors the meat with fragrant cardamon. I also lighten it up by making a quick egg and milk custard with Greek yogurt instead of Béchamel, and by roasting the eggplant slices instead of frying. Both changes also make the recipe a little faster. I was inspired by two of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants, a Persian restaurant, Soltan Banoo, that serves an amazing pomegranate soup, and a Lebanese joint, Mama’s Bakery, where I love the beef shwarma, heavily scented with cardamon.

*About pomegranate molasses vs. pomegranate concentrate: Pomegranate molasses is a sweet and sour syrup used in Middle Eastern cuisine. As a “secret ingredient” in stews and sauces, it gives an amazing flavor that can be hard to place. Pomegranate concentrate tastes similar, but is made solely of reduced pomegranate juice, without the added sugar, preservatives and flavor enhancers molasses often has. If you don’t have either, substitute pomegranate juice, ideally reduced a little to make it more concentrated in flavor. Or just use the more traditional tomato paste!

Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka

Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka Recipe

  • 2 medium to large eggplant
  • coconut oil spray or 1 Tablespoon avocado oil, coconut oil or olive oil

For the meat layer:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • onion, carrot, celery, garlic
  • 1 pound ground lamb and/or beef
  • 2 teaspoons cardamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate concentrate, molasses or juice (find at middle Eastern stores like North Park Produce and if you can’t find it, substitute tomato paste)

For the custard layer:

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • Pistachios, chopped kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese

Peel, slice and salt the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture and bitterness. Then pat dry and roast in a 425°F oven with a little oil until soft, flipping the slices once. (Notes: Lately I like spraying both sides of the eggplant with a little sprayable coconut oil. It distributes a nice, fine layer. Otherwise eggplant can soak up a lot of oil. Olive oil is classic, however, I try to not to use it over 325°F. Both coconut and avocado oil have higher smoking points.)

Sautée the onion, carrots, etc. in a large pan. Add the meat and spices until the meat is just browned. Add the pomegranate concentrate or tomato and turn down to a simmer until cooked through.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the yogurt, milk and seasonings.

To assemble, put the meat layer down first in a 9″ by 13″ pan. Top with the eggplant slices, then pour the custard batter into the pan. Sprinkle on the toppings then bake 25-30 minutes at 350°F until the egg is set.

Click on any photo in the gallery below to expand and see the steps.

Pin the recipe to save for later!

Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka

Enjoy! This dish freezes well. I made a double batch in preparation for new baby. After baking, I froze it whole. To reheat it, I let it defrost in the fridge for a day and then warmed it in the oven until the center was hot.

Farewell to Summer Fig + Feta Salad

With the fall equinox, the season finally seems to be turning in Southern California. It seems as though the rest of the country has moved past apples and onto pumpkin, but we are still picking tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. (Complaining of SoCal problems sounds like humble bragging.) I’m sharing my favorite fig and feta salad as a farewell to summer. Our tree’s fruit are in their last stages and our mint barely survived the last heat wave. I had wanted to first post my feta recipe, but at this stage of my pregnancy, I don’t have the time or focus for a long cheesemaking post, like this one on chèvre.

fig + feta salad with mint and balsamic

Little Bird thoroughly enjoyed figs straight from the tree this summer. There is something lovely about eating them slightly warm from the sun. Here she is showing one of her best buddies where to find the ripe ones:

Picking Figs

As I wrote the recipe (below), I felt a little silly typing out the ingredient list. With only the four ingredients in the title, it seemed a little pointless. This combination is so flavorful and balanced, it doesn’t even need salt and pepper!

fig + feta salad with mint and balsamic

Fig and Feta Salad with Mint and Balsamic Vinegar

  • Figs
  • Feta
  • Mint
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Gently rinse figs. Cut off stems and then cut in half. Arrange in a shallow bowl or plate. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and chopped, fresh mint. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or a balsamic reduction. Gently mix and serve.

fig + feta salad with mint and balsamic


Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I finally got around to processing our extra tomatoes this weekend. Out of 5 pounds of heirlooms and Roma’s, I made tomato sauce with garlic, based on Alice Water’s recipe. But my absolute favorite alchemy is what happens to cherry tomatoes when they are slow roasted in the oven. If you like the taste of sun-dried tomatoes, but could do without the leathery texture, then you will love these oven roasted cherry tomatoes. And you will be surprised how easy they are!

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I love having the taste of summer throughout the year, and nothing speaks to the sunshine and vitamins of summer as well as these easy tomatoes. Try using them in place of sun-dried tomatoes in recipes, such as this Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Pesto.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes Recipe

  • Cherry, Grape or small Roma Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Rinse tomatoes and cut in half. Spread, cut side up, on a silicone mat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle, lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Roast in a 225°F oven for 2-3 hours or until somewhat dried, but still a little juicy. Let cool.

Enjoy as is or pack into a clean jar, cover with more olive oil, and can or freeze. If freezing, leave a little space at the top. Tip: as awesome as garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs are with tomatoes, DO NOT put them in your jars. They contain moisture and will make it mold more quickly.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

 Click on any picture in the gallery below to expand and see the steps.

Simple, Easy Recipes for Summer Dinners

I love summer. I love having extra daylight in the evening. Best of all, our garden is at it’s peak. I often slack on grocery shopping. Driving home from work, I will approach panic and then realize, between the garden and the chickens, I can pull together a simple, easy dinner recipe without having to stop and buy any extra ingredients.

Easy, simple recipes: spaghetti squash pesto and zucchini frittata

The other night was a classic example. Our refrigerator was extremely bare. But I had recently made fresh goat cheese, our chickens are laying eggs, and we had giant zucchinis, cherry tomatoes, a spaghetti squash, garlic and plenty of herbs all from the garden.

Easy, simple recipes: spaghetti squash pesto

As soon as I got home from work, I threw the spaghetti squash whole into the toaster oven. (The regular oven works fine, but the smaller squash fit in the toaster oven, which saves energy and keeps the kitchen from getting as hot.) After about 45 minutes at 350°, it was soft. I cut it in half, pulled out the flesh, discarding the seeds and shredded it with a fork. Click here for the pesto recipe. This time I experimented by throwing in an avocado from a friend’s tree. It made it extra creamy.

Easy, simple recipes: zucchini frittata

Next up was a frittata. I sautéed the zucchini and garlic in some ghee a friend made, had Little Bird stir, stir the eggs, and then mixed in tomatoes and thyme. After baking, we topped it with our fresh chèvre rolled in truffle salt. For the full frittata recipe, click here.

Victory Gardens for the win!