Beef & Vegetable Nem; which is first: cheese or dessert?

Vietnamese nem, Chinese spring rolls, Moroccan cigars…. It seems every country / cuisine has their own name for these little wrapped parcels. Depending on their shape they could also be samosas; if they’re fried in hot oil they could be egg rolls and on and on.

As usual, I’ve adapted mine to location, taste and easy to find ingredients.

I have not been able to find egg roll wrappers (I’ve looked and looked) so I use phyllo dough which is very easy to find in the dairy section here in France and it’s not frozen.

I don’t like to fuss with hot oil so I bake them – which is also healthier.

Sometimes I make triangles and call them samosas.

Sometimes I roll them and call them nem.

There is a strong Vietnamese influence here in France (think about it – you’ll get it….) One can find a variety of nem in any supermarket deli counter and often there are nem trucks at the local markets. If one goes into a ‘Chinese Buffet restaurant’ there will be more Vietnamese food than Chinese.

I’m calling these nem.

The recipe calls for small amounts…. I saved the bean sprouts from a stir-fry I had done earlier in the week and I keep small packets of ground beef in the freezer just for doing things like this.

Beef & Vegetable Nem

Total time: 40 minutes


  • 2 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2oz (60gr) ground beef
  • 1 tsp olive oil plus 
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp soy sauce 
  • Dipping Sauce:
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs hoisin barbecue sauce
  • 1 tbs mirin
  • 1 – 2 tbs olive oil for brushing phyllo

Beef & Vegetable Nem


  • Sauté beef, onion, celery, garlic and ginger in oils until tender and starting to brown.
  • Add bean sprouts, soy sauce and stir well. Remove from heat.
  • Remove 1 sheet of pastry and re-wrap the rest.  It’s important to keep filo covered at all times or it will dry out very quickly.
  • Lay the sheet out flat and lightly brush all over with olive oil.
  • Cut pastry in thirds the long way.
  • At the narrow end of each strip divide and arrange 1/6th of the beef and vegetables.
  • Roll up like a cigar, tucking in sides as you roll.
  • Place on an oiled baking sheet and brush the top and sides with oil.
  • Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets and filling, making 6 rolls in all
  • Bake at 400F (200C) for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Combine ingredients for sauce and put into 2 small dishes.
  • Remove rolls and serve with dipping sauce

Print Recipe

As long as I’m writing about confusing culinary issues let me address another one….

Does cheese come before or after dessert?

Fortunately the answer is easy: Yes.

A proper, full French dinner would consist of the following courses in this order:

  • Apero  (often champagne) with a few nibbles – things one can pick up with fingers and eat in 1 or 2 bites. But not cheese.
  • Entree  This, contrary to American usage, is the first course or starter, often a light vegetable dish or puréed soup.
  • Plat Principal  The main course of meat or fish with a few vegetables…. maybe.
  • Salad  This is a simple green salad and may or may not be served, It’s meant to be a palate cleanser. It can be served with cheese if there is only one cheese being offered rather than a ‘Cheese Board’
  • Cheese  Cheese boards can range from a choice of 5 or 6 different cheeses to a collection of 15 or 20. One would typically choose 3 or 4 and be served small wedges of each.
  • Dessert  We do love dessert…. But if it’s a good cheese board we have the cheese instead and skip dessert.
  • Coffee  Served only at the end of the meal and often with a small plate of tiny cookies or chocolates.

Of course, with the popularity of tasting menus this can be expanded with a separate fish course, multiple entrées, sorbets, etc.

The above is true for most of Europe – except Great Britain.

They do the dessert (or pudding) before the cheese.

I’ve heard it said that they do so just to be contrary but I think it has everything to do with the port.

In France, one normally has red wine with the main course, which one then leisurely finishes with the cheese course.

In England the preference is to have vintage port with the cheese. (I dearly love it but even the thought gives me a headache…..) So the red wine is finished before the dessert.

After the dessert the cheese is served with the port.

By the time the port is finished no one cares about coffee so that bit is just ignored.

Personally, I love having both cheese and dessert but rarely do. I check out the dessert menu, eye the cheese board and make my decision accordingly.

So…. the answer to the question is: both.

One last thing totally unrelated to anything else – except, maybe the nem

This large bronze bell is in a square in Marmande, the small city near us. It’s from China and is perched on a zodiac clock.

There was a lot of local controversy about it and there is a story….

Next time you’re in Marmande stop by and read all about it.

Last update on December 29, 2017

2 thoughts on “Beef & Vegetable Nem; which is first: cheese or dessert?”

  1. I’ve never found phyllo in France, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve discovered brick, which is much better behaved and gives a better result. I can get spring roll/wonton wrappers if I remember to call in at the Asian grocers in the big city an hour away.

    Thank you for your explanation of why the British tradition is to have the cheese after dessert. I’ve never understood it, and my palate certainly doesn’t.

    • Susan, I almost always find phyllo and, when I don’t, I also use brick. As to the wonton wrappers, I have looked and looked at our Asian market and no luck. Lots of rice paper, but not the wonton. I’ll be there around Chinese New Year this year, maybe I’ll get lucky lol

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