Spring rolls in. Rolls of spring. Freshly spring rolls in. I tried coming up with a more clever title, but sometimes simplicity is best. Besides, even with today’s showers, experience tells me flowers are still a ways off. Until then, food will have to brighten my spirits.
Fresh spring rolls. I’ve made them a few times now, varying the ingredients and dipping sauces according to my mood and the contents of my fridge. They are much healthier than the fried spring roll variety, and an impressive contribution to bring to a party. (The last one I brought them to inspired this Epicurious blogger’s partner to take a picture of them! Fame felt so near it tickled.)
A trip to an Asian market or specialty food store should set you up with everything you need for these appetizers. Rice paper comes in packages of a lot. They look like tortillas made of overhead projector paper. Or the velum paper that brides-to-be love to use on home-made wedding invitations. They are hard, and need to be softened first in warm water.
You can steer Thai, Japanese, or Chinese in your choice of ingredients. I used matchsticks of carrot (which I can do now thanks to my new Japanese mandolin!) bean sprouts, lettuce (crunchy iceberg works better here), red pepper, scallions, and cilantro or Thai basil. (See recipe following for guideline amounts.)
You’ll also need finely chopped peanuts, and some type of sauce: purchased or whipped up from bottles of chili, soy, and fish sauce camping out in your fridge behind last week’s leftovers.
After all that slicing and stirring comes the fun part. Boil a few cups of water and pour it into a wok or shallow bowl. Add cold water until the water is no longer boiling, but still hot. It shouldn’t burn your fingers. Take a sheet of rice paper and immerse it in the water for no more than ten seconds. If you over-soak the paper, it will rip when you try to roll it and yield mass frustration. (Trust me.) It will continue to soften as you work with it.
Remove the paper carefully, and place it on a clean, dry towel. Arrange your ingredients in whatever order makes the most sense to you. Whatever you put down first will be what people see. Laying your thai basil out first makes for an attractive presentation.
Play. Basil, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, red pepper, a sprinkling of peanuts, a little bit of hot sauce. (Next time I would pack them fuller than these pictures show.) You can also add leftover shrimp, chicken, pork, or tofu cubes.
Roll the bottom of the paper up over the filling, pressing it down onto itself on the other side. Press and tuck the paper around the filling, trying to get it rolled as tightly as you can without ripping the rice paper.
Fold the sides in. If I’d used more filling, the sides would get tucked in rather than draping over like this:
Tuck your fingers in ahead of the filling and continue rolling the whole thing up towards the top of the paper. Press it all together tightly. Fill up your favorite portable container or arrange the rolls on a platter. They are most fun to eat as one, but if you like you can cut them diagonally as the first few pictures show.
I don’t usually follow a recipe for these guys, but consulted the great Bittman in order to bring you more precise amounts if you so desired them. He also provides a good chili dipping sauce recipe (although a little watery), which I’ve included. Add some plum sauce for thickness. Here on fresh cracked pepper there’s a great peanut sauce recipe that compliments these nicely too.
Have fun experimenting, and hopefully these little crunchy bursts of color will drive this late winter rain away.
Fresh Spring Rolls
2 small fresh chiles, minced, or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 T rice vinegar
2 T fish sauce or soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 T freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp minced garlic
plum sauce to thicken (my own advice)
2 cup peeled and grated, shredded, or julienned carrots
2 cup bean sprouts
4 scallions, cut into slivers the long way
4 T roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
4 T roughly chopped cilantro leaves
4 T roughly chopped peanuts
8 sheets rice paper (8-10 inches in diameter)
- Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
- See blog post for directions on assembling and rolling.
- Serve arranged on a platter with dipping sauce.
adapted from How To Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman