(Can you tell I’m a geek for alliteration?)
Here we are at the beginning of fall, but in California we still have spectacular late summer produce. Perfect for a summer roll.
Food and delicious ingredients are truly my passion. Making a new food discovery – an unusual variety of fruit, a fabulous hidden restaurant, or a favorite local ethnic market is genuinely transcendental. My husband affectionately razzes me for being the only person he knows who happily window shops for food. I really do.
So, the other day, I stopped into a Thai Lao market I noticed but hadn’t ventured into yet. It was smallish, but gave me tons of inspiration. I struck gold when I found this intriguing Buddha Brand Sweet Chilli Sauce (they misspelled chili, not me). It didn’t have a ton of junk like MSG or preservatives, and for an 11 ounce bottle, it was only a dollar. I’m willing to jump in and try something new for one measly shekel.
The picture is pretty terrible because I didn’t know we were going to devour half the bottle in one sitting, and today is a dark and stormy day. The sauce is a bit too intense just licking off your fingers, but makes a very tasty dipping sauce.
It is hot and sweet, like the name implies, but it also has a pungent garlic note that rounds out the sauce excellently. Since it is a strong sauce, it pairs perfectly with mild rolls.
A Thai summer roll is the ultimate vehicle for sneaking a ton of healthy vegetables in your diet, and is not only vegetarian, but vegan too. You can use whatever colorful veggies you have on hand, but I suggest you use some variation of cilantro, mint and or green onions. They really lighten up the party.
There are a few different kinds of summer roll wrappers (banh trang). Some are made with rice flour, others are made with mung beans.
As far as I’m concerned they taste and look the same. So, if you can only find one or the other, no sweat. The wrappers are dried on bamboo racks that leave each wrapper with a fun criss cross pattern. Oh, and they have a tendency to get rancid if they hang around too long. Good thing they are super cheap too. Just be sure to smell them when you first open the package, and each time after that. They shouldn’t smell like anything.Â So, if they have a strong odor, it means they are bad and you need to open a new package.
On a similar note, your sense of taste and smell are really important all throughout the cooking process. Just because something has been in the fridge, or the package was never opened, doesn’t mean it’s fresh and edible. Your nose can tell you so much, and it always surprises me when people don’t use it.
When I worked at a high end culinary supply store (rhymes with Billiams-Bonoma), it never ceased to amaze me that people would call to ask if the jar of olives they bought two years ago and never opened were still good. Smell ’em. Do they smell good? Are they still a vibrant color? Taste one. Is it firm and succulent, or mushy and riddled with botulism? People are funny.
Anywho, these summer roll wrappers are easy to use, they just require a delicate touch to rehydrate. I put a kettle of water on, while I chop the veggies. Once the filling is ready, pour some of the hot water, (and a little cold water so you can stand to touch it), into a large pie plate (or similar dish that is one or two inches high and big enough to allow plenty of room for the size of the wrappers).
Put a wrapper in the water and sort of tap it to cover with water and allow it to soften. Be gentle though, because it kinda defeats the purpose if they tear. The wrapper just takes a minute or two to be totally soft and ready to work with. Lay the wrapper on a plate or cutting board and put a couple tablespoons of filling near the edge closest to you. Roll it up, folding the sides in like a burrito.
As they dry, the wrappers get sticky – good in the respect that it will stick to itself and not fall apart, bad in that they also stick to each other, so don’t let them touch on the plate (it won’t be pretty). A wet dish cloth or paper towel is a good way to separate layers if you are going to stack them.
They are such fun party food that you can just make the filling ahead of time, and then right before people arrive, assemble them. They are no fun when they dry out and go from a satisfying chewy to grossly gummy. If you have to store them for any length of time (which I don’t recommend), be sure to layer them with wet paper towels. This is a super simple dish to prepare, but it’s kind of time consuming.
Chopping the veggies takes 90% of the time. Plus, it’s all about HOW you chop the veggies. What tends to work best for me is if everything is cut into match stick sized pieces, and set aside, to be added to the roll, one ingredient at a time. I find carrots to be a little finicky, since they roll all over the cutting board. A technique I use to address that, is to use a vegetable peeler to peel the whole carrot into strips. It’s a fun textural contrast to the crisp bell pepper and chewy tofu.
Having said all this, go to town on the ingredients. The world is your oyster (well, maybe your oyster if you eat oysters…my oyster mushroom?).
Other fun things I’ve used in the past, to give you more inspiration: enoki mushrooms, cashews, peanuts, mung bean sprouts, pea shoots, rice noodles, lettuce, cabbage, baked tofu in any flavor that appeals…you name it.
For this “recipe” I used two small sweet bell peppers, about a Tbs. of sesame seeds, one carrot, maybe a dozen sugar snap peas, 5 or so small roasted beets, a few mint leaves, a green onion, one package of Wildwood Golden Tofu and about 7 inches of a (girthy) striped Armenian cucumber.
That amount of veggies and tofu made 12 rolls, so we each ate three. A sweet chili sauce, or a peanut sauce is best with these summer rolls.
You can make your own, use store bought, or doctor a pre-made sauce. There is an awesome Indonesian peanut sauce that comes in a little brick from the Asian market, but I’ll talk about that one when I post my husband’s green onion pancake recipe.
Since the chopping took most of my allotted food prep time, I made a simple soup of Trader Joe’s Soy Ginger broth, with a couple tablespoons of South River Miso’s Dandelion-Leek miso paste. I added some cellophane noodles and garnished with green onions. A delicious, refreshing meal. Marc’s step dad even called it “scrumptious”. I aim to please.