Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Summer Rolls

At some point in my summer roll making practice, I decided to deviate from tradition. It took awhile, but after years of making them, it dawned on me that summer rolls are a vehicle that can be filled with whatever I want (i.e. rice paper wrappers are to summer rolls what flour tortillas are to burritos). Sometimes I add a protein, sometimes I add classic vermicelli noodles, and sometimes I add whatever ingredients I'm in the mood for that sound like they'd be good wrapped up together.

I made these as an appetizer for a potluck dinner on a recent hot late summer day (or middle summer day, as LA summers last until nearly Thanksgiving). These are basically salad in summer roll form. They should really be called salad rolls. I filled them with big meaty slices of avocado, fresh herbs and other veggies. You can fill these with your favorite vegetables. You could throw in some protein for a more substantial app. You could go out of left field and fill them with smoked salmon cream cheese, capers, and the other fixins' that usually go on a bagel. Have fun with it. You can make these hours before (or even the night before) you intend to serve them, which is an added bonus to the dish. 

I served these with a peanut sauce, but you could even serve this with your favorite salad dressing, or even plain soy sauce.

You get the point, the recipe is versatile.

I love these on summer days, when all you want to do is sit back with something ice-cold, talk to your friends, share something light to eat, and hang out on a porch in the slowly cooling night air. 

Salad Rolls
Serves 6-8

for the rolls-
1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 an English cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 Hass avocado, sliced
1/2 a lemon
3 radishes, cut thin 
2-3 cups baby kale/greens (or your favorite lettuce)
fresh mint
fresh cilantro
fresh basil

for the peanut sauce-
1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter (unsweetened is best, but you can definitely use regular peanut butter, just add less sweetener to the sauce)
2-3 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or to taste)
juice of half a lime 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or to taste, you can sub sugar for maple syrup or omit entirely)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or grated fine
1 inch ginger root, minced or grated fine
pinch of dried chili flake

for the rolls-
Start by prepping all of your veggie. I make a station for myself on a large cutting board:
I cut the veggies (I used a mandolin for the radish), I squeeze lemon juice over the avocado (to keep it green and for added flavor), I remove the herbs from their stems, and I put everything into their own separate piles.

Next, I heat some water, and get a big 9 x 13 baking dish that I can pour a few inches of water into. You could also use a big bowl.

Then I take the rice paper wrappers (spring roll wrapper rice paper). You can find the wrappers in Asian markets, and they are also often in the Asian section of your grocery store. I have found them at Whole Foods, Gelson's and other big chain markets. You dip the wrapper into the warm water until it just starts to soften (about 10-20 seconds depending on the temp of the water). You don't want the wrapper to get too soft, or it will break apart. You just want it to become pliable. It will continue to absorb the water and soften when you place it on the cutting board.

Place the softened wrapper onto the cutting board, and begin adding your filling to it.
You can layer these however you like. I started with herbs. Next, I added my cut veggies.
Then I added my greens. At this point, you're ready to roll. You can basically wrap these like you would a burrito.

Fold over the sides first. Don't worry about perfection, just worry about making sure everything gets wrapped up tightly and is secure.
Next wrap the bottom part of the wrapper over the vegetables, and make sure the wrapper is tightly securing everything.
Roll the wrapper up tight, and your roll is finished. Don't worry if it doesn't feel like the wrapper is perfectly stuck on, it will get stickier as it sits.

And there you have it. You can now keep making the rolls until you have used up all of the veggies. The amounts given should give you about 8 rolls.
Slice the rolls in half diagonally, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

for the peanut sauce-
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with a little warm water to loosen it. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and whisk together. Taste and adjust the flavors according to your liking. You can add more water if you like your sauce thinner, or you can add more peanut butter if you like it thicker.