For all of my adult life, I’ve been a big fan of Asian rolls. I didn’t grow up in the most food-savvy town and it’s nice to look back and see how my experiences and my taste buds changed as I traveled and moved farther away from home. At first I only knew about egg rolls, then fried spring rolls. One day I went to a little Asian Fusion restaurant for lunch with some coworkers in New York City and I saw summer rolls on the menu. Another kind of roll? Bring it on! Summer rolls are made with rice papers and are not cooked as spring rolls are. They contain cold ingredients and are traditionally served with hoisin sauce. You may have called them fresh spring rolls or salad rolls – all of these names mean the same thing.
Recently my husband and I had the chance to eat at a little Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. We sat down and I immediately asked, “Can we order spring rolls?” What we received were summer rolls with a cucumber and red onion dipping sauce. It was divine! I’ve been thinking of it ever since and this week I recreated it at home. Now is the perfect time to make these rolls and the sauce. Many of my ingredients come straight from the garden and the farmer’s market. If you’re reading this in the winter, I encourage you to check out Alexis’ post about Winter Summer Rolls and fix them for dinner tonight!
1 package of rice wrappers (you can find them at Asian markets, health food stores, and some grocery stores. I found Blue Dragon Spring Roll Wrappers at the grocery store)
2 oz. rice vermicelli (also called bean threads)
Cooked shrimp, cut in half lengthwise to make thin shrimp pieces, 4 halves per roll
Lettuce leaves, torn into pieces
3 or more tablespoons chopped thai basil
3 or more tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 or more tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 small carrot, thinly sliced (optional)
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced (optional)
Nasturtium flowers, for fun
Prepare the workspace: have a cutting board or plate in front of you for assembling and rolling the rolls. Have all the ingredients within reach, each in a separate bowl. Fill a pie plate with ½ in. hot water and place to the side.
Take one round rice wrapper and place it in the hot water, covering the entire wrapper with water. It will soften immediately. Carefully remove from the water and place it on the preparation surface, taking care to not tear the wrapper or fold it over itself.
Place a a few strands of rice vermicelli on the wrapper in the middle and toward the bottom. If you think of the wrapper as a clock, put the lettuce just above the 7,6 and 5. Add 4 shrimp halves, a few carrots or cucumber slices, a small amount of lettuce, and equal sprinkles of thai basil, mint and cilantro (I add ¼ teaspoon of each, at least). Top with a nasturtium flower.
Time to wrap it up! If you’ve never rolled up a rice wrapper before and you wrap it perfectly the first time, give yourself a big pat on the back and brag to me. I love to make these and I still have trouble rolling them up nice and tight. Here is what you do. Fold each side toward the center, as far as it will go. Then start from the bottom and gently roll it all up. It will seal on its own because it’s still moist.
You will quickly find out if you added too much stuffing or too little. It will either be hard to roll, with food falling out of it, or it will look like a big roll of wet rice paper with nothing in it. Experiment. I always eat the first one on the spot because I consider it my test roll – testing for the perfect amount of ingredients and for taste.
You can make this vegan by using cooked tofu instead of shrimp, or you can omit the protein altogether.
Serve immediately, if you haven’t already eaten them all.
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup water
Sugar to taste (¼ –½ cup)
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into very small squares
½ onion, cut into very small squares *NOTE: For every 1/3 cup of onion, use 2/3 cups of cucumber*
Combine the vinegar, water and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cucumber and onion. Can be served immediately or after refrigeration.