It’s summer, and I am making spring rolls. On the other hand, it’s always summer in South Florida, so what’s the difference? On the third hand, first spring vegetables wrapped in thin pastry dough and fried were traditionally served in China on the first day of the Spring Festival, hence the name. On the fourth hand, I don’t want to wrap vegetables in pastry dough and fry them, I want to find a healthier option, like rice paper. On the fifth hand, rice paper spring rolls are Vietnamese and Thai, rather than Chinese. That’s it, ran out of hands. Wait, how many hands do I have?
Anyway, I found kosher rice paper, I have a bunch of fresh vegetables, and I am making spring rolls, baked, not fried.
Every spring roll I’ve ever found on my plate had the two mandatory ingredients, cabbage and carrots. After that, it’s free for all. I thought that some bell peppers and scallions will make it look and taste even more like spring – or summer! – and a fresh cilantro will spice it up a bit. Then, on a spur of a moment, I decided to grate some ginger and yellow turmeric into it and add just a touch of mint, to give it a different flavor twist.
There are two different schools of thought regarding the spring roll filling. One stems from traditional recipes which included meats and shellfish that obviously had to be precooked. Consequently, they insist on cooking vegetables for veggie spring rolls as well. The other one, prompted by the raw food movement, considers cooking unnecessary. I go with the second one, as it preserves the crispy fresh spring feeling, but if you want to cook or steam your veggies, go right ahead! I only marinate them for about ten minutes in olive oil with salt and pepper. You have to give them a stir once in a while, as the oil tends to accumulate on the bottom.
When you are ready to roll, prepare a large dish filled with very warm water. Dip a sheet of rice paper in water for about one minute, until it becomes translucent and pliant, but not sticky. Keep the rest of the rice paper under wraps and take out one sheet at a time, when you are ready to use it.
Place rice paper on a board or a working surface and put two heaping tablespoons of the veggie filling about one inch (2.5 cm) away from the side closest to you and from the two sides. Sprinkle some chopped mint over the veggies.
Fold the middle flap over the veggies first, followed by the side flaps. Keep rolling tightly but very gently, so as not to tear the rice paper. Put the finished roll on a plate seam down. Before you start each roll, make sure the water for dipping rice paper is warm enough.
Keep a distance between the rolls as they tend to get sentimentally attached to each other, and you won’t be able to pry them apart without damaging them. Just like some people, aren’t they? Cover them and refrigerate them for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile, you can get your oven up to 350 and lightly mist a baking pan with oil. Well, if you really want to, you can fry them on a lightly misted frying pan.
OK, ten minutes is up, transfer your rolls to the baking pan, still keeping the distance, and lightly mist them on top. Bake for ten minutes, then gently flip them on the other side, all the time making sure they are not touching each other, otherwise you are in trouble. Give them another ten minutes, on the other side. Meanwhile, let’s talk about the sauces. Nowadays, you can buy a kosher Hoisin sauce and, probably, a peanut sauce too, but I find them too spicy – chili pepper is not my thing! – so I make my own. It takes a minute, and I am sure you have the ingredients in your pantry: rice vinegar, sesame oil, blue agave, and soy sauce. Mix it all up, adjust to your taste, and you are ready.
Traditionally, spring rolls are served warm, but not piping hot, and definitely not cold. And yes, they are the quintessential finger food, so prepare to get messy!
- 1 large carrot, grated
- 1 cup finely shredded cabbage (1/4 head)
- 2 scallions, cut lengthwise very thin, then in half
- 1/2 sweet bell pepper, cut lengthwise very thin
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
- Grated ginger
- Grated turmeric
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 rice paper rounds, softened
- 1/8 cup fresh chopped mint or Thai basil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon or more agave
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- Combine all ingredients, except for rice paper and mint or basil, mix well. Put aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Soften rice paper by dipping it into very warm water until translucent and pliant, but not sticky. Place on a board or working surface. Note: take one sheet at a time, keep the rest covered.
- Place two heaping tablespoons of vegetable mixture on rice paper 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the side closest to you and the same distance from both sides. Sprinkle mint or basil on vegetables.
- Fold the middle flap over vegetables, fold side flaps, roll tightly, place on plate seam down Note: place rolls at a distance from each other to prevent sticking. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350, lightly mist shallow baking pan with oil.
- Transfer rolls to baking pan, keeping distance between them. Lightly mist rolls with oil. Bake uncovered for ten minutes on each side. Alternatively, fry for 3 – 4 minutes on each side on a lightly misted frying pan. Remove and let cool slightly.
- Prepare sauce by mixing all sauce ingredients.
- Serve warm with sauce on the side.