Whether you call them spring rolls, summer rolls or even plain old salad wraps doesn’t really matter—unless you feel the need to be culturally precise. Whatever name you choose, Vietnamese-style rice paper wraps are an irresistibly fun and tasty, hands-on approach to pushing fruit and vegetables. Call it sneaky if you want, but what kid (or adult) doesn’t embrace the idea of choosing the food on their plate—and having the chance to play with it, too? Pull out all the veggies, Mom. This is the day you’ve waited for.
Summer rolls are adaptable and forgiving. There aren’t any particular rules (at least not in this kitchen) and few pitfalls. Start by julienning and cubing favorite (or not-so-favorite, if you dare) seasonal vegetables and fruit. Cube soft items like strawberries, apricots and avocado, and julienne crunchier fare. Rinse a handful of green leaves and herbs—whatever you have, but choose a few that have a kick of flavor. Arugula, mint and cilantro come to mind. Sprouts add a pleasing crunch—anything from pea shoots to radish, bean and sunflower sprouts.
A peanut dipping sauce goes nicely with just about any combination you can think to bundle, and it’s simple to whisk up from bottles on the shelf. All that’s left is to grab a package of rice paper wrappers at the local Asian market, and you’re ready to roll. Excuse the pun.
It’s helpful to have ingredients prepped and laid out on a cutting board within easy reach. Rice paper wrappers are sticky devils—perfect on one hand, for the built-in “glue” that makes them efficient self-sealers. On the down side, they never forgive the lingerer who chops and juliennes as she goes. As repayment, the unattended wrapper is known to grip the work surface like edible wallpaper, while it waits.
It doesn’t matter whether you wrap tightly or loosely, and if you forget to tuck in the sides, no one but an expert is likely to care. There’s no drill sergeant inspection to pass, and no stuff sack to nudge a finished roll inside. If ingredients spill, well, just eat ’em as you go.
Vegetarian Summer Rolls
(sauce enough for four rolls)
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk (freeze the rest of the can for later)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice (or omit and use more vinegar, to taste)
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1/4 teaspoon agave or honey
- Sriracha or other hot chili sauce
- rice paper wrappers
- assorted “crunchy” items such as carrots, radishes, cucumbers, apples, pears, bell peppers, daikon, jicama, broccoli, etc, cut into matchstick julienne lengths
- assorted “soft” items such as avocado, strawberries, apricots, peaches and plums, cut into cubes
- leafy greens and herbs such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mint and cilantro, stems removed
- optional items: crunchy sprouts, strips of tofu, prepared rice vermicelli noodles
- Place peanut butter, coconut milk, water, sesame oil, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce and agave in a small bowl and whisk by hand, or use a small food processor or blender to mix. Add chili sauce to taste.
- Fill a wide, shallow bowl or platter with warm water to a depth of 1/2 inch. Dip a rice paper wrapper into the water so that it is covered completely. You don’t need to leave it in the water for more than a few seconds. Place on a clean kitchen towel (avoid one with a pile). Heap a reasonable helping of ingredients in the middle of the wrapper, choosing from the “crunchy” and “soft” list as well as the greens and herbs—the proportions are up to each roller.
- Fold two opposite sides of the wrapper up, over the ingredients and then, starting from one of the open ends, roll the rice paper into a sausage-shaped bundle—just like the burrito guy does. Place on a plate or platter to serve. Repeat for as many rolls as you like (make a larger batch of sauce as needed). Eat immediately, with peanut sauce. If you like, cut rolls into slices (with a sharp knife) for individual bites.
A few favorite combinations using this week’s farm share, but try your own too:
- Arugula, mint, strawberry, avocado
- Spinach, apricot, mint, carrot, radish
- Lettuce, cilantro, mint, carrot, radish, pea sprouts, zucchini
- Lettuce, cilantro, carrot, avocado, zucchini