Sunday, May 20, 2012

Forget Spring Rolls: Summer Rolls

I've been suffering urges to eat live green things by the fistful recently. There's something about the onset of hot weather and the boisterous upspringing of plants that makes me want to rip off their tender little leaves and eat them like a hungry, hungry beast. It's like I'm trying to cram in all of the fresh air and sunlight they've absorbed. I am eating plants the way some ancient warriors consumed the heart of their enemy: to gain their strength and wisdom. There's a Philip K. Dick short story, "Piper in the Woods", in which people, suddenly craving a simpler life, start claiming that they have become plants. There's a certain appeal to it: what if sitting still, smiling at the sun all day fulfilled all of your needs? In the absence of that, or, rather, the presence of all the other things that must be done, or that I do anyway, I try to steal the essence of leafy plants. By serenely dismembering and eating them.

Vietnamese gỏi cuốn, literally, "salad rolls" but also known as summer rolls or Vietnamese spring rolls, combine fragrant, leafy herbs, crisp veggies like bean sprouts and thin-cut carrot and cucumber, and a little bit of protein, usually from shrimp or shredded chicken and roll it all up in bánh tráng, rice paper. Not only do they satisfy my unholy cravings for crisp, green crunch, but they also require very little prep and even less time with the stove going, which is always at a premium when it gets hot out. Even more so, they're fun to put together and make dinner into a great group activity.

Here's the cast of characters pictured above:
matchstick carrotsmatchstick gingerribbon-cut lettuce
basil, mint, cilantrobean sproutsmatchstick cucumber
shredded chickenzingy chili saucepeanut sauce

You can wrap almost any fresh flavor into these, so there's less of a recipe (though recipes for dipping sauces and seasoned shredded chicken are below and linked in the list above) and more of a list of suggestions. Other suggested fillings: marinated tofu, cooked shrimp, rice vermicelli, sliced napa cabbage, thin-sliced scallion, soaked, sliced shiitake mushroom. See what you have, get creative, use leftover grilled meat, asparagus, that last bit of sweet pepper that's been languishing in the vegetable drawer. Pick several to put out on a platter for diners to roll their own. Here's illustrated steps for rolling one of these babies:
  • Step 1: Briefly submerge a rice sheet in water. The sheet will still be fairly stiff when you take it out, but will be plenty soft by the time you get to rolling it. Place the wrapper on a plate.
  • Step 2: Pick several fillings and put a little of each in the center of the wrapper. Try to set anything longer than it is wide going the same way.
  • Step 3: Fold over the two sides that will be the top and bottom of the roll (perpendicular to the long-cut fillings).
  • Step 4: Turn the plate so that the ends currently folding are on the sides. Fold the edge closest to you over the top of the fillings.
  • Step 5: Roll towards the one open edge. Tuck the fillings in more as you're rolling if you like a thinner, firmer roll.
  • Step 6: The wet rice wrapper will stick to itself and seal tightly.

Zingy Chili Sauce

gluten-free, vegan, grain-free
makes about 1 cup of sauce
  • ½ c. rice vinegar (we've got away with part cider vinegar before)
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
Put all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Peanut Dipping Sauce

vegan, gluten-free depending on your soy sauce
makes about 1 cup of sauce
  • ¼ c. peanut butter (Ours is creamy, natural & salted. Yours will work too, but you might have to add more stuff)
  • 1-2 Tblsp. sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • ½ tsp. hot sauce like Sriracha
  • 2 Tblsp. soy sauce
  • ¼ c. water
Stir ingredients together until smooth. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Seasoned Shredded Chicken

dairy-free, gluten-free depending on your soy sauce
makes about 2 cups of shredded chicken
  • 6-8 oz. chicken breast (3-5 breast tenderloins or 1-2 breasts)
  • water to cover
  • ¼ c. soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tblsp. sugar
Simmer chicken pieces for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. Let cool enough to handle and shred with fingers. Mix soy sauce and sugar with 1 c. of simmering liquid and pour over shredded chicken.

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