And when it’s both summer and hot, who wants to do any cooking? I mean…OK, so you have to do some cooking because it can’t all, always, be about cheese sandwiches and slushies. Not that that doesn’t have a certain charm. But still. Occasionally real food (or some semblance of it) must win out, though I’m the first one to admit…ain’t no reason to go roasting root vegetables when it’s 95° outside, whether you’ve got great air conditioning or not.
So what do we do on a low-cook low-temp keep-the-kitchen-from-exploding-thanks-to-ambient-heat sort of day? Pasta works, so long as you’re not making some giant, weighty sauce. And? Spring rolls. Sure, you could fry them if you wanted to, but why bother? (Other than the fact that they’re delicious that way…I will acknowledge this as a fact and move on.)
Sans frying, spring rolls are a nourishing, tempting reason to still work up the energy to eat despite it being a million degrees out. They’re easy to make and just require a little bit of chopping, a planned out workspace and a bowl of hot water. You can put whatever you want in them, though I obviously kept mine vegetarian, hence the title of today’s post. You are more than welcome to stuff them full of chicken or shrimp or whatever rocks your stuffing world and doesn’t have to be roasted–leftovers a plus!–because remember, the objective is to generate as little heat as possible while preparing dinner. Plus? The dipping sauce only appears complicated; it is in fact, easy-peasy. Here we go.
- Zest and juice from one lime
- 1 inch of ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 small clove of garlic, finely grated
- 1 scallion, whites and as much as you’d like of the greens, thinly cut
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2-3 tbsp soy sauce (lower sodium soy works fine here)
- A few grinds of black pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp (or to taste) some kind of hot pepper; ground Sichuan pepper if you’ve got it, or crushed red pepper flakes. Or not. The heat is entirely optional.
- However many wrappers you want
- However much shredded vegetables and/or herbs you’ll need to stuff your wrappers, but the decision as to what to use is entirely up to you. Let your imagination go crazy! What do you want to stuff it with? Spinach and jarred roasted peppers and tofu? Fine! Tomatoes and arugula? Go for it. I used a combo of a pre-shredded coleslaw mix (minus the mayo, of course, and why not? There’s only the two of us and there’s no way, considering our circumstances this week, we’d successfully get through an entire head of cabbage), green onions, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and enormous, fresh basil leaves. You’ll see.
First: make the dipping sauce. Do you have a microplane? Because that would make your life so much easier. You can zest on it, you can grate on it. I know I sound like a commercial right now, but honestly, now that I have one? Never going without. EVARRRRR. Anyway.
Zest the lime, grate the ginger, grate the garlic. If you’re using a microplane you can just set it up across the top of a mixing bowl and zest/grate/shred right into your intended target.
Add the sugar, hot or Sichuan pepper, and the black pepper to the bowl. Sichuan peppercorns, if you’ve never had them, are not a new thing. But they were banned in the US in 1968 because they are the berries of a Chinese citrus tree which tends to get a blight, and US officials were unsure if the berries could bring blight too. Happily, the ban on the pepper was lifted in 2005 and these li’l babies are becoming more and more readily available. They’re not hot, per se, but rather, kind of tingly and numbing and a little bit like, wha-wha-whaaaat is going on in my mouth? 🙂 They’re kind of awesome.
So. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix everything together. It’s really not more complex than that.
Next, start working on your veggies (or, whatever you’re using to stuff the rolls with). I only made six spring rolls so I didn’t go crazy with the chopping, and remember, you also don’t want to overstuff. The wrappers are delicate and don’t have mad tensile strength, so they will tear if over-full. Don’t be afraid of not chopping enough food because you can always go back and chop some more. What you don’t need is to have to figure out what you’re going to do with an extra half-cup of shredded radishes.
You also need to have things fairly logically organized when you make spring rolls, so you can become a little factory and just get ’em out one after the other. Set up your work station so it has a logical flow.
The official cooking-type term for a practical work station setup is mise en place, which technically means “to put in place” but really means “having your shit together”. So. For whatever reason, I work best from right to left. You need: your spring rolls, a bowl of hot (not boiling) water, your filling, a work space (the large square plate that doesn’t have chopped veggies on it) and a place to put your finished product. Pictures will probably tell this story a bit more easily…
Take your wrapper.
Put it in hot-but-not-boiling water. Watch it morph into something else. It’s kind of like those dinosaur sponges in gel capsules that expand in water. Only in reverse.
Lay your wet wrapper on your work surface (it can be straightened out, trust me). If it keeps wrapping around itself you can re-dunk it in the water to loosen it back up. Put your filling in the lower-ish side of the wrapper.
Fold up the bottom, then fold in both sides.
Roll it all together.
If you’ve never rolled food it may seem complicated at first BUT like any skill, it gets easier with time. It probably took me, maybe, ten minutes to put these together. Ten minutes, sitting at a table in the air conditioning, sipping a nice cold glass of iced tea. It hardly seemed like work at all.
Serve this with the dipping sauce, pickled ginger, and a dinner comprised of spicy sesame noodles and ginger peas.
You can’t get much more fresh than raw (if your stuffing is just veggies, of course), and you can’t get much more delicious and reinvigorating in the heat than lime-ginger-soy spiked with tingly Sichuan pepper. So. Get to it! I hope you enjoy.