Nosh: Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce

It’s summer.

It’s hot.

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.

Dipping sauce

  • 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.

Spring rolls

  • 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.

p.s. Did you know you can peel that ginger with the edge of a teaspoon?

p.s. Did you know you can peel that ginger with the edge of a teaspoon?  True.  Just scrape the peel off how much ginger you want to use and leave the rest alone.  It’s amazing.

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.

Grind 'em up & toss 'em in!

Grind ’em up & toss ’em in!

So.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix everything together.  It’s really not more complex than that.

Tasty goodness.

Tasty goodness.

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.

I'll explain. Don't mind the charging cord in the background... LOL

I’ll explain. Don’t mind the charging cord in the background… LOL

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.

Boiling water would dissolve this in moments.

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.

Ooh! Magic!

Ooh! Magic!

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.

Pile it in.

Pile it in.  But use restraint and don’t over-stuff.

Fold up the bottom, then fold in both sides.

This feels suspiciously like wrapping a burrito. #sameprinciple

This feels suspiciously like wrapping a burrito. #sameprinciple

Roll it all together.

Basil as the bottom layer makes a nice visual impact.

One big basil leaf as the bottom layer makes for some lovely visual impact.


Et voila!

Et voila!

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.

Easy summer dinner, coming up!

Easy summer dinner, coming up!

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.


Nosh: Thai Spinach-Potato Curry

Here’s what it’s currently too hot to do in my neck o’ the woods:

  • Bake
  • Roast
  • Move more than five feet away from the couch
  • Which is then gross, because you spend all your time sweating into your couch
  • I hate summer

But a girl’s gotta eat, and for a hungry girl like me that ain’t no joke.

For the last few days I’ve been craving some sort of vaguely Asian-ish food that isn’t as heavy or fried or sugary as Americanized Chinese food can be, and I haven’t been willing to hit up a restaurant because I’m a) a little tired of the local restaurants (remember, I live in a small town, so local restaurants are limited) and b) who wants to put on pants when it’s this hot?

I dug through some cookbooks because yesterday was “avoid the computer for the bulk of the day” day and found a recipe for potato-spinach Thai curry and I really only needed a few things that could be acquired with a trip to the grocery store.  Said trip was more like a covert raiding party–get in, get the stuff, get back home and into the AC before dissolving into a puddle of lip balm and flip flops–but it got the job done, sticky humid heat be damned.

It’s remarkable I survived in Texas.

Anyway.  Here’s what I used.

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2-inch ginger, finely chopped (or galangal if you have access to it, which I do not so purists, give me a break because I have to work with the resources available)
  • 1 piece of lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric (be careful not to get this on your clothes or they’ll be yellow forever)
  • 1 can coconut milk (I highly recommend using “light” coconut milk; the taste is still rich, but it cuts nearly 2/3 of the fat and calories that you’d get from regular coconut milk)
  • 1 large potato, up to 1 lb, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
  • Enough vegetable stock to make your sauce the consistency you’d like
  • 2 tsp honey/brown sugar/agave nectar
  • 7 oz spinach/arugula/chard/whatever kind of leafy green you prefer, but if you use something with a tougher rib (chard, kale) make sure the rib is removed
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • Oil, salt, pepper…the usual suspects
  • Cilantro, thinly sliced shallots, and crumbled unsalted peanuts for garnish (all entirely optional)

First: Thinly slice your onions and start their browning.  You don’t need to pay relentless attention to them, just show them some love and give them a stir every so often.    They’ll take a while to caramelize so you should start them early but because they’re a garnish, once they’re browned they can sit quietly on the sidelines until you’re ready to eat.

Get these babies nice and rich and sweet and dark brown.

Get these babies nice and rich and sweet and dark brown.

Look at that, you’ve already got part of it started!

Next, get your spices ready.  The cookbook says to finely chop the garlic, lemongrass and ginger/galangal and grind them together with the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle until they’re a smooth paste.

I've always loved the look of coriander seeds.

I’ve always loved the look of coriander seeds.

But here’s the thing: that’s a ton of work.  I only had arm enough to take it so far before I decided I was through and declared it “uh…yeah, sure…that’s smooth”, though I did make sure that at least all of the coriander seeds were crushed open and fragrant.  So if you neeeeeeeed to process this into a paste and have the appropriately sized food processor then by all means do so.  Otherwise, just crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle and finely chop the rest.

How do you finely chop ginger? Planks->sticks->cubes, works every time.

How do you finely chop ginger? Planks->sticks->cubes, works every time.

Cut your jalapeno in half and seed it if you want, or cut it into thin slices with the seeds fully attached, depending on how much heat you want.  (Or leave out the jalapeno entirely, it’s your kitchen!)  From here, the recipe progresses pretty quickly.  Saute the garlic-ginger-lemongrass-coriander seed combination and jalapeno at a medium heat for 30 seconds or so, to create a nice base.  Add the curry paste and the turmeric and let them cook for a minute or two, then add the coconut milk.  You can add as much coconut milk as you’d like so long as you put in at least half the can; I put in the whole can because what the heck am I going to do with leftover coconut milk?  However much you put in, stand back in amazement as the half teaspoon of turmeric totally wins over two teaspoons of red chili paste in the battle for color-of-the-curry supremacy.  Bring it to a boil.

If turmeric were a supervillain, its dastardly plan would be to turn the whole world yellow.

If turmeric were a supervillain, its dastardly plan would be to turn the whole world yellow.

Hey, how are those onions doing?  Don’t forget to check them.

Once it’s rolling along, add the potatoes, the honey and some veggie stock.  I used one of those box-stocks and probably put in about a cup’s worth.  I wouldn’t recommend getting too stock-crazy because you do want the sauce to have some body to it; you’re making curry, not soup.  Let the potatoes simmer for a few minutes; check them at 10 minutes and I’d be surprised if you need to let them cook as long as 15.  While they’re cooking, clean and chop your cilantro and shallots and shell your peanuts.

When the potatoes are nearly tender, add in your choice of leafy green–I used spinach and arugula–and let them wilt into the curry.  Check your seasonings and add salt (or if you’re feeling completely devil-may-care, soy sauce) and pepper to taste.  Finish with the juice from a half a lime.  Top each individual serving with onions, cilantro, raw shallots and peanuts, as you will.

We mixed our ethnic foods at the table (see: devil-may-care) and served this with chapatis, sauteed asparagus and a salad with blackberry vinaigrette.   Healthy.  Delicious.  Really easy.  And it’s flexible!  If you want to make this with chicken, just saute some chicken before adding the ginger-garlic mix, and then follow the above.  Saute the garlic-ginger in the chicken drippings for extra yum, and use chicken stock instead of vegetable.  Or toss in some tofu at the end if you want to both incorporate a protein and keep it vegetarian.  Whatever, it’s all good.

This, friends, is good eating on a hot summer's day.

This, friends, is good eating on a hot summer’s day.

Enjoy!  See you ’round the kitchen!

Z! Challenge: Zingiber

Ah, the joys of zingiber!  The sweet heat, in so many forms.  Sodas?  Cakes?  Soups?  Pork marinades?  Zingiber can be employed in a full range of tastes, from sweet to savory.  And while it may sound like a part of Eddie Izzard‘s stand-up routine about how singer Engelbert Humperdinck decided upon his stage name…

…if only it, and I, were that funny…

Zingiber is the genus to which beautiful, delicious ginger (a/k/a Zingiber officinale) belongs, along with galangal, cardamom and turmeric.

I knew about its relation to galangal and turmeric, but cardamom kind of surprised me.  Once again, every day is for learning!

And so, with no further ado…

Zingiber officinale!

This post is for the “Z Challenge by Frizztext

 Because I love a good alphabet challenge.

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