When it's too hot to cook, make spring rolls

Shrimp and ham spring rolls with hoisin peanut dip Jill Blanchette/The Day

Nothing takes the fun out of cooking like a bout of hot, humid weather. It makes it downright unpleasant to stand at the counter, sweat dripping off your head, and prepare a meal.

If you do suffer through and actually cook something, when you’re done, it’s just too hot to eat it.

This time of year, I usually use the grill, make a lot of salads, and eat a lot of take-out. But this year, I’ve discovered the spring roll.

Sometimes also called fresh rolls, these little, healthy, crispy delights are held together by rice paper, also sold as Vietnamese spring roll wrappers. Right from the package, the round sheets look like clear plastic circles with an embossed, basket-weave design. But when you dip them into warm water, they turn into supple yet strong, almost noodle-like translucent sheets. They’re easily torn, yet they’re also quite resilient.

Traditionally, these rolls are filled with lettuce, crunchy vegetables that are julienned (cut into match sticks) — such as scallion, carrot, cucumber, red pepper and snow peas — plus some kind of protein, such as shrimp, pork, chicken, or a combination, and fresh herbs, usually basil and mint.

I’ve seen them beautifully rolled into perfect little cylinders, ends neatly tucked in, with the pink shrimp visible through the delicate wrapper. Mine are more, shall we say, rustic, but oh boy, are they delicious.

There are a lot of spring roll recipes out there, but what attracted me to this one was the dipping sauce. When I’ve been served these rolls at a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, they are often accompanied by a tasty, clear sauce that is sour, hot and sweet, and may include chunks of peanuts, or floating bits of herbs and peppers. But this sauce is not so delicate. It’s thick, rich and extremely flavorful. We never have any left, but I think it would be fabulous on a hot dog.

The truth is, beyond the sauce, you really don’t need any recipe for spring rolls at all. You need some crunchy veggies and some long thin noodles of some kind. Fresh basil and fresh mint are essential, as is some fresh scallion.

As to the protein, you could use anything. I’ve used shrimp, ham strips and shreds of leftover barbecued chicken. All worked just fine. I think you could use some sort of spicy sausage that had been sliced into thin strips. I’ll bet even genoa salami would work well.

I generally overlap two rice paper wrappers to make one roll, because I always put in more filling than one wrapper can contain. Don’t be too fussy about making it neat. Mine generally look like rejects from a cigar factory, but regardless, they are delicious.

Roll up a few, cut them in half and eat them right away for a light, delicious meal that doesn’t result in much sweating.



Spring Rolls

Serves 4

For the rolls:

½ pound medium, cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined and sliced in half the long way, as if you meant to butterfly them but cut them all the way through (optional)

About ½ pound of some other protein, such as ham, chicken, pork or flavored tempeh or tofu (also optional)

1 (8-10 ounce) package of dried rice vermicelli noodles or “rice sticks,” cooked to package instructions

Romaine lettuce (or some other kind that you prefer), torn into pieces that will fit into a spring roll wrapper

4-5 fresh scallions

Assorted veggies (cucumber, red pepper, scallion, daikon, snow peas, or perhaps some green apple or pear) cut into match sticks

Fresh mint and basil leaves

About 12 ( 8-inch) rice paper wrappers or rice paper spring roll wrappers

For Hoisin Peanut dip:

¼ cup hoisin

2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter (can substitute almond or cashew butter)

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

½ teaspoon sesame oil

(This dip is so good, you probably should make a double batch.) In a medium bowl, combine all the dip ingredients. Use a fork (I use an immersion blender) to mix well. If the dip is too thick (which it always is), add water to thin it out a bit. Set aside.

Cook the dried rice vermicelli noodles to package instructions. Drain  them then rinse them with cold water and drain again. Set aside.

Gather all your filling ingredients on plates: noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, veggies, herbs and rice paper wrappers.

Add lukewarm water to a large bowl. Quickly dip a rice paper wrapper (or two, if you’d like to overlap to make a larger roll) in warm water for a few seconds and lay it out on rolling surface such as a cutting board or plate (it will still be slightly stiff but it will soften as you place your fillings).

Lay your lettuce leaves first across the center of the soft spring roll wrapper, then add the noodles, then the strips of veggies, the herbs and the pork, chicken or ham, if using, then the shrimp.

Roll spring roll, gently applying pressure to make the roll tight without tearing the wrapper.

Slice each roll in half and serve with the Hoisin Peanut Dip.

Original recipe via pinterest.com from the food, travel and lifestyle blog www.whiteonricecouple.com, by Todd Porter and Diane Cu.

Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share recipes or comments with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

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