adventures in spring rolling

I recently wrote this article on cool foods in beat the Texas heat, so I did a bit of spring roll research. I was surprised to find the variety around town pretty underwhelming. There is so much potential to get creative with spring rolls, but I found the ones at Sway to be bland (the accompanying tomato jam being the best part) and, while I noted the made-to-order summer rolls at Lulu B's in my article, even those are incredibly straight forward. Sunflower Restaurant has a fun, roll-your-own option, which got me thinking... if you want something done, you've got to do it yourself! 

Not to mention, I had some round rice papers in my pantry, just begging to be used... 

mise en place: ready to roll!

Like anything that requires assembly (ravioli, tamales, pierogies, etc), I like to keep a very neat and organized work space the entire time. I marinated some julienned carrots in rice wine vinegar with a bit of salt and sugar and halved serranos. (This is my super easy method of making quick pickled carrots, which are great in ramen, bibimbop, rice and beans, tacos, burritos....) I also thinly sliced up some cucumber sticks and tore fresh mint and basil from the garden. I marinated tofu cubes in tamari with sriracha, ginger, sesame oil, and red chili oil before sauteing them and sprinkling them with a bit of nanami togarashi. I was hoping the fresh, crisp veggies would be a perfect canvas for spicy tofu set off with a touch of brininess from the pickled carrots! (and it was...ooooh it was!)

Also on the side, but not pictured, is a plate of lettuce leaves, a bowl of cooked (and cooled) vermicelli noodles (I used Annie Chun's brand thin brown rice noodles) and a bowl of warm water, for dipping the rice paper. (The brand I used was Banh Trang My Tho, and I found I needed to let them sit in the water for a little longer than the directions suggested, but they seemed sturdy and I'd definitely use them again!) 

Now, for the assembly. Much like sushi, you don't want to go crazy and put too much in your rice wrapper. I found it easiest to keep all the ingredients lined up on one side of the rice paper circle--essentially you are rolling a burrito shape. I started with a leaf of lettuce, then added some noodles, then a stick of cucumber, slice of avocado, carrots, and herbs. I then nestled several cubes of tofu wherever they would sit the best. Fold the bottom in and then tuck as you roll. The wrapper seals up very easily, and you can leave the top end open, with some veggies poking out. Voila! 

This was a very simple combination, but just think of the endless possibilities-- pickled asparagus, sprouts, marinated mushrooms, crab, purslane, sorrel, preserved lime, coconut shrimp, kimchi, barbecued pork--??? (not all together of course!)

As for the dipping sauce, I made a variation of this spicy peanut sauce recipe from Chow, with more spice, garlic, and local honey in lieu of sugar. Ok, and I admittedly "eyed" the measurements... :)

Spicy Peanut Sauce

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
4 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons local honey
3 tablespoons chile-garlic paste
3 garlic cloves, mashed
1 teaspoon toasted or black sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and serve as a dipping sauce for spring rolls.

Spring rolls might be my new favorite thing to bring to summer potlucks-- they sure went over well at the one I brought these to! And I can't wait to get more experimental with the combinations and dipping sauces! Stay tuned for more adventures in spring rolling....