For the entire year of 2007, the only album I listened to was Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.” This past fall, Mexicola avocados were in season for two months, and every day for breakfast and lunch I ate two small avo’s and a Hachiya persimmon (both from the same heaven-sent farmer). When I get an obsession going, I tend to just ride it out, and eventually it wanes. Thank heavens I don’t tend to get hooked on anything too expensive…
I’ve always been a fan of making fresh spring rolls, but ever since I created the almond-tamarind sauce I blogged about here, ALL I WANT TO EAT IS KALE SALAD SPRING ROLLS. I limit myself to two meals a day of them max. In the last month or so, I’ve made no less than 1-2 dozen batches of spring rolls– enough that I have acquired a few good tips about working with those daunting yet delicious rice paper circles.
1. Soaking the rice paper sheets in warm water will expedite the time needed for prep. Sure, 1-2 minutes isn’t forever to wait per sheet, but if you’re making a big batch, extra down time can slow your process. Once you get a rhythm going, you can place a new sheet in the water as soon as you pull the ready one out, and it will be ready when you’ve finished filling the first. Conversely, if you find you just can’t keep up, soak them in cold water to give yourself at least 3-4 minutes to construct each roll. Either way, you will streamline the procedure by placing a new sheet in the water directly upon taking out the old.
2. If one meal is not enough– and if you make them well, it won’t be!– it’s easier than you think to make extra and have them not dry out. When you pull the rice paper out of the water, don’t dry it on a paper towel as is generally recommended. For one, it will be easier to work with and less inclined to tear during folding, and for another, they will keep without drying out for at least two days because of the additional moisture in the paper. Store them in an airtight container, and if they do dry out after a couple days, wet your hands with cool water and rub them gently; they’ll soften right back up.
3. Punch up flavor by dressing some of the ingredients. You can add a simple sauce to one ingredient, making sure to drain it well, or dress all ingredients. Marinating porous foods like mushrooms (yes, you can totally put mushrooms in spring rolls) beforehand will lend additional flavors to the overall product.
4. If presentation is key, of course you want all ingredients julienned and placed in the wrappers individually. However, if you just want to eat something very yummy and perfectly decent looking, make a salad of your ingredients, and pack a few spoonfuls of it into the wrappers. I’ve been making this salad and just tossing 1/2 cup or so of it into each wrapper, while using extra dressing as the dipping sauce. You don’t need to julienne anything, but everything should be fairly small, and you do want to avoid any sharp edges that might tear the rice paper.
5. The ingredient options for spring rolls are fairly endless, but fresh herbs are key. If you simply can’t get a hold of any because the urge to make rolls strikes when you can’t get to the store, get creative with greens. When I wanted them but had no herbs on hand, I used carrot fronds, and it worked perfectly.
6. Think outside the Asian box. The spring rolls I made with carrot fronds had a main filling of a salad that consisted of sprouted chickpeas, dried sour cherries, and grass fed Greek yogurt. They were hearty and filling and in no way authentic, but one bite of a unique combo like that will have you proudly calling yourself a fusion chef.
7. There’s no need for noodles in my book (I’m not a huge fan of carb filled carbs: rice in a burrito is madness to me), but should you prefer your spring rolls with something stringy, kelp noodles make a wonderful healthy option. Simply soak them beforehand according to package directions.
8. For an extra pretty punch, place a mint, parsely, or cilantro leaf inside as you’re wrapping it up. Wrap it most of the way, center a leaf or two on it, then fold over the final edge. Make sure that the leaf doesn’t reach the edge of the wrapper, or it won’t stick properly to itself.
A moderately traditional vegan set up: cucumbers, red carrots, spinach leaves, Dave’s Gourmet tempeh, kelp noodles, mint
Decidedly untraditional vegetarian rolls: sprouted chickpeas mixed w/dried sour cherries and grass fed Greek yogurt, roasted sweet potatoes, carrot fronds, and Belgian endive