It’s finally ridiculously hot here in Chicago. After an unimpressive spring, summer is showing its colors with 90° heat and oppressive humidity. Nice, huh? I don’t know about you, but if my oven is on, my entire apartment heats up by about an extra 20 degrees. Needless to say, in my apartment that doesn’t have central air, the oven is now completely off-limits for all cooking endeavors.
That’s where these spring rolls come in. They are completely no-cook (you don’t even have to heat up water – warm tap water is all you need), and are one of my favorite fresh, fast meals to make recently. Spring rolls sound really fancy, and like they’d be hard to make, but I promise, if you can chop veggies, you can do this.
The first time I used rice paper wrappers, they kind of freaked me out. When you buy them, they feel like brittle paper, but as soon as you dip them in water, they become malleable, slippery and kind of sticky. Ok, I promise they’re way more appetizing than I’m making them sound. Stay with me. Think of them as little cocoons for your favorite vegetables. Not more appetizing? Alright, let’s move on to the filling.
I like to follow a very loose formula when making spring rolls. You’ll need a couple main ingredients for the fillers, but from there, feel free to customize as you wish:
1) Lettuce. I use romaine lettuce because I love the crunch. Butter or bibb lettuce would also work, and I’ve used also used spinach leaves before.
2) Crunchy vegetables. Cucumber and peppers are my favorites, but you could include carrots or maybe even slices of radishes.
3) Fresh herbs. Mint is my herb of choice. Cilantro would also be great. Do me a favor and don’t skip this – fresh herbs add so much flavor here!
4) Avocado. Sorry, non-negotiable. Have you seen the title of this blog?
Once you’ve chosen your vegetables and sliced them up, all you have left to do is wrap up the rolls in your rice paper. It sounds hard, but I promise the more you do of them, the better you’ll get. Apparently I’m making this a list post so here are a couple tips that will help:
1) Don’t leave your rice paper soaking in the water for too long. A quick 10 second dip is really all it takes. the paper should still hold it’s shape when you take it out of the water.
2) Place your veggies about a third of the way into the wrapper, not all the way in the middle. Your first move will be to pull the wrapper up over the pile of veggies to hold everything together. Then from there, fold in the edges and continue to roll.
3) Hold the wrapper taught, but don’t pull too hard. You’ll need to tug a little to make sure everything stays together, but remember that these wrappers can rip.
4) Don’t stuff them too full. You’ll get the hang of this as you go, but fill moderately on your first wrap, until you see how much the wrappers can accommodate.
Alright onto the last part of this recipe – peanut dipping sauce! This is pretty much a way to eat peanut butter for dinner, and call it classy (hm, perhaps this is a theme of mine?) Whatever, it’s fantastic. I made super simple version using a pre-made Asian dipping sauce. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s, but there are many different brands available in most grocery stores. Look for Gyoza dipping sauce (dumpling dipping sauce) in the international section of your grocery store, if there is one. That’s also where you’ll likely find rice paper wrappers. Most major grocery stores these days carry packages of them.
I find three spring rolls (6 halves) to be a filling meal, but you could certainly make more or less depending on how many people you need to feed. The ingredients below are what I typically use to make 3 spring rolls. They would also make great appetizers split between a couple people. Just make sure you’re all friends – these can get a little messy to eat!
Veggie Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 3 spring rolls
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 tablespoons Gyoza dipping sauce (I found mine at Trader Joe’s)
3 rice paper wrappers
3 leaves Romaine lettuce, torn in half
1/4 large avocado, sliced
1/4 orange bell pepper (any color will do), cut into thin slices
1 persian cucumber, or 1/4 english cucumber, cut into thin slices
6 large mint leaves
In a small bowl, combine peanut butter and Gyoza dipping sauce and whisk until combined. If your peanut butter is hard, consider microwaving it for ~15 seconds before adding the dipping sauce to make it easier to whisk. Taste the sauce, and adjust to your preference – add more peanut butter, dipping sauce, or a little water to thin it out if you like, then set aside while you assemble the spring rolls.
Fill a large frying pan with warm water (a pan that’s big enough to hold the whole wrapper flat is easiest). Dip each rice paper wrapper in water and let it soften for 10-15 seconds. Take the wrapper out of the water and place it on a cutting board (I find a plastic cutting board works well). Pile lettuce, vegetables, and mint leaves onto the lettuce wrapper. I find it best to place them not quite in the center, but about 1/3 of the way into the wrapper. Taking the edge of the wrapper closest to your veggies, gently pull it up and over the filling, using your fingers to tuck the vegetables into the wrapper if necessary. Continue to roll the filling into the rice paper, tucking in the edges as you go. The wrapper will stick to itself and seal once it dries slightly. Slice roll in half with a sharp knife, and repeat until you’ve wrapped all your spring rolls.