September 14, 2012
Summer Rolls, While We Still Can
Before I move entirely into my autumnal kitchen habits, here's one more dying-light-of-summer dish that I simply must share with you.
For years, I'd avoided summer rolls (aka salad rolls, aka fresh spring rolls), because the initial ones I'd tried were not really all that good, dry and bland, relying heavily on a giant wodge of unseasoned noodles to make up their bulk, and requiring constant, nay, desperate dipping into peanut sauce simply in order to swallow each bite. When I discovered, years later, that most summer rolls are in fact delightful treats, I felt rather foolish for avoiding them for so long.
Most of the versions you see in my neighbourhood tend to be either vegetarian or, more likely, prawn-centric, with a few veggies, a bit of (seasoned!) noodle, and a smart row of precisely lined up prawns down the centre. The dipping sauces tend to be a peanut affair (spicy if you're lucky), or nuoc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce made primarily of fish sauce, lime juice and rice vinegar, with some chiles and herbs thrown in. You can really use whatever dipping sauce you like - any Asian-style dumpling sauce is probably going to work fine, or plum sauce, or coconut chutney...even just painting a stripe of sriracha down the side before you dig in is going to work.
What made me actually decide to make these myself was the sudden, thunder-struck notion that coconut-lemongrass chicken would be really quite good in these. However, I've never seen such a thing for sale. The only solution was to get some rice paper wrappers, and start rolling my own. After that, I made some more, minus the chicken and coconut, and with double the vegetables (all nicely seasoned with nuoc cham, prior to rolling).
The following, consequently, is more of a general guideline, than a recipe, really. Vary them as much as you like - you're the one who is going to be enjoying them.
Lemongrass Chicken Summer Rolls
Makes 6 rolls
6 Banh trang rice wrappers
125 grams rice vermicelli, cooked
200 grams chicken breast
60 mL coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon lemongrass powder
1 carrot, shredded
8 centimetres English cucumber, matchstick cut
fresh Thai basil, shredded
fresh mint, shredded
2 tablespoons nuoc cham or lime juice with a pinch of salt
Cook the chicken in the coconut milk with the lemongrass powder. Remove the chicken from the coconut milk, and shred finely. Add the noodles into the coconut milk, and toss well to coat. Toss the cucumber and carrot with the nuoc cham, and allow to drain.
Dip one banh trang wrapper in water (or run it briefly under the tap) and immediately lay it flat on a wooden cutting board. In the bottom third of the circle, lay some of the chicken, some of the noodles, and some of the vegetables, as you would for making a burrito. Top with the shredded herbs. Cilantro is also a nice addition here.
Lift the bottom edge of the wrapper (which will now be pliable) and wrap it upward until it just covers the filling, and hold it there with one hand. Using your other hand, fold the sides inward, and then continue to roll from the bottom up until the roll is complete. Put aside on a plate and chill while you make the rest. Wrap tightly, so they hold together while you're eating them, but not so tightly that you tear the wrapper. A little practice will make them just right.
Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice - more nuoc cham, or peanut sauce are classics, but I prefer a nice, spicy, peanut-butter laced vinaigrette. You can always go crazy and have more than one, sauce, of course. Why decide?
For vegetarian/vegan summer rolls, simply omit the chicken, lemongrass, and coconut milk and increase the vegetables - you might want to add thinly sliced daikon or zucchini, or other crisp raw vegetables of your choice, to round it out. You could also add a julienne of spicy tofu. You may want to season your noodles with a little Nuoc cham (a vegetarian version, of course) if you're going all veggie. You can really put whatever you like in them.
These will keep until the next day, assuming you don't get up in the middle of the night and devour them. I'm just sayin'. Two rolls makes a good, light supper.