Food Rescue Summer Rolls
Summer rolls are one of my favorite dishes to make for dinner parties. They're colorful, refreshing, and impressive-looking for guests, even though they require just a minimal amount of cooking. It's more like assembly - admittedly an assembly that takes a bit of practice - but they're fun to make and delicious whether or not they look perfect. You can even recruit your guests for an interactive appetizer-making activity!
The best part (other than the addictive peanut dipping sauce) is that it's a great way to use rescued food. Summer rolls typically use raw or sometimes pickled vegetables, and you can use a combination of different produce with different textures. As long as some of the veggies are crisp and crunchy, it's okay if others are a bit soft or wrinkled. Good crunchy vegetables include shaved root veggies, like radishes, turnips, carrots, jicama or beets, or peppers or cucumber. Keep some fresh, maybe pickle another for some additional brightness and flavor. Add some greens or herbs for texture and bulk; they also don't have to be in perfect condition. I revived wilted lettuce and bok choy (pictured below) in an ice bath to perk them up a bit. More info on how to do so here.
Another favorite item for summer rolls is glass noodles or rice noodles. Glass noodles, also called cellophane noodles or mung bean threads, are a very thin dried noodle made from mung bean starch (or another starch) and water. Rehydrate them in cold water until the strands relax, then boil for just a few minutes until cooked and translucent. Rice noodles often just need to be soaked in hot water, but check your package for specific directions.
The last piece is the rice paper wrappers, sold in round dried discs at most Asian grocery stores. Buy more than you need, since they're easy to break, and don't buy the extra thin ones for the same reason. Don't put too much pressure on yourself though - even summer rolls with broken wrappers will still taste delicious. It's what's inside that counts!
The Rough Recipe
This is one of those recipes where the timing and quantity depends entirely on what ingredients you choose to include and how many rolls you want to make. The below quantities will make about 12 rolls, but you can easily halve or double amounts, make smaller or larger rolls, or swap ingredients. I wouldn't consider it a dish to be made in a hurry - making the rolls takes a bit of practice, but you'll get better as you go. Also, I recommend making more than you think you need, these babies get eaten fast!
You'll need the following:
For the summer rolls:
- 3 ounces or so glass noodles or rice noodles
- 12 rice paper wrappers or more (more info here)
- A wide shallow bowl or pan large enough to easily fit the wrappers
- Sesame or neutral oil
- Rice vinegar or lime juice
- Soy sauce (optional)
- 1 to 2 cups of thinly sliced or shredded crunchy vegetables, like carrots, peppers, cucumbers or edamame (this is a great time to use a mandoline, spiralizer or box grater)
- 1 cup Quick Pickles or Right-This Minute pickles
- 2 cups or more of leafy greens or herbs, such as lettuce, kale, spinach, cilantro, mint, basil, roughly chopped
- Optional: a protein such as tofu, scrambled egg, shrimp, or cooked chicken
For the peanut sauce (feel free to experiment with amounts - I literally never measure when making this sauce):
- 1/4 cup or so of peanut butter (this is a good way to use up the last of the jar, which then serves as a storage container for your sauce)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos
- 2 tablespoons of an acid such as rice vinegar or lime juice
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil, ideally, but neutral oil if you don't have any
- Water to taste
Start by getting all your ingredients ready to assemble. Cook your noodles according to the package instructions, then drain and toss with a bit of sesame oil, a splash of vinegar and some soy sauce, if desired. The goal is to get the noodles to taste delicious and not stick together too much.
If you don't have pickles already made, toss half of your crunchy vegetables in vinegar or make a pickle brine. Let them sit while you set up the rest of your ingredients in bowls in an assembly line.
Set up a flat surface with some room to work, like a clean cutting board. Fill your wide bowl with an inch or two of very warm water (not too hot, as you'll be sticking your fingers in often). To make each roll, place a rice paper wrapper into the bowl and let sit for 15-20 seconds or so, until the wrapper softens and begins to crumple in on itself like a piece of fabric. Touch it lightly all over to make sure it has no hard spots, then lift it out carefully, letting any excess water drip back into the bowl. Place the wrapper onto your work surface, trying to keep it flat, and unfold any spots that may have stuck together.
The next part is basically a free-form exercise - choose which fillings you want, grab a few tablespoons' worth, then place them in layers in the center of the wrapper in a little rectangle (the Kitchn has some good step-by-step photos if you'd like some visual guidelines). If you want a specific lineup of veggies on top like the tomatoes, avocados and cucumbers in the above photos, place those down first. Make a rectangular stack about an inch-and-a-half tall, then fold the top of the wrapper over the pile. Tuck the vegetables in tightly, fold over the sides, and then continue to roll. If you've ever seen a professional roll a burrito, it's the exact same process. Continue until you've used up all your ingredients - save any leftovers for just dipping straight into the sauce or for another Hero Recipe!
To make the sauce, whisk all the ingredients together. This is one of those recipes that really needs to be tasted and adjusted as the flavors will depend on the brands and ingredients chosen. Don't feel the need to stick to the measurements above either - I'll usually adjust based on how much peanut butter is left in the jar and then that becomes the peanut sauce jar that lives in the fridge and goes on rice, veggies, noodles, stir-fries, anything. Combine everything except the water, then taste - it'll probably be quite intense. Whisk in water to get to the consistency and flavor you like, then pour into a bowl and dip away!