I love of all kinds of Asian cuisines–Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai are just a few of my favorites. I like the fact that they include lots of fresh vegetables in their dishes, I enjoy showing off my enviable chopstick skills, and I have a high tolerance for heat in my food (I am currently ordering a "7" when I eat Thai, but I think that an "8" will be my limit. Do they even allow you to order a "10" without signing some sort of waiver??). The only complaint that I usually have, when going to one of the above types of restaurants, is that the appetizer menu is typically full of fried food: dumplings, tempura, spring rolls, and I like to eat pretty healthy. Sigh…if only there was a healthy and low fat, but still delicious version of these Asian favorites….
But wait! There is! Every once in awhile, I am thrilled to find summer rolls on the appetizer menu of an Asian restaurant, usually it’s Vietnamese, but occasionally the others will offer them as well. Summer rolls are the non-fried version of a spring roll, and they are served cold. They are traditionally filled with fresh raw or blanched vegetables, thin vermicelli noodles, herbs, and some sort of meat (usually chicken, pork, or shrimp.) A dipping sauce always accompanies the summer rolls, and it is made from traditional Asian condiments such as hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, and fish sauce.
This version of summer rolls consists of a colorful selection of raw vegetables with various sizes and textures. They are the perfect light appetizer to impress your guests with, and you can even have the leftovers for a light meal. For the dipping sauce, I did a little something different from the usual one that is served alongside the rolls. If you are familiar with that fantastic carrot-ginger dressing which is always served on salads at Japanese restaurants, then you will recognize the flavors of this sauce. Several years ago, I was challenged by my brother to try to recreate the version that they make at Dojo, a restaurant we used to go to in Greenwich Village (they would never give out the recipe, no matter how much we begged.) Jay, after many attempts, I think that this is by far the closest that I have come. Anyhow, for those of you not familiar with the dressing, prepare to become a fan. This recipe makes more than enough on purpose, so you can put extra on your salads, grilled chicken, and steamed vegetables.
As far as working with the rice paper wrappers goes, yes, it does require a little bit of practice, but be patient and prepare to have a few "casualties" in the process. You’ll get the hang of it after a few tries. Luckily, the package comes with plenty of extras, and you can always eat the mistakes! Here are some tips for making the summer rolls:
- Rice paper wrappers are also called spring roll wrappers and can sometimes be found in the Asian foods section of the grocery store, unfortunately, not all of them carry this product because it takes up precious shelf space and is probably not a big seller. You can definitely find them at a specialty Asian grocery or online.
- When dipping the rice paper wrappers in the hot water, you only need to submerge them for 5-10 seconds, until they are pliable. If they soak too long the wrappers will tear easily and be difficult to roll up tightly.
- Feel free to substitute vegetables that you like for the ones in the recipe below. Try to do a colorful arrangement for presentation. Some other vegetables that you may want to try are: bean sprouts, yellow peppers, julienned squash, snow pea pods, baby corn, or jicama. You can also add cooked shrimp or shredded chicken for a non-vegetarian version.
- It may be that you end up with more vegetables than you need to fill the eight wrappers. In this case, either make more rolls, or seal them in zip-top bag for another use. Don’t overfill the rolls, or the wrappers may tear.
- The dressing will keep for up to one week, tightly covered and refrigerated. The summer rolls should be eaten within two days of preparation.
Vegetable Summer Rolls with Carrot Ginger Dipping Sauce
Makes 8 rolls
8 rice paper wrappers
1 red beet, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, julienned
1 cup alfalfa sprouts
1 cup sugar snap pea pods, ends trimmed
3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 shallot, quartered
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini paste
1/4 cup vegetable, safflower, or canola oil
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the spring rolls: Soak one of the rice paper wrappers in a large bowl of hot water until pliable. Transfer to a clean work surface. Place one-eighth of the beet slices, carrot, cucumber, red pepper, sprouts, and 2-3 sugar snap pea pods on the wrapper, towards the bottom. Fold in the ends and tightly roll the wrapper to enclose the filling. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other wrappers to make 7 more rolls. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the dipping sauce: Puree the carrots, shallot, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and tahini in a food processor until smooth. With the machine running, add the oil and then the water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream. Serve the sauce with the summer rolls.