Fresh spring rolls one way to make eating light possible

For many people, spring, the season of new growth and renewal, is synonymous with fresh food and lighter, simpler meals.

Spring rolls are one of those simplified foods. Originally from eastern and southeastern Asia, spring rolls have been enjoyed and adapted to western culture. The thin rice paper rolls are filled with raw vegetables, cold meats or fish and rice noodles. Really they are a salad in a roll. The rolls are also referred to as fresh spring rolls or summer rolls. Confusingly, there are also deep fried spring rolls that are similar to but smaller than a Chinese egg roll.

Fresh spring rolls are usually served with a dipping sauce.

Advanced preparation of the sauce and all the vegetables, meat and noodles is key to making the rolls because once the rice paper is softened, the rolls must be quickly assembled. The positive to this is all of the ingredients can be in the refrigerator in containers ready for quick meal preparation.

There is flexibility and creativity in the ingredient selection. One important element is to have a “crunch” or firm texture in the centre, such as thinly sliced sticks of carrot, celery, jicama, cucumber, radish, bell peppers, green beans, snow peas, bean sprouts or pickled carrots. Fresh lettuce, spinach, herbs and fresh fruits give texture and flavour.

Rice vermicelli noodles are optional but add body and make the rolls more filling.

Traditionally, the wrapper for a spring roll is rice paper, a translucent edible paper made from the pith of the rice-paper plant, water and sometimes rice flour.

Dry rice paper is available in various sizes and are sold in the Asian section of the grocery store or at Asian markets. Lettuce leaves can also be used as wrappers for the rolls.

To prepare the rice paper, fill a large bowl with warm, bath-water-temperature water. Dip the whole piece of rice paper in the water for about three seconds.

The rice paper is delicate and only needs a quick dip to soften it. If soaked too long it will break down too quickly and be difficult to make into a roll. The sheet should come out of the water still slightly firm because as it lays on the work surface it will continue to absorb water and soften. Use a plastic cutting board, plate or parchment paper as a work surface; don’t use a wood cutting board because the rice paper will stick to it.

To assemble the spring rolls, begin to layer small amounts of the filling, ingredients, lettuce, noodles, meat and vegetables on the top third of the rice paper closest to you; don’t over-stuff. Gently pull away the top edge of rice paper from the work surface and roll over the filling. At the same time, use your forefingers to gather and “tuck” fillings together under the wrapper. “Tucking” allows you to keep all the fillings together and tight so that the roll remains firm and straight. Roll about one rotation, then fold in the sides to close the ends of the spring rolls. The more rotations of rice paper there are, the stronger the wrapper will be and less likely to puncture.

The best way to make fresh spring rolls is to have everyone make their own with their choice of filling and eat them immediately.

If the rolls need to be stored, wrap individually in plastic cling wrap and store in the refrigerator and eat within five to six hours.

For a lunch, pack individually wrapped rolls with ice packs. If stacked side by side, the rolls will stick together and tear when separated.

Vietnamese-stylefresh rolls

Serves four.

Peanut dipping sauce:

  • 3/4 c. crunchy peanut butter 175 mL
  • 1/3 c. water 75 mL
  • 3 tbsp. hoisin sauce 45 mL
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice 30 mL
  • 4 tsp. soy sauce 20 mL
  • 1 tbsp. sugar 15 mL
  • 2 tsp. chili paste 10 mL
  • 1 tbsp. toasted or plain sesame oil 15 mL

Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

For longer storage, refrigerate.

For serving, warm slightly to thin the consistency for dipping.

Rolls:

  • 1/2 of 250 g pkg. vermicelli rice noodles cooked, drained and cooled
  • 1 bunch mint or basil leaves
  • 325 g frozen cooked medium shrimp, thawed, shelled, tail removed
  • 1/2 English cucumber,cut into thin sticks
  • 2 carrots,cut into thin sticks
  • 1 rib of celery,cut into thin sticks
  • Other vegetable options are peppers, or jicama, cut into thin sticks or alfalfa sprouts and snow peas
  • 1 bunch of green onions, green part only cut into 6-inch strips
  • 1 pkg. dry rice papers
  • 1 head green leaf lettuce (optional)

Place all filling ingredients in sections on large serving platter. Prepare rice paper, fill with ingredients and roll as described above.

Garnish with green onions and serve with peanut dipping sauce.

For a lettuce leaf, roll place filling ingredients along one end of lettuce leaf, fold in both sides and roll up firmly but gently to avoid tearing.

Garlic chickenfresh spring rolls

Serves four.

  • 2 lb. boneless chicken breast, split in half horizontally 1 kg
  • 1/4 c. canola or flax oil 60 mL
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil 10 mL
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce or soy sauce (use Tamari for gluten free)
  • Fresh basil, mintor other herbs
  • Fresh lettuce, chopped or torn in small pieces
  • Variety of vegetables, cut into thin strips carrots, celery, cucumbers, radish, asparagus or bell peppers
  • 1/2 of 250 g pkg. vermicelli rice noodles cooked, drained and cooled
  • 1 pkg. dry rice papers

Garlic soy dip:

  • 1/4 c. soy sauce (Tamari for gluten free) 60 mL
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice 15 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. sesame oil 1 mL

In a large bowl, combine chicken, vegetable oil, sesame oil, garlic and fish sauce or soy sauce. Cover well and marinade for 20 minutes.

Heat frying pan on medium high heat. Cook chicken until cooked through with a nice crust. Slice into very thin slices.

Gather and prepare vegetables while chicken cooks.

Combine all dip ingredients and mix well.

Place all filling ingredients in sections on large serving platter.

Prepare rice paper, fill with ingredients and roll as described previously.

Serve immediately with garlic soy dip.

Note: • Pork could be used instead of chicken.

• Rather than rolling ingredients in rice paper wrappers, layer in a bowl and serve with sauce as a noodle bowl dish.

Adapted from whiteonricecouple.com.

Bacon lettuce tomato fresh spring roll

Serves two.

  • 1-2 fresh lettuce leaves, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 6 pieces bacon, cooked
  • avocado slices, optional
  • fresh basil, mint or other herbs
  • 1 pkg. dry rice papers

Sesame-soy dipping sauce:

  • 1/4 c. soy sauce 60 mL
  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise 60 mL
  • 1 tsp. fresh lime juice 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce or any hot sauce 5 mL (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. cold water 15 mL

Combine all dip ingredients and mix well.

Soak rice paper one at a time as described. Fill with the lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, avocado and herbs.

Carefully roll tucking in the filling ingredients.

Serve immediately with sesame-soy dipping sauce.

Adapted from whiteonricecouple.com.

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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