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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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Wrap it up: Summer rolls keep it light

No need to heat up kitchen with this quick-to-make meal

3 Photos
This seasonal summer roll features grilled shrimp.
This seasonal summer roll features grilled shrimp. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Photo Gallery

If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the best meals in the dog days of summer come together quickly, without heating up the kitchen.

In late July and early August, the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven to prepare lunch or dinner. Rather, this is the time of year to eagerly embrace grilling recipes, or make dishes you can prepare ahead of time and serve cool or at room temperature.

Summer rolls are a terrific option for warm-weather cooking and dining, as they’re made from rice paper wrappers rolled around cold proteins, fresh herbs and a colorful array of crunchy vegetables. Picture a spring or egg roll, only with the ingredients served fresh in a translucent roll instead of hidden (and cooked) in deep-fried dough.

While all the slicing and dicing of ingredients can take a hot minute, they’re easy to make at home once you get the hang of wrapping and rolling with your fingers. Fun, even, especially if you get the kids to lend a hand.

Summer rolls are also incredibly versatile, with almost any protein, fruit or vegetable a tasty candidate for the filling. In fact, the flavor combinations are boundless; all you have to really decide is whether you want to go strictly vegetarian or work some magic with a lean protein such as shrimp, pork or tofu. Add some chewy rice, cellophane noodles, soft lettuce leaves or baby spinach for extra heft, and don’t be afraid to get creative with the dipping sauces.

The same with fresh herbs — any combo of whatever you’re growing at home or strikes your fancy at the farmers market— be it mint, basil or cilantro, will only enhance the roll’s flavor.

The basics

Because summer rolls typically include several ingredients, preparation is essential. You’ll want to have everything gathered, prepped and ready to go at a work station before you start rolling.

Cut your vegetables and fruit into thin slices, matchsticks or a fine dice. If the recipe includes rice noodles, make sure they’ve been properly soaked and drained. If you’re not using pre-cooked shrimp, go ahead and grill or boil it. Slice any cooked meats very thin. Separate herbs and lettuce into individual leaves or if you prefer, small, bite-sized pieces.

You’ll also want a pie pan or large, shallow bowl filled with warm water at the ready for reconstituting the rice paper wrappers, along with a serving platter or parchment-covered tray for the finished rolls. The process goes very quickly once you start rolling, and the rolls themselves are very sticky, so you don’t want to be fumbling around looking for equipment.

It also helps to arrange the fillings in the order you’ll be adding them, with the prettiest ingredients last so they’ll show through the wrapper.

Ready to roll

Rice paper wrappings get very sticky very quickly, so you want to work fast, with a light hand, one roll at a time.

Take a piece of rice paper and briefly submerge it in warm water until it’s pliable but not fully softened on both sides — it should take about 10 seconds. (It will continue to soften on the work surface.) Slide it out of the bowl, shake off any excess water and place it onto a flat work surface. (I used a wooden cutting board, but an inverted baking sheet, tray or slightly damp dishtowel work.) When it feels tacky, start horizontally layering the ingredients.

For a closed-end roll, center the filling in the bottom third of the rice paper. Bring the lower edge up over the filling, fold in the two side flaps, and then roll the entire thing up as tightly as you can like a burrito. Don’t over stuff or the roll may burst!

Transfer to the plate, and cover with a damp paper towel to keep the rolls from drying out. Repeat the process until you run out of ingredients. Be sure to leave a little space between each roll on the plate to keep them from sticking together.

Don’t fret if the first rolls don’t turn out perfectly. Rice paper is extremely delicate and can easily tear. It takes some practice to master the technique.

How to serve

Summer rolls taste best the day they’re made. Once rolled, they last about two hours at room temperature. If you’re not serving them right away, cover with a clean, wet dish towel. If you end up with leftovers, store them individually wrapped in plastic wrap in an air-tight container in the fridge for about two days. Just be sure to bring them to room temperature for about a half-hour before eating .

Thai Salad Rolls With Green Chili Dipping Sauce

Makes 10 rolls. 177milkstreet.com

Looking for a bite that’s a little more substantial? Seasoned pork might seem an unusual filling for a summer roll, but when combined with browned shallots, cooked jasmine rice and fresh herbs and vegetables, it just works. The umami-rich dipping sauce is both tangy and spicy.

For dipping sauce:

1/2 cup lime juice

1/4 cup fish sauce

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 serrano chili, stemmed and finely chopped

1 medium garlic clove, finely grated

For salad rolls:

1 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoon neutral oil such as grapeseed, divided

5 large shallots, halved and thinly sliced

Kosher salt and ground white pepper

3 medium garlic cloves, finely grated

2 cups cooked white or brown rice, warm or room temperature

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

10 8 1/2-inch rice paper wrappers

1 large carrot, peeled and shaved into ribbons

10 soft lettuce leaves, such as Bibb or Boston

1 cup lightly packed fresh Thai or Italian basil

Make sauce: In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients plus 2 tablespoons water. Whisk until sugar dissolves. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

Make rolls: In medium bowl, combine pork, fish and soy sauces. Mix with your hands until well combined; set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to medium plate and set aside.

In same skillet over medium heat, combine remaining 1 tablespoon and pork mixture. Cook, stirring and breaking the meat into small pieces, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until incorporated into pork.

Transfer to bowl with the shallot mixture and cool to room temperature.

Add scallions and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Mix by hand, breaking up any large chunks of pork until cohesive. Taste and season with additional pepper.

Mist a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Set a wide bowl of warm water nearby, along with the pork filling, carrot, lettuce and basil.

Soak 1 rice paper wrapper in warm water until starting to soften, about 5-10 seconds. Lay it flat on a cutting board or countertop. Lay 3 carrot ribbons across the bottom of the rice paper, overlapping slightly. Press down on the spine of one lettuce leaf to flatten, then place it over the carrots, tearing to fit.

Top lettuce with 1/4 cup of the pork filling and top with a bit of basil. Fold the lower part of the wrapper up and over the filling and roll tightly, just until the filling is enclosed.

Fold in the sides of wrapper over filling, then continue rolling to create a tight bundle. Set on the prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Serve right away or set aside at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 hours. If desired, cut the rolls in half just before serving. Serve with dipping sauce on the side.

Grilled Shrimp Summer Rolls

Makes 8 rolls. Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

In this seasonal seafood roll, grilled shrimp is packed into rice paper along with spicy daikon radish, carrot, cucumber and fresh herbs. They’re served with a tangy soy sauce-based dipping sauce.

For dipping sauce:

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 teaspoon minced scallion

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

For rolls:

24 medium shrimp (about 1 pound), shelled, deveined, and tails removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice and zest of 1 lime

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 8 1/2-inch round rice paper wrappers

6 ounces rice or vermicelli noodles softened in hot water and drained

1 seedless cucumber, julienned

1 medium carrot, julienned or shredded

1 small daikon radish, julienned

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/2 cup basil leaves

1/2 cup mint leaves

Make sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined, then set aside while you make the rolls.

Rinse cleaned shrimp in water, place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, lime juice and lime zest. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the grill to medium heat, and brush with oil or cooking spray. (I used a cast-iron grill pan over a gas burner instead of an outdoor grill.) Skewer shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, then remove and let cool.

When cooled, remove shrimp from skewers and slice in half from head to tail or leave whole, if desired; set aside.

Fill a large bowl with warm water, dip rice wrapper into the warm water and completely submerge wrapper until softened, 5-10 seconds. Set wrapper on a clean, flat surface and blot dry.

Place some vermicelli noodles on the bottom third of the wrapper and top with shrimp, cucumber, carrot, radish, cilantro, basil and mint. Roll up, tucking in the ends as you go, until it resembles a burrito-shaped roll.

To serve, cut rolls in half or in thirds, and serve at room temperature with prepared dipping sauce.

Fresh Fruit Summer Rolls

Serves 4. Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

These sweet, good-for-you rolls are a perfect summer dessert. I paired fresh kiwi slices with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, but any combination of your favorite fruit works.

For roll:

4 8 1/2-inch round rice paper wrappers

Fresh mint leaves

2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced thin

8 strawberries, sliced thin

1/4 cup blueberries

1/4 cup raspberries

Juice of 1/2 lime

For dipping sauce:

1 cup plain or vanilla Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons maple syrup or orange juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (if using plain yogurt)

Soak rice paper in a large bowl of water for 5-10 seconds or until softened.

Transfer the rice paper to a large plate or clean workstation, and pat dry. Add 3 or 4 slices of fresh mint to the center on the rice paper, leaving some space on the edges. Place a few kiwi slices on top of mint, along with strawberry slices and few blueberries and raspberries. Top with a little bit of lime juice.

Gently fold over once, tuck in edges, and continue rolling until seam is sealed. Place seam-side down on a serving platter. Repeat until all fillings are used up. Slice rolls in half. If not serving right away, cover with damp warm towel to keep fresh.

Prepare dip by combining the yogurt, maple syrup or orange juice and vanilla (if using) in a bowl.

Serve the fruit rolls with the dip.

Crispy Tofu Summer Rolls With Peanut Sauce

Serves 4. Adapted from minimalistbaker.com

Tofu can be a no-go because of its silky texture but if you toss it in a little cornstarch and fry it, it’s a different game entirely. Here, planks of fried tofu team up with fresh veggies and herbs for a crunchy vegetarian summer roll. They’re served with a sweet and salty peanut sauce for dipping.

For rolls:

4 ounces vermicelli or rice noodles

8 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly dried/pressed

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 tablespoons sesame oil, divided

1 1/2 cups julienned or shredded vegetables, such as carrots, red pepper and cucumber

1 bunch fresh cilantro

1 bunch fresh mint

8 8 1/2-inch round rice paper wrappers

For peanut sauce:

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce (tamari if gluten-free)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon chili crisp

Hot water (to thin)

Place rice noodles in a large bowl of boiling hot water and allow to sit until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cut pressed tofu into small rectangles and toss in cornstarch.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add sesame oil. When it’s sizzling, add tofu and cook, flipping on all sides to ensure even browning, until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Prepare sauce by adding all sauce ingredients except water to a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add enough hot water to thin until a pourable sauce is achieved. Adjust flavors as needed.

To assemble spring rolls, pour very hot water into a shallow dish or skillet and immerse rice paper to soften for 10-15 seconds.

Transfer to a damp cutting board or damp towel and gently spread out edges into a circle. To the bottom third of the wrapper, add a small handful of vermicelli noodles and layer carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, fresh herbs and 2 or 3 pieces of tofu on top. Gently fold over once, tuck in edges, and continue rolling until seam is sealed.

Place seam-side down on a serving platter and cover with damp warm towel to keep fresh. Repeat until all fillings are used up. Slice rolls in half.

Serve with peanut sauce for dipping.

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