Fresh summer rolls are easy to make and require (almost) no cooking. Ingredients are readily available; the rolling goes fast. And the result makes for an impressive summer appetizer that’s delicious and fun to eat.
My recipe, an adaptation of several I’ve found on line, comes with a story: about a dinner party I never went to, and a diamond I thought I’d never see again.
Here’s how it all went down.
Summer Roll prep. Diamond intact!
Last summer, I made summer rolls to bring to a casual dinner party in a good friend’s backyard. That afternoon, I rolled them out, then placed them on a plate covered with plastic wrap for the short drive over to his house. But the moment we got into the car, a text came in from my friend, the host, apologizing for a last-minute cancellation. Feeling suddenly unwell, he promised to reschedule soon.
Back in the house, I set the tray on a counter, looking down at thirty rolls. Okay, I thought. We’d keep some and distribute the rest to friends. And that’s when I saw it: the sharp, skinny prongs of the ring on my left hand, encircling the shape of the diamond that was no longer there.
The rolls! The diamond had to be inside one of them. How could we give them away? It wasn’t that we didn’t trust our friends. But how do you say to someone, “Enjoy the rolls – just watch out for a diamond!”
But wait. What if the diamond hadn’t fallen into a roll? What if it was at the bottom of the trash, hidden in the vegetable detritus in the sink, or—worse—had already vanished down the drain? Or could it have fallen out later? On my way from the house to the car?
Now picture me on my knees, sifting through the trash—cursing myself for not composting vegetable peels, coffee grounds and eggshells. And imagine the two of us, over four consecutive evenings, making our way through all thirty rolls—my husband Wayne (a tool guy) surgically separating and probing with fork and knife.
Now see me sweeping the house like never before (no vacuuming!), vigorously shaking every item I took out of the dryer, and pacing the driveway like Prince Charles: head down, bent from the waist, hands clasped behind my back — amazed that gravel and dirt contain so many tiny shiny shards.
By the end of the week, I’d pretty much given up. What’s a diamond anyway, I asked myself. A con. A contrivance. An ill-begotten buy-in to a nefarious marketing ploy. Why do we even assign monetary— much less sentimental— value to small shiny objects?
And yet I continued to keep an eye out, turning things over and inside out.
So it goes without saying that several weeks later, before tossing an empty box of dishwashing pellets, I gave it the half-hearted shake. Was that a faint rattle I heard? Surely, I thought, it was a dislodged so-called “powerball” alleged to get my dishes squeaky clean. Still, I reached inside to check. And there it was: like the prize in a box of Crackerjacks: my diamond and end of the story will forever go with recipe for summer rolls. Diamonds optional—of course.
Fresh Summer Rolls
- 1 package of rice paper summer roll wrappers – either 6″ or 8″ in diameter
- 1-2 carrots
- 3-4 T Japanese seasoned (sweetened) rice vinegar*
- 1/4 of a Napa cabbage
- A cup of dried vermicelli-style cellophane (bean thread) noodles*
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
- 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only
- 3 scallions
*Available in Asian specialty stores or in the Asian section of most supermarkets.
- In a medium sized bowl, pour hot water over the cellophane noodles. Let stand until softened, then drain and let cool.
- Peel and casually julienne the carrots. Place carrots in a small bowl with the seasoned Japanese rice vinegar, and toss.
- Knife shred the Napa cabbage into approximately 3″ lengths.
- Barely chop the cilantro and the mint,
- Slice white and green parts of scallion into 3″ lengths.
- Place ingredients 3, 4, and 5 in small bowls and check the settings of your rings.
- Choose a flat, non-porous surface bigger than a single wrapper. Choose a bowl larger in diameter than a wrapper and fill it with warm water.
- Place one wrapper at a time (trust me on this one) in the bowl of warm water. It will go from as brittle as a CD to soft and pliable in about 10-15 seconds.
- Place the wrapper flat on the cutting board, then place a mix of ingredients horizontally long the lower third, leaving a couple of inches at the bottom and sides for folding over.
- Fold the bottom up to cover the filling. Then fold the sides in toward the middle. Keep rolling up, pressing the filling, to get a moderately tight roll to the top.. (The roll will hold together because the wrappers are sticky when wet.
- Keep rolling as long as your filling holds out.
Here’s where you can get creative. Or not.
I usually put out two small bowls of dipping sauces, one store-bought. I happen to like Whole Foods Soy and Ginger sauce. But in every market, you’ll find choices. Make a good one by mixing equal parts of hoisin sauce and peanut butter, thinning with little water. You can also mix to taste soy sauce with (e.g.) seasoned Japanese rice vinegar, fresh juice, and/or Thai fish sauce.
All photos by Carolyn Swartz