It starts at the corner brat stand, where my tired senses come to life. Each Saturday morning, we funnel in to the rows at the downtown farmers market. The earthy stink of the raw milk sheep cheese pulls me to the right, but then I am jolted into a field of lavender baskets. Across the aisle is the small woman who fries egg rolls, and then all I want to eat is a paper cup of egg rolls. Most alluring are the tables of Hmong growers with their unidentifiable wares, and I flirt with their English-speaking children who tell me what is what. Amaranth, I’ll take some, Malabar spinach, what to do with that.
The farmer market is an adventure, a place to wake up, certainly a place to eat. Turns out, this week’s meal plan is a tribute to the farmers market. Nearly all on the shopping list can be found there, beyond your pantry staples. Here is a recipe from this week’s plan that goes to show, the simple and utterly flexible spring roll. A perfect dish for a long, quiet holiday weekend like this one; a communal dish to put together and eat together.
Endless Spring Rolls
Makes 8 rolls (or as many as you like…)
Endless because there are too many ideas for fillings, and there are endless rolls to make. My eyes are usually wider than my belly when I sit before a long platter of spring rolls. This is a communal dish, to make and eat and share. My young daughter can fill hers with whatever she fancies, and they are so enjoyably clumsy to put together (at first). Rolling these takes a bit of practice, but after you’ve made one or two, you’ll get the hang of it. Keep in mind, these rolls aren’t ideal for storage, and so make them close to when you’ll be eating them.
Rice wine (or white wine) vinegar
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts
Rice vermicelli noodles (2 ounces/ 8 rolls)
Your Fillings (refer to the Endless Fillings section)
Rice paper roll wrappers (8 ½ inch)
Peanut Dipping Sauce
Make your sauce first; it will want to relax anyhow and allow the flavors to mingle. Combine in a bowl: 2 tablespoons of rice wine (or white wine) vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of chili oil (consider, this will add significant heat), 1 garlic clove (minced or shredded), 3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts (chopped), and 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Rice vermicelli noodles give these rolls a foundation and substance, but you can always omit them if you prefer. Soak and drain about 2 ounces rice vermicelli per the package directions, and set aside.
Consider that you’ll be using a handful of filling per roll. Here is a just an off-the-cuff list of spring roll fillings; please mix and match and make them to your and your eaters’ taste. Ready your fillings now and lay out on a platter or plate.
Protein: cooked (perhaps leftover) pork, lamb, shrimp, fish or seasoned tofu
Vegetables, etc: carrots (peeled strips, or matchsticks), mushrooms (sliced), cucumber (peeled strips, or matchsticks), avocado (sliced), spring onions or scallions (sliced), chilies (sliced), kohlrabi (matchsticks), radishes (sliced or matchsticks), Asian greens (shredded), cabbage or lettuces (shredded), summer squash (matchsticks), cress or sprouts, fresh ginger (matchsticks)
Herbs: Chopped or whole leaves of cilantro, basil, mint
Spring Roll Wrappers
Prepare to soak 8 rice-paper roll wrappers (8 ½ in.) individually, right before you are ready to fill and roll each parcel; this only takes a moment. (You are simply trying to rehydrate these dried sheets, and make them pliable for rolling.) Fill a wide bowl or deep plate that has a larger diameter than the wrappers with warm water, and soak the wrappers one-by-one by sliding into the warm water. Leave the sheet there for a few seconds—any longer and it will become too soft and sticky; you are really just dipping it into the water. Remove the moistened (but still slightly firm) sheet and place it on your cutting board; leave it for a moment before filling and rolling.
Arrange a generous amount of your fillings in a rough line about an inch away from the edge nearest you. Fold that shorter edge over and tightly tuck it below the filling, then roll again to secure it. Bring up the left and right sides of the paper and fold them over. Carry on rolling until you’ve rolled it entirely. Set the finished roll on a plate covered with a lightly-dampened tea towel while you perform the same theatrics with the rest of your spring rolls; protect the other finished rolls beneath the moistened towel.
Well, unless you’d like fancifully plate your rolls. Choose to slice them down the middle on the diagonal, and arrange them just so. No matter, serve with a small dish of dipping sauce. Voila!