Roll-Your-Own Spring Roll Summer Supper

Roll-Your-Own Spring Roll Summer Supper
Copyright 2007 Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Serves 4 to 5

Talk about cool eating and fresh, light suppers—for these spring rolls, you simply soften thin, crisp rice paper rounds and roll them up with whatever you'd like (cooked meat and/or vegetables, tofu or tempeh), or try the classic Vietnamese blend of lettuce, rice noodles, fresh herbs, shrimp and pork (bought already cooked at Asian markets). There's no frying, and the rolls keep for hours under a dampened paper towel in the refrigerator. Serve them with the sweet-tart dipping sauce.

Cook to Cook: The rice "paper" (really a cooked rice flour batter that is dried into paper thin rounds) is crisp and flat when you buy it (many supermarkets carry it in their Asian sections). Once moistened with warm water, it turns into a pliable noodle that seals itself as you roll it up. Two tricks to remember: Don't overfill the rolls, and if young ones have trouble with breaking rice paper, just use two pieces instead of one.

1/2 pound vermicelli rice noodles, soaked in very hot water to cover until to barely tender (5 to 8 minutes), drained and rinsed
3/4 to 1 pound Asian-style barbecued pork, or leftover American barbecue, tempeh, tofu or cooked meats or fish
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise (optional)
14 lettuce leaves, washed, dried and thin sliced
1 to 2 cups shredded carrots, or other vegetables, thin sliced
1 big bunch spearmint, washed and dried
1 big bunch coriander or basil, washed and dried
25 rice paper rounds (6- to 7-inch diameter)

1. Place ingredients within easy reach of everyone. Have a shallow bowl of warm water on the table. Moisten the rice paper dipping the rounds in the water, laying them out on dinner plates and waiting a few minutes. (I usually do 2 at a time or more, so I can do a couple of rolls at once).

2. On the bottom third of the rice paper round, make a small pile of rice noodles, a few shreds of meat, half a shrimp if using, some lettuce, carrot, and some leaves of each herb.

3. Roll up the round over the filling, taking it halfway up the uncovered portion of rice paper. Now fold in the side flaps and continue rolling until you have a tight cylinder. Dip into the sauce and enjoy.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham):

This is one of the many versions of this popular dipping sauce. Small children might find the chile too hot, so have everyone add it to taste to their sauce at the table. The sauce keeps 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

1/3 to 1/2 cup water
3 to 4 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (called "Nuoc Mam")
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 large clove garlic, minced
Minced tiny red chiles, chile paste or hot red pepper flakes to taste

1. Put everything in a screw-top jar and shake together. Taste for sweet-tart balance, adding more lime or sugar as needed. Let mellow about 30 minutes before pouring into individual dipping bowls.

LYNNE'S TIPS

An easy way to identify a good quality fish sauce is to look for the brand that has three crabs on the label. Store an opened bottle of fish sauce in the refrigerator. It will keep up to a year.

Since fish sauce is loaded with "Umami," the so-called fifth taste, which in fact lifts and opens up the flavors of all the ingredients it touches, several drops in non-Asian recipes like salad dressings, pan sauces, marinades, soups, etc. is the cook's secret weapon. Chefs have been doing this for quite awhile. Remember, a little goes a very long way, and don't be put off by the fact that fish sauce has an aroma akin to old gym socks. Trust is important here; it will do good things for your food.

Rice noodles are a standing inspiration for those wanting light fast eating. They need no cooking, just softening in hot water, are light and fresh tasting and they take to all kinds of dressings, and foods. You could have a different rice noodle salad every week for the entire summer.