Thursday, May 17th, 2012 | posted by mike
Ahhh, the merry month of May. These gorgeous fresh days of spring make me want to head out to the country with family and friends for a nice picnic. We usually try and keep it simple and grab a few things from our market like Cajun shrimp, squid or octopus salad, some market slaw, maybe a little smoked fish, shrimp cocktail, creamed herring, shrimp gazpacho, a nice cheese, a baguette, a bottle of wine and were headin’ out! Sometimes we get a little more ambitious and make up a Niçoise salad with fresh tuna or a blackened wild salmon salad. Those are meals in themselves!
I was having lunch at Tomukun Noodle Bar the other day and ordered their summer rolls. They were great and I thought, these would make great portable picnic fare. A total healthy meal that you can hold in your hand! These rolls are Vietnamese in origin and the ingredients vary but are built usually around lettuce with fresh basil, mint and cilantro, rice noodles, maybe julienned carrots, cucumbers, and sometimes sprouts. Shrimp, roasted pork, chicken or tofu can be used and are added in any combination. You can have a lot of fun in creating your own summer roll! You’ve got everything in one package, your seafood or meat protein, your rice noodle starch, your salad of lettuce, carrots and herbs and with no added fats they’re so light and delicious! We used wild gulf shrimp and believe it or not king crab in ours. We have broken pieces and knuckles of king crab at the market that we sell for a lot less than the legs and they were fantastic in this recipe. You can also add lightly poached squid and/or thinly sliced poached scallops.
When we first decided to give these rolls a try at home I looked at several recipes that looked pretty cut and dry. Looks can be deceiving. We had all these wonderful ingredients laid out before us. Super fresh cilantro and basil, mint right out of the garden, beautiful organic red lettuce, julienned carrots and cukes, rice noodles ready to go, and lovely shrimp and crab. Now just follow the simple directions and time to EAT! Submerge rice paper in hot water for 15 seconds, place ingredients in the center and roll ‘em up.
Yeah right! The rice paper stuck to my hands, stuck to the cutting board, holes were exposing the gaping stuffing. Disaster! After about 5 tries I realized that I didn’t know all you need to know to do these things right. My wife had all her photo equipment set up for the big shot. Props, lights, camera all ready to go. I’m getting frustrated, cranky and hungrier by the minute. All these great ingredients and I can’t even figure out how the restaurants make these rolls look so perfect with their transparent skins showing off all the contents. The heck with it!
Now I’m not usually a quitter but it was getting way too late for a work night. Then Lisa had a great idea! Since these rolls are basically a wrapped up salad, why not make lettuce wraps out of them and we’ll use the sweet chili lime dip. Nothing like a little flexibility with good ingredients. We could have thrown everything in a bowl and had a fantastic salad too.
The next day the thought of my failed attempts at summer rolls was really bugging me. How hard can this be? A little less tired and a little more patient I brought out the ingredients from the night before and gave it a go. It didn’t take long before I realized three major mistakes that I had been making. One was that 10 seconds at most was plenty of time to soak the rice sheets. Any longer they get too flimsy. Another was to lay them on a lightly dampened towel to make them a little easier to work with and the biggest mistake was over stuffing them. I made sure I had a good inch of space on either side of ingredients, rolled them tight and made a few more than originally planned.
Just goes to show ya, If plan A doesn’t work try plan B and then maybe C and if at first you don’t succeed – give up (?), but try again! And in the case of these summer rolls, once you get it down, they’re really pretty easy. Serve for light dinners, picnics or appetizers. You’ll love these with Bernie’s Thai peanut sauce or sweet chili lime dip!