Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Rolls

Although it may not look like it, it's spring.

From what I can see as I write, the grass seems to be sporting the "dead of winter" look.  I really do love the snow, but spring is supposed to be more green looking. Though certainly interesting, the almost-April snowstorm seems somewhat inappropriate. It's a bit late.
Well, it'll probably be completely melted within a few days and look and feel much more springlike.

And you know how some foods just seem completely inappropriate at certain times of year? I don't want a hearty stew in July or a tomato salad in the middle of winter.
The same goes for rice paper wrapped (unfried) spring rolls (also called summer rolls).
True, it's not overly warm right now, but even so, spring rolls sound good.
Strange as it may sound somehow, some foods seem like they might edify- it's as if eating them will lead to some sort of self-improvement. Maybe you need a set of guidelines to choose foods in this manner ... as long as there are less than X number of ingredients used, I can pronounce all of them, and they are able to stay relatively al dente, it's edible and good.
Ok, so maybe they won't add anything morally or spiritually, maybe they're not a life changer, but still...
Perhaps I say this about spring rolls because they can be the healthier choice when compared to other options out there. Those heavier foods don't seem so desirable when the weather starts to change. One might feel better in many ways for choosing the healthy over another potential meal, something overly sauced, fried, or greasy.

Sometimes spring rolls utilize only fresh vegetables, but for this version, the filling is combined and quickly sauteed just until the meat is cooked.
But to me, the best part, the part that makes it so vibrant and green-tasting is the scattering of fresh herb leaves laid between the wrapper and filling. It's amazing what a few leaves can do. Each bite ends up being a little different.
Those little bits of green can add so much.

It only takes a handful of simple ingredients, and not a lot of time to put these together.

Although spring rolls can certainly be made vegetarian, these aren't. But really, there's not as much meat as you might expect- just little bits here and there for flavor. I don't know about anyone else, but across the board I think it's best not to go overkill on meat anyway.
Other things that might be good additions or substitutions: mushrooms, red peppers, shrimp, snow peas, lettuce, or egg.

Bean thread (glass noodles, cellophane noodles...) are noodles made out of bean starch.
(Who comes up with these things?)
When the noodles are still dry and bundled, they remind me of very pale shredded wheat. After a quick soak in warm water they're conveniently ready to use, whether in a soup, stir-fry, salad, or in spring rolls.

As to the wrappers, which side is up? I find that if I leave a wrapper out at room temperature a bit (maybe because of the moisture in the air) it curls. Right out of my package the concave side was up, and that's the side the filling goes on.  Another way to look at up vs. down is the rice paper surface. While both sides are textured because of the pattern in the rice paper, it's the shiny side that goes up (but I thin the curling method is the easier way to tell since sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate). EIther way just be careful, because if the damp wrapper sits too long on a towel before a roll is rolled, the rice paper can stick to the towel.

And voila, that's it! Simple.

All the bright colors are easily seen through the translucent paper. To me, when rolled and finished, spring rolls in rice paper look a bit like foggy stained glass windows.

Fresh Spring Rolls
(yield depends on the size of your wrappers and the amount of filling used, but you should get about 15 if using 8 1/2 inch diameter pieces of rice paper)

1/2 lb. uncooked minced pork (225 g), crumbled
1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 c or 40 g)
About 100 g bean thread (this was 2 bundles of noodles in the package I used), soaked in warm water a few minutes until softened
2 medium carrots, grated
4 oz (110 g) bean sprouts
2 1/2 T (38 ml) tamari (or soy) sauce
generous 1/2 T (4 g) ground black pepper
generous 1/2 T (10 g) sugar
2 T (30 ml) vegetable oil

Rice paper rolls
Fresh basil leaves (torn if large)
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves

Sweet chili sauce, for serving 

Place the bean thread noodles in a bowl and add warm water to cover. Let soak a few minutes until softened. Drain and roughly chop.
In a large bowl, combine the pork, green onions, softened glass noodles, grated carrot, bean sprouts, tamari sauce, pepper and sugar. Mix until well combined.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large dutch oven or wok over medium-high heat and saute the pork mixture until the pork is completely cooked. Remove the filling to a bowl and let cool completely.
(At this point, you can taste the filling and see if it needs anything else. Last time I made a mistake and added double the pepper and sugar since I initially wanted to write for a larger recipe and use 1 lb. of pork, but was only making 1/2 recipe. As it turned out I liked it better that way. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone who's particularly sensitive to that amount of pepper, so I wrote for the lesser amount. You can always add more.)

Partially fill a shallow pan or baking dish with lukewarm water. Working with the wrappers one at a time, dip a rice paper wrapper into the warm water until hydrated and pliable (but not falling apart, they will continue to soften after being removed from the water), 5-10 seconds total. Carefully remove the rice paper from the water bath. Place the softened rice paper wrapper on a kitchen towel to absorb excess moisture and scatter cilantro, basil and/or mint leaves across the surface. Do not over-fill the rice paper. Place a portion of the cooled pork filling mixture along the lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the rice paper with about an inch and a half of rice paper as a border on either side. 3-4 T of the filling seems to be a good amount in my case with a wrapper about 8 1/2 inches in diameter.  Fold the lower part of the wrapper over the filling, keeping the filling tucked in with your fingers, fairly tight and compact.  Fold each of the sides into the center to enclose the filling. Finish by tightly rolling the spring roll away from you to create a cigar shape and complete the spring roll. The rice paper will stick to itself to enclose the filling completely. Place the finished rolls on a plate. It make take a little practice to get neat little compact rolls, so don't get discouraged.  Repeat until the remaining filling has been used.

Serve with sweet chili sauce on the side.

*The filling can be made ahead of time and will keep at least a couple days refrigerated. Do not fill the wrappers until right before you intend to serve the spring rolls as the rice paper can dry out if it sits too long.


  1. They DO look like stained glass windows!

  2. These pictures make me want to make the spring rolls ---maybe on Monday! Hungry for spring rolls. MMMMMMMMM.