Spring Rolls: Secret to World Peace?

Today it occurred to me that everyone I have made spring rolls for or with is a dear friend.  Is it because the process is tedious and time-consuming, therefore a labor of love?  Or perhaps the taste of the dish itself brings people together?  Like good friendships, spring rolls take time and the end result is very much worth it.

I think cooking for someone is the best gift; plus it is one of my favorite ways to relieve stress.  Once I start a batch to give away, I end up with about 20 extra for myself.  And I eat every single one.  Thanks to my mother, who is constantly restocking my pantry every time I visit, I seem to be one or two ingredients away from spring roll heaven at all times.

When I want spring rolls, I tend to eat an excessive amount, more than would be served as an appetizer.  I have been spoiled by Mom: I sit in a chair at her kitchen counter, eating them almost as fast as she can wrap them.  I will eat any leftovers throughout the day.  They fill you up fast but then you’re hungry again an hour later.  The good news is, when you have an abundance of your own ingredients, spring rolls are quite cheap to make.  The part that takes the most time is cutting up the vegetables.  I definitely need a sous chef for that.

The key to successful spring rolls lies in two factors: the quality of rice paper and the dipping sauce.  Aside from these components, you can get away with putting just about anything inside of them.

Rice paper:
Mom has found the best brand, through trial and error.  They must be pliable when wet but without disintegrating.  This particular brand holds up very nicely, even if you soak it a little too long.

Filling:

– Rice vermicelli
– Shredded lettuce or radicchio (I have also used kale)
– Boiled shrimp, imitation crab meat, or any meat you like
– Cilantro
– Green onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
– Matchstick or julienne carrots
– Thai basil
– Cucumbers, in long strips

Peanut sauce:

– 1-2 TBSP creamy peanut butter
– Coconut milk
– 1 tsp rice wine vinegar*
– 1 clove minced garlic*
– 1 tsp grated ginger*
– 1 TBSP fish sauce*
– Ground black pepper to taste
– Red pepper flakes to taste

* These are approximate amounts

Preparation:

Cook the noodles in boiling water.  After tender, remove noodles and rinse thoroughly in cold water.  Drain and set aside, covered with a wet paper towel.

Dipping sauce:

Mix all ingredients in a blender.  I usually just eyeball the amounts.  You should use enough coconut milk to make a thin but not runny consistency.  The flavors should be balanced…sorry, I am always vague on measurements.  I think you should always season things to your liking.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and crushed peanuts if desired.

If you don’t have time to prepare a sauce, bottled sweet chili sauce also tastes great.

Rolls:

Lay out all the ingredients for the filling.  Have a large bowl filled with warm water ready and a clean, flat surface to work on.  Soak one wrapper at a time for about 30 seconds; it will continue to soften outside of the water.  Line up filling ingredients nearer to one end of the wrapper.  Fold in sides and roll, like you would a burrito or egg roll.

The first few that you wrap will probably look rough, but as long as they hold together, it doesn’t really matter if they don’t earn you a cover photo on Saveur.  After all, the idea is to eat them as they come off the assembly line.

I really think that if every person were to make spring rolls for one new friend, we could tackle this world peace situation within one generation.  Think that’s a lofty goal?  Well, has anyone ever tried it?

Also, I challenge anyone to eat more spring rolls than me in one sitting.  Or more in one day.  Your pick.  If you want to have a presentation war, I will leave that challenge to my mom.

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