28 January 2007

Happy Spring Rolls

If you have not already read Michael Pollan's article "Unhappy Meals" this past weekend, I urge you to get to it. Like most of Pollan's work, it will have you looking at what you put on your plate and how you buy it in a whole new light. What I always enjoy about his writing is that, while I don't always agree with everything, there is always some piece of information or perspective that is revelatory enough to stick with you long after you've read the piece.

For example: "Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat." Or: "Chemical fertilizers simplify the chemistry of the soil, which in turn appears to simplify the chemistry of the food grown in that soil." However, more than these pieces of information, the best part about Pollan's work is the type of critical thinking he applies to his work, an approach unfortunately lacking from most food and nutrition writing today.

Now, if you are worried I am going to send you off with a recipe for steamed broccoli, fear not. Pollan's diet advice goes something along the line of, "eat mostly plants (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables), use meats, fats, and grains sparingly." As someone who generally follows this, I can assure you I eat very well. Rather, I offer you bright spring rolls, filled with the wonderful crunch of fresh vegetables and the subtle sweetness of crab meat. I don't know why I don't make these more often because they are very satisfying and easy to eat.

The rice paper rolls come in a flat round package, and can be found in a well-stocked supermarket or a Chinese market. But the best part about these? The peanut dipping sauce. It's downright addictive, not to mention great as a sauce on noodles. Just make sure you don't eat too much, you know, healthy diet and all.

Crab and Vegetable Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
If crab is too pricey, you can use shrimp or imitation crab meat, or leave it out all together. Some slivered mango makes a nice addition as well. It's good to have some extra rice paper rounds in case some tear.

10-12 rice paper rounds*
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, grated or sliced into thin ribbons or matchsticks
1/2 cup bean sprouts
a few cilantro leaves, minced
1 tbl soy sauce
2 tbl lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 cup lump crabmeat or diced cooked shrimp

1. Prep the vegetables. Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, and sugar in a bowl, add the cucumber, carrot, sprouts, and cilantro and toss to coat.
2. Fill a large shallow baking pan with warm water. Soak one rice paper round in the water for about 30 seconds to soften, then transfer to your work surface. Place a bit of crab on the bottom third of the rice paper roll, then add a bit of the vegetables. Fold up the bottom of the rice paper roll, tuck in the sides, and roll up. Repeat this until all rolls and filling has been used up. Keep the rolls covered with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out. Slice each roll in half and serve with dipping sauce.

*Rice paper rolls are available in the Asian food section of well-stocked groceries, or at Asian markets.

Peanut Sauce
This sauce is worth every effort, I'm sure you'll find a myriad of uses for it, whether as a dipping sauce, a sauce for noodles, even a dressing for salad. We like it spread on celery.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 scallion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh gingerroot
1 cup water
1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

In a saucepan heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook scallion, garlic and ginger, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring. Simmer sauce, stirring, until smooth and cool to room temperature. Sauce may be made up to 3 days ahead and chilled, covered. If sauce is too thick after chilling, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water until sauce reaches desired consistency.


Linda said...

yea! spring rolls make me so happy. just had some yesterday myself ;)

Yosha said...

I just bought some rice paper and wondering how to make it! Yay!!!

One more question though...is there a way I can make this the day before serving? I am guessing if I just stick this in the fridge it may dry up?