My kitchen overflows with vibrant summer produce, and I am too hot to cook. I’m too hot to eat. In fact, I’m too hot to do anything more than hold my wine slushie against my brow and dream of February. But around 6 p.m., my family starts poking around the kitchen in search of sustenance. Since these are the same people who heap wet swim towels adjacent to empty laundry baskets, I’m not inclined to jump up and put on a full spread. Instead I wave them toward the ingredients for my Citrusy Summer Rolls, which is a gluten-free, no-cook meal that even towel-droppers can make. If you think my recipe requires too much chopping for your current languid situation, skip to the last paragraph where I tell you how to cheat.
Summer rolls are mostly raw, unlike their fried spring roll cousins. Don’t be intimidated by the long-ish recipe. Simply cut up a bunch of fresh seasonal vegetables, toss in some shrimp, chicken or tofu, and gift-wrap the whole shebang in chewy rice paper wrappers. Any veggies will work, although I give preference to those that play well with fresh lime juice, like carrots and seedless cucumber. And I like to bundle my chopped veggies in lettuce leaves, which keeps the firmer vegetables from poking through the delicate rice paper wrapper. Slacker tip: taste your cucumber before peeling it. If the skin isn’t bitter, you can leave it on. If the skin IS bitter, well, you’ll probably spend more time looking for the peeler than actually doing the peeling. Cooking is frustrating that way.
The rice paper wrapper is the only part of the recipe that doesn’t allow for winging it. You actually have to purchase wrappers that say bánh tráng, spring roll, or rice paper on the package. Wonton wrappers are too small. Egg roll wrappers are too thick. My regular market sells rice paper wrappers in the Asian food aisle, but if yours doesn’t, a field trip to an Asian market is a worthwhile, air-conditioned outing.
In their packaging, spring roll wrappers look like large translucent Frisbees. After all of your vegetables are chopped as small as they can be practically chopped, dip a single disk into a dish of hot-ish water for 15 seconds and watch it transform into a soft, slightly sticky wrapper. (Better yet, give everyone individual dishes of water so they can make their own dinner while you search the back of your freezer for rosé popsicles.) Remove the floppy wrapper from the water and place it flat on a work surface. Pile the veggies and protein on the bottom third of the wrapper. Then fold the wrapper like a burrito: gently lift the bottom of the wrapper up and over the vegetables. Tuck the sides in, and continue rolling from the bottom up. The rolls stay sealed on their own because rice starch is magic.
Now, if you’re in a pickle and need to get dinner on the table in 10 minutes or less, skip the chopping and use a bag of prepared coleslaw mix or containers of store-chopped veggies from the produce department. Really, really in a pickle? Skip the whole rice paper adventure and leave your veggies bundled in lettuce alone. Re-brand them as lettuce wraps and call it a day. You can also skip my dipping sauce recipe and crack open a jar of sweet red chili sauce from the market, but as your healthy cooking columnist I’m obligated to remind you that the jarred stuff has more sugar, calories and preservatives than homemade. Even if you’re cheating, give yourself a slow, low-exertion pat on the back for skipping the drive thru and getting a fresh, veggie-packed meal on the table.
Citrusy Summer Rolls
1 medium (6 ounce) seedless cucumber
2 medium (approx. 5 ounces) carrots
4 ounces red or daikon radish
1 cup chopped green cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice from one lime
8 leaves of bib or butter lettuce
8 bánh tráng (large rice paper wrappers), plus extra for practice
16 cooked medium shrimp, shells and tails removed
3 cups warm (105 degrees) water
Cut the cucumber, carrots and radishes into matchsticks. Place them in a non-reactive bowl with the cabbage, cilantro, mint and salt. Toss with the lime juice and set aside while you prepare dipping sauce.
Divide the cucumber mix among the lettuce leaves. Submerge a rice paper wrapper in the warm water for 15 seconds or until it is soft and pliable. Lay the wrapper flat on your work surface. Place two shrimp and a filled lettuce leaf across the bottom third of it. Roll the wrapper up from the bottom, pausing to fold the left and right sides toward the center. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve chilled with dipping sauce. Makes 8 rolls.
Hot Honey Dipping Sauce
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons sesame or grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
Mix all ingredients well. Makes 10 servings.