Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shameless Addiction: Spring Rolls

I have had spring rolls on my brain recently. As I think I've noted before, for anyone who has been reading my blog consistently over its lifespan, I'm a hardcore food looper. I get really intense about a particular food for a while, and then my obsession passes. Not all loops are equal; some are much much longer than others. Por ejemplo, I have been hitting kumquats suuuuuper hard for the last three months. Every weekend, I make a trip to Rainbow Coop, the epi-center of San Francisco's natural foods community, and stock up. They are a little pricey, and I never get out of there with less than $10 worth of kumquats--about two pounds. Whole Foods can't be bothered to carry them, and it's really just as well. All things being equal, I'd rather give my money to Rainbow. With the steadily warming California weather, I've been thinking of foods that would complement my passion for those shocking little citrus fruits. I've been turning away from casseroles and baked things and toward cold things, crisp things, things that won't weigh me down--literally and figuratively. Spring rolls, which, in my opinion, are never fried--I know there are those who would disagree, maybe even entire countries (obviously, they are all wrong)--are just the thing. The supple, thin rice paper wrapper hugs a bundle of moist vermicelli, marinated tofu, and blanched snap peas. A few leaves of Thai basil add a mild, peppery depth beautifully polished off by a rich, savory peanut sauce. Heaven.

Spring Rolls

1 pkg round rice paper spring roll wrappers--I found brown rice ones!!! Hurray for technology!
1 pkg thin rice or mung bean vermicelli--these have slightly different textures, but both work just fine
1 pkg baked, marinated tofu--I like Hodosoy Beanery's Braised Tofu
1/2 lb snap peas
1 bunch thai basil

These come together really quickly. The only aspect of them that makes them a little annoying is all the prep work. Once you have that done, though, you line them up and throw them together very quickly.

First, wash the peas and peel off the tops. Take those pesky strings that run down the sides. Nothing like a snap pea string to ruin your experience of a perfectly good spring roll. Put them in a saucepan and add an inch of water. Cook on medium with a lid on just until the peas are bright green a tender-crisp. Drain and shock with cold water. Set aside.

Wash the basil and set aside.

Cut the tofu into matchsticks and set aside.

Cook the noodles. If you are super crafty, you can use the hot water that you already heated up for the peas to also cook the noodles, or vice versa. That's kind of a tall order, though.

Gather noodles, peas, tofu, and basil on the counter where you intend to assemble the rolls. Fill a large bowl with water and position it conveniently in your workspace.

Take one wrapper and put it in the water. You want the bowl to be large enough that you don't need to push on or fold the wrapper to submerge it just under the surface of the water. (Doing so will make tiny stress fractures in the delicate wrapper. Once it yields its rigidity to the soothing embrace of the water, it will emerge with huge rents and tears. Such a wrapper is good for only one thing: wrapping up bits of tofu and peas to treat your beloved who is obviously standing by, ready to wash any dish the second you are finished with it. Such a beloved would never burden a laboring chef like you with something as menial as dishes. And, take it from me, your beloved will be more grateful for that little impromptu spring roll teaser than your effort to produce it really deserves. Small favors, you know?) Let the wrapper soak for about 30 seconds or until it is soft and pliable, then remove it and put another one in. This second one will soak while you assemble your first spring roll. Lay the wrapper flat on the counter. Take 2-3 basil leaves and line them up in the center of the wrapper. Top with about 1/4-1/3 cup of vermicelli. Arrange 2 peas and 2 matchsticks of tofu on top of that and roll.

The rolling is fairly intuitive, I think. These are rolled--at least by amateurs like me--just like almost anything else (tents, sleeping bags, burritos, whatever.). Fold the sides up. They needn't meet in the center. Then, pick a side and roll as tightly as you can without tearing the wrapper. Put that spring roll to the side, remove the second paper from the water and put the third in. Continue like this until you run out of ingredients, wrappers, or (if you are a truly excellent planner) both. Serve with Peanut Sauce (below).

Peanut Sauce

1/3 c smooth peanut butter
1/3 c water
2 T Braggs
1 T rice vinegar
1 t red pepper chili flakes

In a microwave safe bowl, microwave water and peanut butter just till warmed then mix vigorously with a fork until the two have made friends. They will, I promise. Add other ingredients and adjust seasonings as desired.