I’m currently sitting at my dining room table, curtains drawn, lights out, with a large jug of iced water by my side and a rotating fan positioned a few short inches from my face. I’ve had three cold showers today and I’m already contemplating a fourth. With the sweltering, muggy heat comes headaches, waves of nausea and the pungent stench of street garbage wafting through the nearest open window. Summer in this city takes no prisoners. No pool? No air-conditioning? You can kiss your good night’s sleep goodbye, along with your desire to do anything else other than spreading out like a starfish on top of your bedsheets with an ice-cold wash cloth draped across your face.
Underwear, of course, is totally optional.
Since there’s no possible way I’m turning on the oven, or boiling or braising anything on a day like today, dinner options will have to be cold and raw, light and fast. Salads can often do the trick, but they can get boring fast and sometimes don’t feel substantial enough. Which brings me to –
Composed of paper-thin rice wrappers filled with crunchy vegetables and cool rice noodles, spring rolls only require very minimal cooking – the vermicelli cook in under three minutes and the rice paper wrappers can be softened with tepid water. All the remaining ingredients can go in raw. The only exception is the sauce, which requires some minor sautéeing. But let me tell you, this sauce is well worth the two minutes you’ll spend next to the stove top. In other words, you can fill your spring rolls with whatever you like, but DO NOT SKIP THE SAUCE. Trust me on this one. You can thank me later when you find yourself using your index finger like a spatula to collect every last drop at the bottom of the bowl.
Spring Rolls with Spicy Cashew Dipping Sauce (serves 4 as a light dinner) – adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
Spring roll filling options:
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 1 cucumber, julienned
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1 cup sliced red cabbage
- cooked vermicelli noodles or sticky rice
- rice paper wrappers (16 small or 8 large)
- handful of lettuce and/or sunflower sprouts
- handful of cilantro and/or mint and/or Thai basil leaves
For the dipping sauce:
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cashew butter
- 1/2 tbsp mirin sauce (can be substituted with agave nectar)
- 1/2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- juice of one lime
- vegetable oil
- water, as needed
Note: these are just guidelines; feel free to adjust the seasonings to suit your taste
Boil about 2 cups of water in a tea kettle. While the water cools, start laying all the fillings on a platter.
To make the sauce: begin by heating a glug of vegetable oil to a frying pan on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot (but not smoking) add the garlic and fry until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the chili flakes and fry another 20 seconds or so, taking care not to burn the garlic and chili. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the cashew butter, mirin, tamari and whisk together, adding water one tablespoon at a time until it is thin enough to be used as a dipping sauce. Add the lime juice and whisk to combine. Adjust seasonings if needed. Serve warm with the rolls.
To assemble: pour the water from the kettle (it should be tepid now) into a large, flat bowl. Lay one rice paper wrapper at a time in the water and allow to soak for about 20 seconds to soften. Transfer to a clean, damp dish towel and begin layering the ingredients in the centre of the wrapper, starting with the lettuce, then the noodles or rice, then the veg, then the herbs. Leave a bit of room at the bottom for wrapping, but feel free to allow the veg to stick out at the top. Fold the bottom of the wrapper upwards, toward the centre, roll the left flap snugly over all the filling an continue rolling until you’ve arrived at something that resembles a spring roll. Repeat with remaining wrappers and fillings.