The last time I had summer rolls was for my birthday, which was 360 days ago, to be precise. It seems a sin not to have had summer rolls in the meantime. I’ve done so many other things, like move into a new apartment with my boyfriend, spend two months in the states going to weddings and being a summer bum, taking a cruise to Bermuda, starting a new job. And while all of that was going on, I couldn’t find a spare second to make summer rolls. It seems.
And what a loss, because summer rolls are one of the great belly gifts. Slick vermicelli noodles vie for position with carrot and cucumber slivers, shaved Napa cabbage and garlicky shrimp, flavorful herbs like sweet basil and mint, sweet hoisin sauce and garish red Sriracha. They press up against pliant, clear rice paper like strange alien life forms just waiting to burst free. Yet, the summer roll’s fate is a dunk in peanut sauce, sweet and limey with a hit of garlic and chili.
What could I possibly have been doing to keep me from making those more often?
I’m going to tell you a secret. I keep a journal. It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? It feels so Ramona, so pre-teen, so crush. But here’s why: I started doing it when I was 8 years old, and because I feel compelled to keep doing the things that I start until they’re done, I can’t stop journaling until I die. In the same vein, I also still keep a list of books that I’ve read, because in 4th grade, we had to keep a list in order to get Book-It Club pizza points. I have a list of every book I’ve read since 4th grade! Really! And no one’s giving me pizza anymore.
But back to journaling. I just finished a journal. I’ve been working on this sucker for four years. Four years! When I started, I was recently graduated from college, living in New York, working at Urban Outfitters and trying to figure out what the heck to do with my life. “It is the year 2010, two years before the end of the world. I am 22 years old. I live in Brooklyn, New York. I want to be a writer. Screw that, I am a writer.” Oh, oh, oh, journals are for emotions!
I also have another journaling ritual. Namely, that when I finish a journal, I have to read the whole thing. It’s a fascinating (and slightly compulsive) task, that reads a bit mundane, but reveals a fascinating personality arc. There are patterns. “I had a productive day today.” “I watched TV in bed all day today.” “I feel good about my projects!” “What am I doing with my life?” But there’s also growth. Over the course of four years, I learned to trust myself as a writer and my gut as an advice-giver. I learned that there’s no one right way to live, but that the measure of my success is defined by me and only me.
Based on my journal, I’ll always be a person that needs a project. I need a new goal, a new platform, a new challenge. And because I’m always reaching up, I don’t always stop to see how far I’ve already come. Not until I get to next year’s summer rolls.
Summer rolls with Peanut Sauce
There are no quantities listed for the roll fillings. This will vary widely depending on how many rolls you wish to make. A little bit goes a long way, as you don’t want to overstuff your rolls. So start out cutting up smaller quantities, but have spare veggies on hand in case you need more. In any event, the peanut sauce serves 4-5. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter: Choose your poison.
For the peanut sauce:
¾ cups peanut butter
1/3 cup water
4 tbsp. lime juice
3 tbsp. hoisin sauce
3 tsp. brown sugar
3 tsp. chili-garlic paste
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
For the rolls:
Shrimp, prepared as desired
Tofu, prepared as desired
To make the peanut sauce, whisk all ingredients together. It might start out chunky at first, but don’t despair – keep whisking and it will turn into creamy peanutty goodness. Unless you used chunky peanut butter, in which case it will turn into creamy peanutty goodness with chunks in it.
Prepare vegetables and place into separate bowls: Thinly slice Napa cabbage and julienne carrots and cucumbers. Finely chop sweet basil, mint, and green onion. Prepare tofu and/or shrimp. I made my shrimp by sautéing them in olive oil with a clove of minced garlic and a few splashes of soy sauce. I then sautéed the tofu in the leftover sauce. Right before you’re ready to assemble the rolls, pour boiling water over the dried vermicelli noodles and let them steep for about 3 minutes or until soft but not mushy, then drain.
Assemble your rolls: Fill a shallow dish with warm water. Take a sheet of rice paper and submerge it into the water until it becomes completely pliable, but not mushy. Transfer it to a plate, then top with pre-prepared fillings as well as a squirt each of hoisin sauce and sriracha. Roll the summer roll as you would a burrito, making sure that both ends are tucked in. Tip: If you get super fast at assembling your rolls, be sure to wait until the rice paper has cooled before starting to roll. The cooler rice paper is stickier and will hold together better.
This is a very fast process. Each roll should take less than a minute to put together.
Place finished rolls on a separate platter and serve with peanut sauce.