The first week of Wimbledon has been and gone, and for the cynical among us, as sure as night follows day, ‘rain will stop play’. Yet between these poignant, classic, English summer showers there has been some remarkably ‘balmy’ weather, even verging on hot at times! London particularly heats up like an oven, at least our flat does and hence a little re-think in the cooking and menu planning department has taken place. I instinctively crave light, clean, crisp flavors; Summer garden salads are top of the list but having exhausted the radish supply and got slightly bored by the broad beans I have deviated East for some more punchy ‘taste explosions’. Thai Salads are always popular, packed with raw vegetables and punchy herbs they seem to cut through the heat and leave one zinging with the warmth of chilli, the coolness of mint and sharpness of lime. Dressed up with a ‘Nam Jim’ dressing, all sorts of combinations work and believe me, they are a welcome, welcome change, perfect Summer fare on humid, hot, steamy, city nights.
Drum roll please…..let me introduce you to, ‘Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls’. No looking back, once you’ve eaten these delicate little packages, you will be totally smitten. They happily tick the box of keeping it healthy and light. A little mint, crunchy cucumber, radish, bean sprout, carrot, prawn or crab, wrapped up in a magical sheet of rice paper and then dipped according to your taste into anything ranging from a sweet chilli sauce to soy. How savvy are those Vietnamese to invent such a heavenly spring roll, such a distant cousin to the deep-fried variety more commonly seen. Making these rice paper rolls does require a little bit of attention, but that in itself can be quite therapeutic, given that the preparation in question is cutting lots of vegetables into identical shaped sizes! Also, unless you are lucky enough to live in Vietnam or near an Asian restaurant, making your own is your only option for reincarnating this particular delicacy. Some nifty knife skills are a bonus, or failing that, investing in the extremely clever little gadget I was given for Christmas that can only be described as a ‘julienner’. Basically it is a ‘peeler shaped’ ‘julienne’ cutter, total genius, and makes slicing the vegetables a whole lot easier. The end game is that these little rolls are the coolest, most refreshing morsels one can ever be lucky enough to eat. Packed with flavor I can’t recommend them enough for a little change from the norm as our Summer staggers on.
Vietnamese Spring Roll Wrappers – I use the ones made by ‘Blue Dragon’, found in most large supermarkets in the Asian / Oriental section, make at least 2 per person
Any and maybe all, of the following combination of vegetables:
2 or 3 carrots
1/2 a cucumber
3 Spring onions
A good handful of bean sprouts
Fresh mint and coriander leaves
Cooked prawns or fresh crab
1. To make the spring rolls have all of your chosen ingredients prepared, and ready to go.
2. Have a bowl of hand warm water to hand – this is what you will use to re-hydrate the spring roll wrappers! When you are ready to go, dip one wrapper in the water for about 10 seconds, remove and lay flat. Place a couple of mint and coriander leaves flat, skin side down on the wrapper, now top with a few strips of your juilenned vegetables followed by your prawns or crab. Roll the wrapper up as tight as possible, cut in half and place on a platter. The rolls can be made a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge. If you are stacking them up they do tend to stick together slightly so my advice is to place a little baking paper between them. They are delicious served with a combination of dips, nam jim, works very well, a homemade sweet chilli and lime dipping sauce and may be a plain soy. I am not sure any of the dips are ‘Vietnamese authentic’ but they still seem to work.
And for the alternative option…………..
If throwing this together doesn’t rock your boat take a trip to ‘Mein Tay’; http://www.mientay.co.uk/ ; the most wonderful little Vietnamese restaurant in London. No glitz or glamour but the ‘Pho’ is fabulous, vouched for by AA.Gill!