It”s officially spring, but other than asparagus and early-bird spinach, it’s still too early for the tender vegetables we’re so hungry for this time of year. So instead, we’re going to celebrate the change of season by focusing on spring rolls, whose name evokes the fresh, leafy veggies on the horizon.
However you like them — fresh or fried — they’re a great way to experiment with a variety of meats, seafood and raw or cooked vegetables; as one of the vegan recipes we tested below so beautifully demonstrates, you can even build a decent spring roll around fruit and nuts.
Even better, spring rolls are fast and easy to make. We had them on the table in less time than it would have taken to order take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant.
Turkey Spring Rolls with Spicy Mayo
The original recipe calls for ground beef, which my kids only will eat when it’s shaped into a patty and thrown on the grill. So I substituted lean ground turkey, with great results. The spicy mayo is similar to the tangy pink sauce sometimes served with sushi. For a little dunking variety, I also made a soy-ginger dipping sauce.
— Gretchen McKay
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 12-ounce bag bean sprouts
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 6 scallions, white parts minced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound 85-percent-lean ground beef (or turkey)
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 12 rice paper wrappers
Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add beef and remaining 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in scallion whites and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer beef to bowl with sprouts mixture. Add 1/4 cup mayonnaise mixture and toss to combine.
Spread clean, damp kitchen towel on counter. Soak 4 wrappers in bowl of warm water until just pliable, about 10 seconds, then spread out on towel. Place 1/2 cup filling on each wrapper, leaving 2-inch border at bottom. Fold in sides, then carefully but tightly wrap up, starting at bottom. Transfer finished roll to platter and cover with second clean, damp towel. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve, passing remaining mayonnaise mixture separately.
— “Simple Weeknight Favorites” by America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, March 2012, $26.95)
Soy Dipping Sauce
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or sherry
- 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Add all ingredients to a small mixing bowl, and whisk together. Serve as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, egg rolls or tempura.
Makes about 1 cup sauce.
— Adapted from Alton Brown
Boh Diah Toe (Fried Spring Rolls)
These are a bit more time-consuming to prepare than fresh spring rolls, but so worth the effort. To speed things along, make the filling and dipping sauce a day ahead of time.
- 4 ounces bean thread noodles
- 1 tablespoon tiny dried cloud ear mushrooms
- Vegetable oil for sauteeing and deep-frying
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce (recipe follows)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallot or onion
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and coarsely chopped
- 1 package spring roll wrappers
- Handful fresh cilantro leaves
Place bean thread noodles in large bowl, cover with warm water and soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, cover with warm water and soak until softened, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, coat a small skillet with oil and warm for 1 minute over medium heat. Pour in one-fourth of the eggs, tip pan so egg covers the bottom in a thin sheet, and cook until set and opaque, less than 1 minute. Turn egg sheet out onto a plate and repeat with remaining eggs in 3 batches. When sheets are cool, stack and slice into long, thin shreds. Set aside in a large bowl.
Make the Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Drain noodles well and dump the tangle onto a cutting board. Shape noodles into a log and cut into 2-inch lengths. Add noodles to bowl containing the egg shreds.
Drain mushrooms and place on cutting board. Cut off any hard little navels you may find. Slice mushrooms into long, thin shreds. Add to bowl with noodles and egg and set aside near the stove. Combine fish sauce, pepper and sugar in a small bowl and place next to the stove along with garlic, shallot, pork and shrimp.
Heat wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat surface. When oil is very hot, add garlic and stir-fry until golden, about 15 seconds. Add shallot and stir-fry until wilted. Add pork and stir-fry until no longer pink. Add shrimp and stir-fry until pink and opaque, about 1 minute. Add fish sauce mixture and toss well.
Add noodles, mushrooms and egg strips and stir-fry, tumbling and turning the ingredients over and over, for 1 to 2 minutes. Notice how noodles change from stiff, white and wiry to clear, soft and curly. As soon as they’re transformed and all the ingredients are well combined, turn filling out into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.
Gently separate spring roll wrappers. Place 1 wrapper, smooth side down, on work surface (cover remaining wrappers with dampened paper towel while you work). Position wrapper with a point toward you. Place heaping spoonful of filling in the center of the half of the diamond that’s closest to you. Use fingers to shape filling into a log about 3 inches long.
Fold wrapper point closest to you up, over and around the filling. Begin to roll the wrapper and, when you’ve rolled halfway to the top point, fold sides in toward the middle. Then keep rolling. When you reach the top, moisten it with water and seal roll like an envelope. Set roll aside on tray or baking sheet, seam side down, and continue with remaining wrappers and filling, spacing so they don’t touch each other.
Pour oil into wok or deep, wide saucepan to a depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 to 375 degrees. Prepare a drain basket for fried rolls by lining a colander with paper towels, with something under it to catch drips. Drop a tiny piece of wrapper into the wok. If it sizzle immediately, oil is ready.
Carefully add spring roll by sliding it gently down the curved side of wok and into oil, where it should sizzle and bubble at once. Add 2 more spring rolls and cook 3 at a time, turning occasionally and frying until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Remove rolls with a mesh scoop or slotted spoon, hold over oil to drain for a few moments, then transfer to prepared colander to drain. Place spring rolls on serving platter, garnish with cilantro and serve with small saucers of dipping sauce. Makes about 32 spring rolls.
— “Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, $17.95).
Nahm Jeem Gratiem (Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce or coarsely ground dried red chili
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar, garlic and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt and reduce heat to low. Simmer unitl liquid reduces and thickens to a light syrup, 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chili-garlic sauce. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to a tightly sealed jar and store at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Makes about 11/2 cups.
— “Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle, $17.95).
Green Apple and Cashew Spring Rolls
Wow. Were these good. And good for you, too.
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon peeled minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons dark miso (I used soy sauce)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pound Granny Smith apples
- 3 ounces rice vermicelli, cooked
- 1 medium carrot, shredded
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh Asian basil, torn (I used cilantro)
- 1 large red Fresno chile, chopped
- 1/2 cup cashews, toasted and chopped
- 6 rice-paper rounds
In a large bowl, mix together lime juice, palm sugar, ginger, miso and salt.
Peel, core and grate apples and add them to bowl. (I finely chopped them.)
Add vermicelli, carrot, scallions, basil, chile and cashews. Toss to combine everything.
To make rolls, put 1 inch of hot water in a pan (I used a 12-inch skillet). Lay out a thick towel next to it and get all your ingredients together. Submerge 2 sheets of rice paper at a time, if your pan is large enough to do it without them sticking to each other, and when they start to soften, transfer them to the towel without touching. (I dabbed the top dry with a paper towels.) On each round, place 1/2 cup filling. Fold up the bottom, then fold in the edges and roll up the wrapper.
Move finished rolls to a platter, seam-side down, positioning them so they don’t touch (or they’ll stick together). Serve immediately, or cover the platter with a damp towel and plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Makes 6 spring rolls.
— Adapted from “Big Vegan: More Than 350 Recipes, No Meat/No Dairy, All Delicious” by Robin Asbell (Chronicle Books, 2011, $29.95)