The boyfriend and I live on the third story of a three-story building. In the winter, our location allows us to save money on heat bills: heat rises from the units below, and comes down through the not-very-well-insulated roof. However, in the summer, our place is consistently 5 degrees hotter inside than out--and with temperatures consistently above 90 degrees in Boston this month, we have been sweltering. I still cook most nights, but sometimes we just have to escape to restaurants for warm food, or eat meals that involve little or no cooking.
The boyfriend is fine with salad every night, but not me! So last week I made fresh summer rolls, a quick dish that, depending on your ingredients, can be a simple side or appetizer or a filling entree. Note that summer rolls are the uncooked cousin of spring rolls, wrapped with rice paper instead of wheat-based wrappers. If you can't find rice paper your grocery store (though if your store has an "Asian" section, it should be there), they are always available at Asian markets. Like tortillas, they come in varying sizes; if you can only find the 12-inch ones, just use a lot more filling per wrapper. Unused wrappers should be stored in a resealable plastic bag so no moisture gets in.
Before you begin with the rice paper, gather and chop all of your fillings. The ingredients you use to fill summer rolls are flexible, but they should all be cool at the time of rolling. Good ingredients include (but are not limited to): lettuce, vermicelli noodles, cilantro, mint, bean sprouts, strips of marinated tofu (or other protein, cooled if cooked), chopped mushrooms (cooled if cooked), grated or julienned carrots, shredded cabbage, julienned cucumber.My ingredients were (clockwise from the top left): chopped mint, pea shoots, carrots, finely chopped mushrooms I'd sauteed with garlic and soy sauce earlier in the day, and spinach.
Fill a pie plate or baking dish with about an inch of lukewarm water. Slide in one sheet of rice paper, and allow it to soak until softened, about 30 seconds.
Remove from the water, hold it above the dish for a second to let the excess water drip off. It'll be really floppy and will stick to itself almost as easily as saran wrap. Lay on a flat surface. [Right now, as a sort of assembly line process, you can put another wrapper into the water while you fill and roll this one] Place 2-3 Tbsp worth of filling (or just small handfuls/spoonfuls of each ingredients) near the bottom of the sheet. Fold in the sides and roll it up from the filled bottom, just like you'd do with a burrito. The roll will stick to itself at the ends, so it won't come apart.
Ta dah! Now, for sauces. I like to have a variety of choices. Any bottled Asian sauces will do, but to make your own, I recommend a sweet-and-sour sauce that is almost equal parts vinegar and sugar or mirin. (For a thicker texture and less sweetness, do what I do and do equal parts apple sauce and vinegar, pictured below.) There are good recipes for this available all over the internet (for the first link there, scroll down to the bottom for a few different sauces, substitute soy sauce for fish sauce). Hoisin sauce is a HUGE favorite of mine; this recipe is really simple. (I omitted the hot sauce and added extra pepper.)Also, for something a little heavier and with more protein, a good peanut sauce is always nice. I made this this one but didn't heat it, just stirred it a lot... and added some extra water, and baked it with tempeh to really round out the meal:
While I was making these summer rolls, I couldn't help but think of jellyfish. Of course, everything makes me think of jellyfish lately; I'm obsessed. Before this past month, I had only ever seen jellyfish in aquariums, so I assumed they were tropical creatures, like sea horses. However, I work by the Boston Harbor, and sometimes I take breaks to walk by the water. AND GUESS WHAT I HAVE SEEN IN THE WATER:
JELLYFISH. IN NEW ENGLAND. I've since told everyone I know about this, and almost no one else is surprised. I guess everyone but me knows that wherever there is salt water, there are usually jellyfish. Seeing these little guys by my office inspired me to do some research. Jellyfish especially thrive in areas that are overfished and/or get runoff and other pollutants in the water. While most jellyfish sting, these little guys, the one most common in New England, are Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita), which do not sting.
Earlier this month, some friends and I went out to one of the Boston Harbor Islands, which have ample areas for hiking, swimming, and soaking in gorgeous views of Boston:When we first went on the beach of the island, the tide was out, and I discovered that jellyfish frequently wash up on shores during low tide. Though they are dead, they are still soft to the touch. My friends and I were at first too timid to touch them, since, after all, jellyfish who do sting can hurt you even when they're dead, as people on New Hampshire beaches learned last week, but two 5-year-old girls came running down the beach and were literally juggling the dead little jellies, so I guess there really is no need to fear moon jellyfish.
Seeing the jellies on the beach really allowed me a chance to see their anatomy; it's hard to see it when they're alive in the water because they move all the time. But one thing I noticed about their anatomy:
THEY TOTALLY RESEMBLE RICE PAPER.