Today’s post was written by Jessica Merrill, a new contributor to EatBoutique.com. Jessica is a food and travel writer who has written for some big-time publications – check out the About page for more. Jessica and I are working on some very cool food stuff together. Promise to tell you more once it’s solidified.
As far as I’m concerned, cooking and summer are a bit like god and the devil; you can put the two in a room together but I don’t want to be there. And by cooking I mean pots and pans and a heat-powered indoor appliance, not grilling. I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, so words like “yard” and “garage” aren’t part of my vocabulary, and when the temperature soars past 80, I simply give in. I surrender to summer’s bounty, to the fruits and vegetables practically begging to be lightly dressed, gently touched and eaten at their crispest or ripest.
Stocking up on ingredients and inspiration means hitting the farmer’s market. A few weeks ago, it was a vibrant bunch of pink radishes that caught my attention. Socked in by greenery on all sides, they looked like little gems glinting in the sun. And I sighed. Because the truth is, I’ve never really liked radishes. But these were just lovely, and they reminded me of my grandfather who grew them in his garden and adored them sliced and sprinkled with nothing but a dash of salt. And so inevitably they ended up in my bag on their way home with me. I pickled slices of those little rubies quickly in red wine and sugar, which turned out to be tangy, spicy and delicious, perfectly good alone, but a real hit on salads where they were a yummy mouth-puckering addition.
This week it was baby bok choy. It looked so darling stowed away between lofty leaves of Swiss chard and beet greens. And long story short: it was the bok choy that got me thinking about summer rolls with peanut sauce, the Vietnamese specialty (like spring rolls but not fried). In case it isn’t obvious enough, these are named SUMMER rolls for a reason. They are cool, crisp and refreshing and require almost no cooking at all. It doesn’t matter that bok choy isn’t an ingredient in authentic summer rolls. I’d argue it should be. It’s true, too, you can order them easily enough in Asian restaurants, but I find those versions are too often overstuffed with clumpy vermicelli noodles and not enough shrimp and vegetables. Even the driest ones are delicious, of course, dunked in peanut sauce (really, you could pull leaves from a tree and dip them in peanut sauce and they would be delicious, right?) But I wanted a homemade adaptation crammed with ingredients from the market — including the peppery bok choy, mint, cilantro and cucumbers. I also bought plump shrimp from my seafood market and vermicelli noodles (vowing only to add a few). All these ingredients I tightly wrapped in rice paper and, tah dah, dipped in peanut sauce.
Summer rolls are easy to make, and when you’re done, they look pretty spectacular. I doused the shrimp in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them for five minutes earlier in the day, before chilling them. When I was ready to eat, I simply chopped a few bok choy leaves, sliced cucumber, and pulled sprigs of mint and cilantro from their stems. The rice vermicelli noodles only take three minutes to cook! To assemble, simply soak a spring roll wrapper in a bowl of room temperature water for about 30 seconds, then gently place it on a work surface. Put about three to four shrimp down first, then layer bok choy, mint, cilantro, cucumbers and a few noodles. Lastly, wrap the rolls like an itty bitty burrito, bundling the goodies inside and tucking the ends under. As for the essential peanut sauce, I make a couple of different versions, but for this, I used a quick recipe from Cooks Illustrated’s “The Best Recipe” cookbook, a version that is packed with flavor and thick enough to make a good dipping sauce.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
- 5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- ¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a food processor and blend.