I pay silent homage to different cultures for conjuring up simple but incredible concoctions. Today it is to the rice paper from the Indochina geography or Southeast Asia. Exploiting the starch in the rice to make this paper-thin skin, for rolls and wraps, is an exceptional technique. When dried they store well and transport well. Even available in the food markets in North America- the imprint of the bamboo-weave left on the dry paper skin is indicative of the confluence of the old traditions with the new.
I always love the summer rolls in the restaurants in the US although this is not as ubiquitous as in Australia and New Zealand: the chefs there have taken to rice-paper-rolling with a vengeance, which is heartening to see.
For a canicular July day, here is a distracting dessert (or even a sweet healthy snack), fashioned along the irresistible Thai/Vietnamese summer rolls. If you worry about the white rice, note that it is less than a teaspoon of rice per roll!
- 6 Thai/Vietnamese rice paper
- 1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into spears (lengthwise)
- 1 banana peeled and cut into spears
- 1/4 papaya, peeled and cut into spears
- 1/4 cup fresh cherries, pitted
- 6 mint or basil leaves
- Topping or Dipping sauce: 2 tbsp dried mulberries, 1 tsp dried goji berries soaked in 1/4 cup black cherry rum for one hour
The fruits are cut into spears so the summer roll does not flop around and holds its shape when handled. Fill a flat bowl (or a shallow frying pan) with warm water straight from the tap. The water should feel comfortably warm to the fingers. Make a small working station with the flat bowl of warm water on the left, a flat platter in the center and the fillings on the right.
To soften the rice paper, dip it in the warm water for 30 seconds or so. It may turn very limp if left any longer- a timing that you have to adjust to. Lift up the rice paper from the water with both hands and avoiding any fold overs in this delicate rice paper and place it flat on the center plate. Place the fruits like a little bundle along the right edge of the rice paper. Fold the edge over it; then fold the other two edges over it. Place the mint leaf flat on the far end and roll as tightly as you can without tearing up the paper.
Chill the rolls. Serve with the dipping sauce.
Notes, hints, tips:
- The paper rolls are available in Asian markets (Thai or Vietnamese).
- Mastering the wrapping process is not terribly difficult: you may not be as adept as the street vendor in Bangkok or Hanoi but you can still impress your family and friends.
- A non-alcoholic dipping sauce can be made with apple juice with a dash of lime juice and some sweetening honey.
- You can use other fruits; just make sure you that there are some that can hold the shape the roll.