Sunday, March 1, 2009


It happens every March. A stranger strikes up a conversation with me by asking whether I'm on spring break. I'm not in New Orleans collecting beads and I'm not on a beach in Mexico with 20 of my BFFs, but apparently I still look like I eat dorm food and have an undecided major. Because today for no apparent reason, as I was minding my own business on the elliptical machine, a woman asked me if I was on spring break. I wish.
I'm not 19 anymore no matter what I look like, and I don't get a spring break. But it is March 1st. And even though it snowed today, with temperatures in the teens and windchills in single digits, I'm thinking about spring. Spring rolls to be specific.
Isn't this a wonderful image of spring? Slices of carrot, cucumber, and jicama are marinated in rice vinegar and nested in a rice paper wrapper, along with softened glass noodles, fresh mint, and cilantro. Damp lettuce leaves are arranged on top to keep the rolls from drying out, and for a darling presentation.
I first made these spring rolls for my housewarming party when I was looking for a vegetarian appetizer that didn't involve cheese. (You can of course add cold cooked shrimp or pork to the spring rolls as found in many Vietnamese restaurants.) The spring rolls by themselves are like a salad without dressing. So the key is a good peanut sauce. I used San-J brand bottled sauce (yes I know I didn't make it myself but I got it from someone who left the country and I've had it sitting in my pantry for a long time). I did buy some peanuts, crush them up and mix them into the sauce.
If you eat the peanut sauce by itself, it will be concentrated and intense, salty and sweet and sour flavors overstimulating your tongue. If you eat that spring roll by itself, it will taste as dry as a college statistics class (wink). But something funny happens when you slice the spring roll in half and spoon peanut sauce into one half. Take a bite of the combo and the sauce mellows out while the crunchy veggies in a chewy wrapper come to life like a barren tree in the spring. Which is coming any day now.

Note: I found spring roll wrappers at Whole Foods in the Asian food section. They are dried and need a quick soak in hot water to soften them so they can be rolled up, and then are completely edible. They are not the same as egg roll wrappers which are usually found in the produce section near the bean sprouts and cannot be eaten unless cooked. Fillings are up to you. Place the filling on the spring roll wrapper, about 1/3 of the way from the left side, then fold the left side over the filling. Fold down the top and fold up the bottom, then continue to roll up from the left side.

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