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Jessica Karley: Summer rolls can be appetizer or main course

Even though the termometer doesn’t show it, warmer temperatures are still coming. A great way to freshen up a meal this spring is to trade that boring tortilla wrap sandwich with rice paper, fresh herbs and greens to make pork summer rolls. Jessica Karley/Forum News Service

One of my favorite ways to freshen up lunch or dinner this spring is to trade that boring old tortilla wrap sandwich with rice paper and a few fresh herbs and greens to make a summer roll (often referred to as fresh spring rolls).

Summer rolls are very similar to an egg roll, except they are not fried. Because they are not fried, they are much lower in fat and calories and that makes them a perfect option for a quick appetizer or main course that is still swimsuit-season friendly. (Even though the thermometer and snow doesn’t show it, spring’s still coming.)

You can be as creative as you like by varying the ingredients, but the basic recipe is to use items that give crunch or structure, filler items like fresh greens such as lettuces, cabbage or herbs, and meat (or not if you want to keep it vegetarian).

Some of the “crunch” ingredients can be strips of carrot, jicama, seeded cucumbers, bell peppers or bean sprouts. I like to include basil, cilantro and a small amount of mint with my leafy greens.

The rice papers can come in different sizes and vary in thickness, but they all work just fine. They can be found in the Asian foods section of your local grocery store or in an Asian market next to the dried noodles. The key is to not be intimidated and still give these recipes a try. You can simplify them by using ingredients that your grocer has already prepared for you, such as shredded carrots, sliced bell pepper strips, jarred sauces and pulled rotisserie chicken.

How to roll: Using a plate or bowl filled with warm water, rotate the rice paper every 3 to 5 seconds until it begins to soften slightly. You don’t want to get it too wet because this will cause it to fold in on itself and make it harder to handle. It should still feel slightly firm because it will continue to soften as it sits on the rolling surface.

Lay the softened rice paper on a solid surface and start filling the roll with the greens first. (This will help prevent your crunchy items from tearing the paper). Add your remaining veggies and meat. Roll similar to a burrito, by folding the ends in first and keeping the wrap as tight as possible.

You can use a tucking motion to do this by pulling the wrap close toward your body as you roll to keep the filling together. Avoid overfilling. You can always add more ingredients are your next rolls once you feel comfortable with the rolling process and get a feel for how strong or delicate your rice paper is. 

I recently had the opportunity to coach a very talented group of University of North Dakota students in an Iron Chef-style competition. Their entry into the contest may not have won, but they submitted a fantastic recipe for pork summer rolls that had me dreaming of warm weather and sharing those wraps with friends and family.

Of course, there are so many delicious bottled sauces that can be found in stores if you don’t have a lot of free time, but they created two very simple and delicious dipping sauces.

One was for a smooth and creamy peanut sauce that goes with these fresh rolls and also with skewered and grilled meats. The other, which I thought was particularly creative and right on trend, was a light and tangy blend of fresh lime juice, fish sauce and coconut water.

If you are looking to serve this as a main course, I also included their recipe for creamy coconut jasmine rice. Happy rolling!

Pork Summer Rolls

  • 1 pound cooked, marinated pork. (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup of carrots, peeled and sliced very thin or shredded
  • 1 cucumber or English cucumber, seedless and julienned (sliced thin)
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • ½ cup basil leaves, fresh Bok Choy Leaves
  • Rice Papers for rolling
  • 1 pound boneless pork chops, loin or tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, fresh minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeno, small dice
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (can use light or low sodium versions)
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh cracked Black Pepper

Combine ingredients for marinade and pork in resealable plastic bag. Seal and shake well. Place bag in refrigerator and let marinade for 1 to 8 hours. In a pan over high heat, cook pork and all of the marinade for 3 to 5 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 155 degrees. Remove meat from pan, let cool to room temperature or chill in refrigerator until ready to roll. Serves 4 to 6 people.

Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Sri racha chili sauce (more if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, fresh grated
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine ingredients in medium bowl and whisk until smooth.

Coconut Lime Dipping Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • ¼ cup sugar, white granulated
  • 1 clove garlic, fresh minced
  • Option: Add chili sauce to taste)

Combine ingredients in medium bowl and whisk until sugar is dissolved.

Creamy Coconut Jasmine Rice

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 1 13-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, fresh grated
  • (½ teaspoon ground)

Using a mesh strainer, rinse rice until water runs clear. Add rice to a nonstick, medium sized sauce pan. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately turn down heat to low and cover tightly with lid or foil. Let cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, fluff with fork and enjoy.

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