Fresh Rolls and a New Leaf

Do you ever get a case of the I-Don’t-Wanna’s? An activity that is usually painless or even pleasurable suddenly seems like way too much work. You feel inertia like a big rock in your lap. Sure you could move that rock–it’s not pinning you down, it’s just holding you firmly enough in place (on your couch, say) that to gather the momentum to get up and do something (write your blog entry) seems like a colossal effort. And then your self-imposed deadline passes and no post. It gets later and later into the week until finally you decide to wait until next week without even a word of apology to your readers. (Sorry, dear readers!)

Well, no more of that state–I’m turning over a new leaf (in this recipe, Chinese basil). For most people this kind of compulsion happens at New Year’s (and I’m sure I had a new-leaf-moment then, too) but last night I felt it bubbling up inside me again (to thoroughly mix my metaphors/cliches). I promised myself I’m going to eat healthier and more mindfully, get more exercise, drink more water, get more rest…you get the idea. Fortunately, this week’s recipe, fresh rolls, fits the bill perfectly–light and healthy. They are sometimes called summer rolls to distinguish them from their fried brethren, the spring roll.

Mine were not beautiful like the versions I find in my favorite Asian restaurants –firmly tubular, balanced, and sliced like a colorful nori roll, but they were tasty anyway. The one ingredient that is necessary and most likely only found in an Asian supermarket are the “spring roll skins” or rice paper wrappers. They come in a small wheel of clear plastic and are usually located in the noodle aisle, often near the rice vermicelli (skinny rice noodles) that you’ll want as well (but can often find in regular supermarkets these days). The wrappers I use are made of rice flour and tapioca starch, and unless there’s cross contamination, they should be suitable for gluten-free diets.

Fresh Rolls

makes about 6 rolls–3 to 6 servings

  • round rice paper wrappers (sometimes called spring roll skins). Found in Asian supermarkets.
  • rice vermicelli (thin rice noodles) soaked until soft and drained.
  •  a handful of Chinese basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry. Or holy basil or something in the Asian food market that says basil but has purple stems–very pungent smelling. If you are in an Asian food market to get your spring roll skins, this herb is distinct enough to make a difference in the dish and you’ll want it to make Thai Basil Chili Stir Fry , anyway. If, on the other hand, you’ve got the skins at home (and there’ll be plenty left over after a batch) you can substitute regular basil, if you must.
  • handful of carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin matchsticks, a few inches long
  • one cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced like the carrots, though not quite as skinny
  • several handfuls of crispy fresh mung bean sprouts, rinsed well
  • tofu, sliced into strips
  • a few lettuce leaves (Romaine is easiest to work with)
  1. Create an assembly line: a clean wrapping surface; wrappers ready to be dipped into a plate of warm water; rice noodles; tofu sticks; and veggies/herbs each on their own plates
  2. Dip a wrapper carefully in the water, your hand resting gently atop to feel it go from crisp to pliant. Remove as soon as it begins to soften. (The directions on mine say 30 seconds). A properly softened wrapper should stick to itself when rolled, but not become a sticky sheet, welded to itself beforehand.
  3. Lay softened wrapper on surface. Start with a leaf of lettuce and a line of basil leaves close to the edge near you. Arrange lines of the vegetable matter and tofu.
  4. Fold sides over as you roll from your end away from you.
  5. You have tons of wrappers–you can rescue the innards and throw out the first few that are too ugly to serve.
  6. Serve with sauce(s).

Dipping Sauces

My favorite Vietnamese restaurant in NYC serves these with two dipping sauces, one a (non-vegetarian) clear sweet-sour-salty-spicy fish sauce based condiment and the other, peanut butter based. I like a whole lot of each on my rolls. In other restaurants I notice that fresh rolls are served with one sauce and it is a peanut butter and hoisin sauce. I can’t tell which is more “authentic” but I don’t like this mixture at all–some flavor notes strike me as all wrong–but Wayne likes it. So the following are my sauce suggestions and you should mix them according to taste.

Peanut Sauce

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 TBS soy sauce (use gluten-free tamari for gluten intolerant eaters)
  • 1-2 tsp white sugar (or agave or hoisin, to taste)
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce

Sweet-Sour-Salty-Spicy Sauce (measurements are a suggestion–mix to your own taste)

  • 2 TBS rice vinegar or lime juice or 1 TBS each
  • 1 tsp white sugar dissolved in 1 TBS hot water
  • 2 tsp soy or 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp chili garlic sauce or 1 fresh serrano chili pepper, sliced into discs
  • 1 shallot sliced into discs or equivalent amount of thin sliced red onion


  1. They are beautiful!

  2. Aw, you’re too kind 🙂

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