I feel like winter will NEVER end this year. There is a snow storm almost every weekend! Thankfully the spring equinox is finally on its way, so it’s time to celebrate this event with a light and refreshing meal.
How do spring rolls sound to you?
The spring roll was invented over 1,000 years ago in China. It was originally a spring dish made out of flour and combined with assorted vegetables and meats to welcome the first day of spring. Carrots and celery were the most common ingredients, followed by salted meats, sprouts, and eggs. Spring dishes evolved into spring cakes in the Ming and Qing Dynasties so families could “bite” into springtime and prevent future evil. As time went on, and cooking became more advanced, Chinese chefs were able to turn these cakes into spring rolls. Chefs make spring rolls using four basic steps. The pancake dough or thin paper is made, the fillings are prepared, the fillings are wrapped with the paper, and then the roll is fried. Spring rolls are extremely popular dishes for Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival. Every region in China has developed its own type of spring roll. The Thai, Vietnamese, and Koreans have their own versions as well.
The egg roll stemmed from the creation of the spring roll. The main difference between today’s rolls is that egg rolls tend to be fried in thicker, egg-based dough while spring rolls are wrapped with thin rice paper.
Rice paper? You read that right! Edible rice paper is a thin, translucent, crepe-like paper made from rice, water, and salt. They are commonly used in Asian cooking. Rice paper adds a chewy texture and offers a smooth, creamy taste to the spring roll itself. Rice paper is traditionally made by soaking rice, and then grinding it in a bucket made of stone. The batter is thinly spread on a flat stool and covered with a bamboo lid for about 30 to 50 seconds for steaming. The rice paper is lifted off of the slab and transferred to a cooling rack made of bamboo and cloth. The hot rice paper is cool enough to handle once the rack is spun in a circle one time. The cooled paper is placed on another bamboo drying rack and brought into the sun for 24 hours. These drying racks give the rice paper its grooved appearance, which is recreated by factory-made ones (1).
Rice paper can be bought at almost any Asian market or specialty health food store. It comes in all shapes and sizes, but the most widely available size is the 8 ½ inch circle. Oftentimes tapioca starch is added to the packaged papers to make them easier to manipulate. Once the rice paper package is opened, unused rice papers must be immediately stored in an airtight bag to prevent them from curling. Over the years I’ve enhanced my spring roll-making technique. However, this is the first time I baked spring rolls. Baking gave the spring rolls a warm, creamy flavor. Deeeeee-licious.
For the spring rolls: 1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage, 3/4 cup shredded carrots, 4 to 6 medium scallions, 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tsp sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp dried cilantro, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp peanut oil, 1 Tbsp sweet chili sauce, 1/4 tsp garlic salt, 1 lb ground pork, 14 rice paper/spring roll wrappers (8 1/2 inch circles)
**Note: You can substitute the pork for ground beef, chicken, or turkey. You can even add eggs if you’d like. The sky’s the limit.
Shred the cabbage and carrots. Dice the scallions. Mince the fresh ginger and garlic. Place the items in a large bowl. Add the sesame seeds, dried cilantro, and ground ginger. Add the soy sauce, peanut oil, sweet chili sauce, and garlic salt to the bowl. Mix well.
Cook the pork on the stove top. Drain the fat from the pork once it has completely browned. Add the vegetable mixture to the pan with the pork. Mix the ingredients together to create the final filling. Time to form the spring rolls! Preheat the oven to 425°F. Fill a shallow bowl or plate with warm water. Open the rice paper package and gently remove one wrapper.
Feel the top and bottom of the rice paper. One side is smoother than the other. Make sure you always fill your rice papers with the smooth side down!
Add the first rice paper to the shallow bowl and use your fingers to rotate the rice paper until it is soft. Place the soft paper on a large cutting board (with the smooth side down). Make sure the paper has no holes, and that it is laying completely flat on the cutting board.
Add a heaping spoonful of filling to the bottom of the wrapper, and make the roll as follows: Dab your fingers with a bit of water to seal the end of the wrapper to the body of the spring roll. Place the spring rolls on well-greased baking sheets. Brush them with a bit of peanut oil if desired.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops of the spring rolls become slightly browned. If you would like crispier spring rolls, bake them for 15 minutes, flip them over, and bake them for another 15 minutes.
The first time I ever used rice paper was an embarrassing event. I was visiting my college roommate’s childhood home, and her parents made me a traditional Korean dinner. They attempted to teach me how to make spring rolls. I think I broke every piece of rice paper I used, since I did not know that the rice paper was so fragile. The entire process gave us a great laugh, and to this day I will never forget the smiles on her family’s faces. I hope that your spring roll-making experience brings you just as many smiles. Here’s to springtime!
P.S.– I was so busy chomping away at the spring rolls that I forgot to take a picture of their insides. I quickly snapped the picture below with my phone. Their glorious, refreshing flavors hypnotized me instantly. I’m sure they will do the same to you!
1. Nguyen A. How Vietnamese Rice Paper is Made. Viet World Kitchen. http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/06/how-vietnamese-rice-paper-is-made.html. Updated June 15, 2009. Accessed March 3, 2015. © The Baking Tour Guide, 2015