When I was a kid, teachers would hand out coloring book sheets of cornucopias in autumn. You know, those horn-shaped baskets spilling over with vegetables. Back then, I didn't understand the significance of that symbol. I just thought it terribly inconvenient to have baskets without handles. Now I know it's the symbol of abundance.
And the fall harvest is all about abundance. After a long summer growing season, we are now awash in kale, beets, zucchini and every gourd in between. Sometimes vegetable dishes can go stale if we don't diversify how they're prepared. We want vegetables to be exciting - not the side dish you have to keep down in order to earn dessert.
Let's keep it fresh with Vietnamese spring rolls! They're fun and naturally gluten-free - even Martha Stewart loves them. She calls them "Autumn Rolls" because they're filled with fall vegetables. Here's her cooking clip from the Ellen Degeneres Show with Ellen and Drew Barrymore.
How to make autumn spring rolls
All about rice paper
If you've never used rice paper, know that the prep is nearly non-existent. Simply dip a firm disk of rice paper into hot water - not boiling, but not lukewarm. In between. Once this sheet of rice paper has been moistened on all sides, lay flat on a board, place the fillings in the middle, but edged closer to one end, then tuck and roll, like a burrito.
I'd keep the fillings in a neat, oblong pile, roll once, tuck the ends tight, then keep rolling until it is sealed. The naturally starchy rice paper will cling and seal to itself, making the operation pretty seamless. Yes, if you are a beginner, you will scrunch your rice paper and be unable to pull it apart, and you may even tear it. But practice makes perfect!
To make these spring rolls more filling, cook a batch of rice noodles. It will absorb some of the juices and cooking oils from the vegetables, too. As far as the vegetables are concerned, this is where you can be super creative. You can cut them julienne style or spiralize, and not everything needs to be cooked.
Some great raw vegetable additions include:
- Thai basil
- Scallions (no need to chop - just cut long sticks)
- Carrots (shredded or cut into very thin sticks)
Some cooked vegetables that work well include:
- Roasted eggplant
- Caramelized onions
- Zucchini strips
- Squash strips
- Any type of mushroom
- Steamed cabbage
The dipping sauce
Then there's the dipping sauce that ties all the flavors together. For this purpose, when we prepare the cooked vegetables, let's not go beyond salt and pepper for seasoning. We don't want any extra flavors to clash with the dipping sauce. I'm more of a salty person than a sweet person, but many like to go for the hoisin sauce-sweetened peanut dip, seen in many restaurants. You can find a recipe here. I prefer that salty, unbelievably zesty dipping sauce nuoc cham (pictured above), and you can find a recipe for that here. And of course, you can make your very own dipping sauce!
So whether you are trying to bribe your kids to eat more vegetables, or even liven up your own dishes, you can't go wrong with spring rolls. Like I always say, experiment and have fun with it. If you discover an incredible combo or whip up a delectable dip, tell us all about it!