For an appetizer, a lunch, or a light dinner, these rice and vegetable rolls are winners. And this is only one rendition of summer rolls. You can also stuff these tiny, see-through burritos with tofu, or even more fresh greens. You could add noodles instead of rice or sauté vegetables as I did. You could even wrap up fruit with sweet rice. Rest assured, anything tastes better when wrapped in little packages.
In addition to this dish, I’d like to introduce another superstar: Okinawa spinach.
I planted two little Okinawa spinach plants in my garden in June, and I just harvested my first bunch of leaves. Okinawa spinach leaves are two-toned—green on the top and purple on the underside—which means they pack more than your average nutrients. Originally from Indonesia, this vegetable grows perennially in subtropical regions and is rumored to have a positive effect on blood sugar.
This plant is nearly impossible to kill and almost too easy to propagate. After cutting off a stalk, I simply harvested all but the top leaves and then placed the cut stems back in soil. In a day they were standing tall and spreading their leaves. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to grow vegetables in Florida, but discovering a plant this easy feels nothing short of miraculous!
These rice and vegetable rolls start with a simple vegetable sauté. I added the white parts of a green onion, then mushrooms and grated carrots, and let it cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes. Toward the end I added the sauce and Okinawa spinach, then finished the dish with sesame oil, mint, the green parts of the green onions, and toasted sesame seeds.
The sauce for the sauté is quite simple as well. Low sodium soy sauce, which I personally prefer, made for a deep flavor and moderate salt content. I also added garlic paste, seasoned rice vinegar, and sugar. These seasonings go in at the end so that the vegetables don’t get too soggy and the garlic keeps its pungency. Once the dish is done cooking, add the sesame oil. Adding sesame oil at the end of cooking preserves its nutty flavor.
Toasting sesame seeds
Pro tip: don’t buy sesame seeds pre-toasted. It’s actually not that hard to toast your own. Just add some to a dry frying pan over medium heat and stir toward the end when they start getting brown. Toasting them on your own gives them a crunch and a nuttier flavor. If you must buy them pre-toasted, don’t overestimate their shelf life!
Rice paper rolls
Fortunately rice paper is not too hard to maneuver. Just stick the circular pancake into water and remove it (don’t let it sit too long). Then, you’re ready to pile on your fillings.
“Summer rolls” or “rice paper rolls” are a common Vietnamese food, and the fillings vary by region. On the blogosphere, you can find many variations–a testament to the influence of Vietnamese food on American and international tastes.
If you’re looking for that type of Saigon-style summer roll, check out this recipe from Uyen Luu’s blog. It’s totally adaptable to vegan diets if you replace the meat.
And now here are my Americanized rice and vegetable rolls. Enjoy!
Rice, vegetable sauté, and greens combine to make a perfect snack, appetizer, or meal.
For the Sauté
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil
- 1 green onion, chopped, green and white parts in separate piles
- 1 carrot, grated
- 4 oz sliced button or shiitake mushrooms
- 1 generous handful Okinawa (or regular) spinach, cut into 1/2 inch strips
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 8–10 mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds*
Sauce for the Sauté
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (I used seasoned but regular is ok)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 clove of garlic, mashed into paste*
For the Rolls
- 3/4 cup sushi rice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar*
- 5 rice paper wrappers*
- extra fresh spinach
To make the Sauté
- Add the 2 teaspoons coconut oil to a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the white parts of the green onion and fry for a few minutes, until fragrant.
- And the carrots and the mushrooms to the pan and fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the mushrooms start to soften.
- While the vegetables are cooking, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, and mashed garlic in a small bowl. Add the sauce and the spinach to the vegetables and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the spinach has just wilted.
- Remove from heat and add the sesame oil, mint leaves, toasted sesame seeds, and the green part of the green onion.
Preparing the Rice
- Cook the rice according to the package’s instructions.
- When finished cooking, add the 1 1/2 tablespoon of seasoned vinegar and stir.
Assembling the Rolls
- Dip one rice paper wrapper into a big bowl of water. Remove and lie flat on a cutting board.
- At the back third of the wrap, pile 1/4 cup rice and 1/4 cup vegetable mixture. In front of this pile, lay down a few layers of fresh spinach.
- To roll up the wrap, fold the sides and the back of the rice paper roll into the center. Roll your wrap from back to front and watch as the rice paper seals to itself.
- Repeat until the rice and vegetable mixtures are gone.
Toasted Sesame Seeds: To make these, heat a small frying pan over medium. When hot, add the seeds. Keep stirring and fry, for 1-2 minutes, or until the seeds just start changing color, from white to golden.
Garlic paste: I use a microplane grater to make easy garlic paste. If you have premade garlic paste, use 1/2 teaspoon. You can also make garlic paste by mincing garlic and then smooshing it (as you would in a mortar and pestle) with 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
Seasoned rice vinegar for the rice mixture: If you don’t have seasoned rice vinegar, just mix the 1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt before using.
Rice paper wrappers: You can find these in the Asian section of your grocery store.
Keywords: summer rolls, spinach, vegetable, sauté, sushi rice, snack, appetizer, lunch, light food, vegan, vegetarian,