Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls with Black Locust

Black locust blossoms are a tasty treat that are only available for about a week out of every year, right now! Check out my page on how to safely ID black locust. So if you live in the northeast, don't miss out, they are ready for harvest right now!

The beautiful flowers have an indescribable ambrosia scent, and a flavor that's like the sweetest of sweet peas mixed with flowers and a hint of vanilla. They are one of the freshest tastes I can think of, spring-like and bright-tasting.

Vietnamese summer rolls seemed like the natural recipe to try with these blossoms. Unlike the spring rolls or egg rolls of take-out Chinese fame, summer rolls aren't fried. They are filled with fresh herbs (usually mint, basil and sometimes cilantro), and raw veggies sliced thin. Summer rolls are gluten-free, using rice wrappers and cellophane noodles (made from mung bean starch). They are light but filling, and with very minimal cooking they are perfect for a hot night.

Though traditionally made as an appetizer, a few of these is a very filling meal, and without a lot of calories. As attractive finger foods, they are also great as party and picnic fare, and since they are served cool, you they travel well -- take them with you and avoid fast-food or the junk they serve on a plane.

Make this recipe vegan by using tofu, quorn or seitan in place of the shrimp. The dipping sauce I made is sweet and hot, based on hoisin, sriracha and peanuts, but you could go with something with a ginger soy flavor profile instead.

It looks like a lot of steps, but really there isn't a lot of work, and everything comes together quickly once you get the hang of wrapping the rolls.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Black Locust & Wild Mint

Makes 20 well-stuffed summer rolls 

20 spring roll rice wrappers, these are the ones I used  *
60 medium sized, frozen cooked shrimp, defrosted & tails removed
4 cups black locust blossoms, rinsed thoroughly 
1 large bunch of wild or cultivated mint, rinsed
1/2 cucumber, cut into fat matchsticks
1/2 carrot, cut into fat matchsticks
4 oz of mung bean cellophane noodles

For the Dipping sauce 

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup crushed peanuts, or 1tbs peanut butter
Rice vinegar

* Don't pay Amazon prices unless you have to, find a local Asian market. 
  1. Start your mung bean noodles soaking. They will need at least 7 - 10 minutes, and they should be fully submerged. 
  2. While the noodles are soaking, mix the hoisin, chili garlic sauce, and peanuts in a bowl. Drizzle in just enough rice vinegar to get a dip-able consistency, about a tablespoon should do it. Set aside for the flavors to come together.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil. After the noodles have soaked for at least 10 minutes, drop them into the boiling water, boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Run under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  4. To assemble the summer rolls, fill a low, flat-bottomed fry-pan with warm (not hot water).
    Immerse each rice wrapper sheet for just about 9 seconds, then carefully remove it and lay on a glass, ceramic, or plastic surface--not wood (sticks like crazy). Let the wrapper be wet, or sprinkle a little water on your work surface to prevent sticking.
  5. Start by laying 3 shrimp in a vertical line, just right of the center of the wrap. line with a piece of cucumber, and carrot on the other side. *
  6. Top with 3-4 pieces of mint, whatever it takes to create a green "backdrop" for the shrimp. This will be the most attractive presentation. Top with a large pinch of black locust blossoms, and finish the stack with about the same amount of noodles. If you overstuff vertically here, your wrap won't cover and everything will fall apart. If you overstuff horizontally, it's better--but it will come out more like a block or brick, not a pretty roll. 
  7. Fold the top "flap" of the rice wrapper down over itself and over your filling. Do the same with the bottom, and with the right side. * 
  8. Then roll the whole thing from right to left, over the rest of the wrapper to finish the whole thing in one roll. 
  9. Serve on a bed of lettuce or wild mint leaves, as the rolls have a tendency to stick. You can also store them in plastic containers if you put down a bed of leaves first. Serve with the dipping sauce on the side. 
* Left handed people will probably want to work the other way--so start by making your line of shrimp just left of center, and roll from left to right in step 8.

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