“Various cultures rolled into one — daring to be different; and daring to be dunked!”
I originally conceptualized this dish while I was writing my very first post, “Welcome to My World!”, a somewhat poetic and metaphorical introduction to my blog and myself. After the initial idea, I knew I just had to make it, but I didn’t know what a delicious surprise I was in for.
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between spring rolls, summer rolls, and egg rolls … or is there even a difference?
To the best of my understanding, the confusion comes from a mistranslation into English, and indeed there are differences.
Summer rolls and spring rolls are both wrapped with rice paper, but in different ways. Summer rolls are fresh, soft, not-cooked, and often vegetarian. Spring rolls, on the other hand, are fried. The dry rice paper wrappers you can buy at the store are usually labeled as “spring roll wrappers”, however this is the type suited for summer rolls. Asian products have a tendency to be mislabeled (but I don’t know why they never get corrected either). The wrappers for spring rolls generally come frozen and don’t require soaking before use. If you try to fry a mislabeled “spring rolls wrapper/skin” to make a real spring roll, you will make a mess instead.
This summer roll helps define my brand because I love to fuse the flavors and ingredients used in other types of cuisine with Asian flavor and style. I also have this strange obsession for anything rolled, stuffed, layered, or otherwise filled and sealed in a cute edible package.
The first step for these appetizers is the braised pork.
I must admit I have a certain affinity for braised meats. They are melt-in-your-mouth tender, showcase bold flavors, and are a great value. Braising usually refers to first searing meat or vegetables and then cooking it in liquid at a low temperature. This is an ideal way to cook tougher cuts of meat that have a lot of connective tissue, such as pork butt or beef chuckeye roast. For this braise, I am using pork butt, which actually comes from the pig’s shoulder. This is a one-pot, slow cooking method, which is wonderful for a few reasons. It is economical and can be done ahead of time. You can also start it in the morning, and come home to a house that smells absolutely amazing.
The braising liquid is really up to the cook. When I braise, I don’t usually follow any recipe, but there is a sort of guideline that I like to braise by. Start by cutting your meat into more reasonably sized pieces, usually two is good enough. Rub the meat with a variety of spices, and heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Sear meat on all sides until a brown crust forms, then add onions and cook until translucent. Then it is time to start building the liquid love. I generally use a stock, an acid, such as lime juice, and some sort of liquor, beer, or wine. This time I’m doing something a little different…
There is this beverage that I love called ginger beer, which is a non-alcoholic cross between ginger ale and root beer. I recently bought several varieties of ginger beer, and there was one that I found too spicy to drink, so I saved it in order to cook with it. This ginger brew will be rounding out my braising liquid.
Then I also add aromatics such as fresh herbs. For this braise, I used Thai aromatics: lime leaves, lemongrass, and ginger.
I wanted to include the flavors of various cultures in one convenient package. These summer rolls take a trip from Mexico to Thailand, with a stop-over in Italy.
The major Mexican component is not only the braised pork (aka carnitas), but also the tangy and crunchy jicama-mango slaw that it pairs with beautifully.
This slaw is made from julienned jicama and chopped mango dressed with lime juice, red chile flakes, and cilantro. A jicama (pronounced hick-uh-ma) is somewhere between a potato and a radish and is used frequently in Mexican cuisine. I really enjoy these raw with a little flavor added to them.
The Italian influence I mentioned comes in the form of a pesto, which is a typical Italian condiment made from basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. Now the flavors of this particular pesto are decidedly Asian, but the concept behind it is Italian.
I’ve used these beautiful fresh herbs along with garlic, cashews, lime juice, and a Thai oil infused with basil and lemongrass. Cashews are a great nut to use in pestos because they lend a bit of creaminess to the mix. The scallions add some extra body as well. For this reason, I didn’t use any cheese; I rarely use cheese in Asian dishes anyway.
To make the pesto, you add all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and slowly add the oil as it is blending. Pesto is easy to adjust and season along the way; I added some sea salt and white pepper, and got the herb ratios perfect the first time.
This pesto. My word, this pesto. This is possibly the best pesto I’ve ever had, let alone made. This fresh, vibrant, nutty, and citrus loveliness enhances the already bountiful bouquet of flavors in these summer rolls, thus achieving the highest form of well-deserved “MmMmmmmMmm…MmmmMmmmmm..Mmm….”
But I digress. (*ahem*)
Making the summer rolls is fairly easy but takes some getting used to. You have to dampen the dry rice paper in water and make sure all the excess gets drained off. Then you put the ingredients in the center, and roll it like a burrito. The bottom goes over the filling, the sides come in, and then you roll to finish the seal.
All the flavors and textures going on in this dish work very well together. The beauty of fusion cuisine is when an original idea ends up tasting so delicious such as this. A friend of mine said this has to end up on one of my menus, and I have to agree with him. If you want more specific recipe details, leave me a comment below, and I’ll be glad to elaborate.
May the fish be with you, young rainbow trout!
~Maki Zavelli, over and out <(^_^<)