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Mealtime: Spring Rolls Three Ways 

click to enlarge Spring Rolls - ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh
  • Spring Rolls

I've always loved to pack lunches for my kids, even when that means early mornings. I've found that skipping the cafeteria line gives them longer to eat lunch. It's also been a great way to let my type 1 diabetic son know exactly how much insulin to take, instead of having to look at the school menu with him and make wild guesses.

I used to write a lunch-packing blog, and every day when he was in the earliest years in school I would send the school nurse a blog post in the morning to let her know how many carbs he had in his lunch for proper dosing. Now that he's a sophomore in high school, he's much more independent, and I send in a Post-it note with carb counts on it for him.

When the kids were little, I did a lot of American-style bento lunches, using cookie cutters and cupcake picks to decorate food. I stockpiled EasyLunchboxes, my favorite simple three-compartment lunch box. As the kids got older, I started packing more standard meals — sandwich, fruit or vegetable, plus an extra snack.

But sometimes I like to think outside the sandwich.

Recently, I made a variety of Vietnamese-style spring rolls, for example. The Vietnamese name for spring rolls translates as "salad roll." I'm not pretending that my take on them here is necessarily authentic, but these are fun to eat and delicious.

The trickiest part of making spring rolls is the wrapping. Most recipes call for dipping the rice paper in water to soften them, but I prefer the precision and ease of using a spray bottle of water instead.

click to enlarge Folding the vegetable spring roll - ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh
  • Folding the vegetable spring roll

If you can roll a burrito, you can make a spring roll. The concept is much the same: Don't overstuff them, and keep the fillings in the middle. Rice paper behaves differently than tortillas, though; once moistened, it gets fragile and sticky. Just be gentle with it.

One of the neat things about spring rolls is that the rice paper is translucent, so fillings can become decorative elements. For instance, I put thin slices of radish on the outside layer of the vegetable rolls and kiwi flowers with mint leaves on the outside of the fruit ones. Of course, these rolls are delightful for any meal, but if you're making them ahead of time for lunch packing, you'll want to tightly wrap the rolls individually in plastic wrap so they don't dry out.

You can get your ingredients at an Asian market, but I was able to find all of them at a regular supermarket. There are generally about 12 to 16 wrappers in each package, and they keep well, so just make however many you want and save the rest for later.

Have fun, and happy packing!

Hoisin Chicken Spring Rolls

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

Chicken:

  • ½ cup hoisin sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound boneless chicken breast, cut into thin slices
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Dipping sauce:

  • ¼ cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Other roll fillings:

  • 1 avocado, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • Rice vermicelli noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • Chopped peanuts (optional — be sure your school allows them)
  • Spring roll wrappers (rice paper rounds)
  • Spray bottle of water

Directions:

  1. Combine hoisin, orange juice, ginger and garlic, and add chicken. Toss to coat. Heat oil in a sauté pan (or wok) over medium-high heat, then add the chicken, stirring constantly until cooked through. This should take just a few minutes, as the pieces of chicken are small.
  2. Make the sauce by whisking together hoisin, orange juice and honey. Set aside.
  3. To make spring rolls: Lay wrapper on a flat surface, and mist evenly with water on both sides. Wait a few seconds until the wrapper is soft and flexible, then lay fillings in the center, leaving room on the ends. Put ingredients with sharper ends, like carrots, inside the roll, so that their sharper edges don't poke through the thin rice paper. Fold the ends tightly over the fillings, then roll it up like a burrito, making sure to wrap firmly but gently so the wrapper doesn't rip. Repeat until you have made the desired number of rolls. Wrap leftover rolls tightly in plastic wrap. Tip: Leftover chicken, veggies, noodles and sauce make a delightful noodle salad for lunch, too!

Vegetable Spring Rolls

click to enlarge Vegetable spring roll - ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh
  • Vegetable spring roll

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

Roll fillings:

  • ½ cup shredded red and green cabbage
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • ½ cup bean sprouts
  • 1 mini cucumber, cut into matchstick slices
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, cut into matchstick slices
  • 2-3 radishes, sliced as thinly as possible (I use a mandoline slicer — carefully!)
  • 1 package marinated baked tofu, cut into thin slices (optional; whatever flavor you like best)
  • Spring roll wrappers (rice paper rounds)
  • Spray bottle of water

Dipping sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons white or yellow miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemongrass purée (from a tube, found in the produce section of larger grocery stores)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried ginger

Directions:

click to enlarge Filling the vegetable spring roll - ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Andy Brumbaugh
  • Filling the vegetable spring roll
  1. Whisk together ingredients for the dipping sauce and set aside.
  2. Prepare rice paper wrappers as described on opposite page, arranging vegetables in the middle of the wrapper — put the thinly sliced radish on the bottom as a decorative touch, if you like. Wrap. Repeat until you have the desired number of rolls. Wrap leftover rolls tightly in plastic wrap.

Fruit Salad 'Dessert' Spring Rolls

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

Roll fillings:

  1. 2 kiwis, sliced and cut into flower shapes with a small cookie cutter if desired
  2. Fresh mint leaves
  3. 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into matchstick slices
  4. 1 mango, peeled and cut into matchstick slices
  5. 4-5 strawberries, thinly sliced
  6. Spring roll wrappers (rice paper rounds)
  7. Spray bottle of water
  8. Dipping sauce:

    • 1 6-ounce cup yogurt in your favorite flavor (we like lemon)

    Directions:

    1. Prepare rice paper wrappers as described on opposite page, arranging fruit in the middle of the wrapper with the thinly sliced kiwi on the bottom, mint leaves just on top of them, then other ingredients. Wrap. Repeat until you have the desired number of rolls. Wrap leftover rolls tightly in plastic wrap.

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Mealtime