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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life is a picnic...and you ace it with summer rolls

We LOVE picnic in this house! That is perhaps the best reason to join this month's Waiter There is Something in my... PICNIC Basket! organised by Joanna at The Passionate Cook. The other thing is, I am feeling slightly guilty - Joanna has been inviting me to the events she organised since 2006 but I have been so snowed under these past two years, I just haven't been equally gracious. I keep dreaming up things to make for the events she organised yet the timing has been wrong!

When I read about this event in her blog, I quickly penned it into my Filofax and dreamed of things to make. I even asked the kiddies at the neighbourhood if they want to go for picnic with us last week but the weather was so awful for the past two weekends, there wasn't any opportunity.

Nabila kept joking about the times when we had picnic indoors because I was determined to have a picnic. Now we live in a park. The duck pond is literally at our doorstep and we can actually go for picnic any day - rain or shine! For this kind of picnic with the kiddies - we just make something simple in the house, pack it into the pink tiffin, make some drinks and put everything into our wicker picnic basket and walk over to the park and have a picnic. Usually the kids playing at the park will drop by and join us and some will go back to their own houses to drag their moms and bring more food. Before you know, we're starting a revolution - the picnic revolution since a picnic is not a Dutch thing to do.

My favourite picnic food is summer rolls inspired by Vietnamese Spring Rolls but made with anything I find in our fridge and pantry. This is a typical one. I don't usually use any noodles inside the rolls because I prefer it to have more veggies and meat or shrimp. I figured the rice paper is made of the same stuff as rice noodles and that is quite enough. Since I am making it for the children, I usually make a creamy sauce (using yoghurt!) instead of the typical sauce that comes with the spring rolls.

When planning the ingredients for the filling - texture is very important. Use whatever is in season. This will ensure freshness. The other thing that is equally important is colour. Although the filling is sealed in a package, it is very tantalizing to see layers and myriads of colour through the thin rice paper. We do eat with our eyes first ;-) This time, I decided to make summer rolls with shredded poached chicken, fresh baby spinach, blanched taugeh (bean sprouts), mange tout and baby carrots from our garden.

I cut all the ingredients into matchstick strips, lay them on the table at the patio and have the kids make their own rolls and pack their own containers. I then mix the sauce in front of them and have them taste it for sour, sweet, stickiness, saltiness and heat... The sauce proves to be more popular than the typical sauce using fish sauce. Children like it when they encounter something they are familiar with - peanut butter, honey and yoghurt in this case. This makes it easier for them to accept new flavour and new way of eating and at the same time making them feel more *adult* for trying something seemingly more sophisticated.

The combination of the rolls and sweet sour peanut sauce reminds me of Gado Gado - a cold salad made with noodle, vegetable, meat and tofu with peanut sauce. I will post something about Gado-gado soon.

The summer rolls are easy to eat with because it is not oily or sticky unlike popiah or loempia. It transports very well and do not get soggy on the way. And the clean fresh flavour with crunchy texture is a real treat in any picnic. It is also a doddle to make - the only thing that takes a bit of time is preparing the ingredients but once you have everything mise en place, it is like a meditation... a sensual meditation in texture, colours and scents...
and the best part is... there is no cooking (well almost) and the sauce is instant!
Summer Rolls
1 packet of rice paper - I used a 500g packet o 22cm in diameter
baby spinach
poached chicken - shredded
carrot - cut into strips
mange tout - cut into strips
taugeh (bean sprouts) - blanched in hot water for about 2 minutes
1. Cut carrots and mange tout into strips and place in a bowl. Wash the spinach and pat dry.
2. Prepare a container with damp kitchen paper (towel) in the bottom of a dish. Make sure you have a tea towel nearby.
3. Lay all the ingredients together in easy reach.
4. Fill a wide, shallow dish with hot water. Evenly submerge one rice paper in the water for about half a minute or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.
5. Start creating your filling. Be creative - you can do any mixture or layers to your preference. I place one baby spinach in the bottom and then layer the other ingredients one by one and top it with another baby spinach.
5. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top.
6. Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward. Place in prepared container. Cover with tea towel so the rolls do not dry out.
7. For clearer instruction on how to fold the rolls, you can watch this video.
8. Serve with sweet sour peanut sauce.
Sweat sour peanut sauce
1 round TBSP peanut butter
1 round TBSP Thai sweet chili sauce
1 TBSP honey or maple syrup
yoghurt - I used non fat
In a bowl, whisk the peanut butter, sweet chili sauce and maple syrup together. Add yoghurt to slacken the sauce. Taste for flavour. I didn't add any salt or pepper as I find the taste from the ingredients are quite enough. But you should if you want to.
Whisk until you achieve a velvety texture.
update: for the rest of the original and delicious entries to the event, head over to Joanna's. The list of this roaring international event can be found here.


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