Tuesday, May 10, 2005

tea rolls

With the warm weather I stop craving things like meatballs and lingonberry jam with steamed potatoes, or goulash with mounds of steamy egg noodles and cool sour cream. Nope, spring summer weather brings a curious change in appetite, much more of what I would say is the normative Californian diet.

In the little town of Amherst, there is a surprising amount of good restaurants and student budget friendly options. It was pretty hilarious when the friend I traveled with to the wedding and I tried to eat as much of the delights Amherst has to offer in the span of about six hours.

One of the best places to study or meet friends was Fresh Side Cafe. There one could eat some curiosities called Tea Rolls. These tea rolls, unbeknownst to me, actually originated with the Vietnamese summer rolls, but morphed in accordance with American tastes.

The secret charm of the tea roll is two fold, chewiness of the un-fried spring roll covering, and the pleasing fatness of the rolls.

The fillings are as wide as your imagination, just like onigiri, this is just another fun Asian spin on the sandwich.

Joy's Favorite Thai Tea Rolls

1 package of spring roll covers, about 10" x 10" *
Iceberg lettuce plunged into ice water
1 chicken breast poached sliced into wide flat matchstick pieces, about 1/3" thick
1/4 c finely chopped peanuts
Baby spinach leaves
Vermicelli noodles (prepared according to directions)*
Mint leaves

Rice vinegar
Fish sauce (Thai)*

Carrot curliques for decoration

*These can be bought at any Chinese Grocery like Dynasty Super Market which is located on 68 Elizabeth (Cross Street Hester).

If you have all the ingredients ready it takes no time to wrap them up, like say you already have a poached chicken breast in the refrigerator ... and pre-washed mint leaves, etc. Otherwise these are little more time intensive than I would like. Although, one should always try to buy fresh nuts. I'm not sure if they're readily available here in America.

Peel off a two layer stack off the spring roll covers, the key here is to not let the wrappers dry out -- once they dry out they won't be nicely chewy and won't wrap well either. I usually put a damp cloth on top of the wrappers.

Lay out the two stack high wrappers like a diamond, lay the lettuce, then spinach, then about a tablespoons worth of noodles, some pieces of chicken breast, then judiciously sprinkle the peanuts and maybe two or three mint leaves.

Here comes the crucial part. Squishing everything together so that it will look satisfyingly fat and compact. Believe me, a loose tea roll just lets all the ingredients fall out. Don't be disheartened if it takes some practice, it's a little similar to acquiring sushi rolling skills.

Take the two corners which will be the top and bottom of the roll and bring them to meet together while holding these down with your thumbs, grab the bottom corner, and pull it tightly up and around the filling, and tuck it in like a military bed sheet, meaning firmly. Then roll the roll into the top corner and smush it so that the top fastens to the rest of the roll.

Once the roll is closed, cut it in half and serve in a small bowl or plate.

In a very small sauce bowl, fill 1/8 with fish sauce, a dash of sugar, 1/4 with rice vinegar and then stir and mix with water to taste. Add carrot curliques to sauce and or serving bowl/plate.

Other very successful fillings are with ginger-soy-sesame-honey marinated tofu rolls, curry chicken salad, chicken walnut and grape salad filling, teriyaki chicken. The key here is to ensure the freshness is the bed of crispy lettuce.

These are not so filling mealwise, but then you'll just get hungry again in an hour and can eat something else equally yummy.

These don't keep, so serve them right away. Enjoy!

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