Chris and I went out to dinner last night with an older couple—friends of Chris’s parents—who live in a posh apartment with a great view of Central Park. Ordinarily, we trek out to their place in the Upper West Side, but Chris wanted to switch things up, so he suggested they come to our neck of the woods instead.
Now, our part of Brooklyn and their part of Upper West Side aren’t so very different. Both have tree-lined streets and a neighborhood-y feel and slightly less bustle than, say, Midtown or the Villages. But where they have Columbus Circle and doormen galore and hordes of tourists and expensive restaurants that primarily service said tourists, we have cash-only dive bars and small yoga studios and cafes that fit, like, 10 people max and our local Mexican spot (replete with all the usual cheesy decor). Our Brooklyn juxtaposed with their Manhattan is like… is like the opera to a movie theater. A glass of pinot noir to a pint of whatever’s on tap. A white tablecloth dining experience to burgers, fries, and a beer. So it only made sense that we take them to our favorite burger joint.
Normally, they take us to a fancy restaurant where we get to feel pampered by waiters who fuss over our seats and bring out our courses with flair. So you can understand why I was a bit nervous about taking them to such a low-key establishment. I’m not saying it was a hole-in-the-wall, because it wasn’t at all, but it had that whole rough-hewn, rustic look that’s so popular among Brooklyn restaurants these days, including the dreaded communal table. As luck would have it, that’s where we were seated.
I’m building this up, aren’t I? Ultimately, they loved the resutarant. We ate and talked and talked and ate, and had a wonderful time. Afterwards, we walked by the mom ‘n’ pop ice cream stand where they bought a mint chip cone to share, fighting for the last few bites. It was a great evening, and I think that whatever impression they had had of Brooklyn has been amended.
And rightly so! Despite the picture I paint, this neighborhood has come a long way. My landlord’s son told me how it had been a contested zone between rival gangs back in the 80’s. And apparently, the Mafia’s reign was still going strong up until, I dunno, the 70’s. And before all that, a gazillion years ago, it was farmland. Now, we live around the corner from a gourmet cheese shop, across the street from a high-end clothing boutique, and down the street from a newly-opened Blue Bottle Coffee. Times have changed.
These summer rolls have nothing to do with my story except I’ve been going gluten-free recently and had to break my ban last night. I guess I didn’t want to be the debbie downer who ordered the salad while everyone else was gorging on burgers and fries, you know? These summer rolls, on the other hand, are gluten-free (with the exception of the hoisin sauce, but you can buy a gluten-free version), and vegan too I guess, and maybe even raw? The rice noodles are cooked, it’s true, but you can easily leave them out.
Since summer has officially kicked in—beginning with some minor humidity this week—I’ve been feeling the urge for fresh vegetables and herbs. And what could be more perfect than the trifecta of cilantro, Thai basil, and mint? Nothing, that’s what. NOTHING. These summer rolls are filled to the brim with earnest plant matter, and are one of the tastiest (and easiest!) foods I’ve made recently.
I realized in my last post that I’d somehow toggled off the comments. Sorry about that! I don’t know whether or not they’ll be turned back on when I publish this post, but if not, I’ll try to figure out how to turn them back on. If you have any questions, feel free to email me!
Feel free to play around with proportions, but don’t skimp on the avocado! Its taste will be overwhelmed by the other ingredients if you don’t use enough in each roll.
12 sheets rice paper
2 or 3 medium avocados, sliced into wedges
36 mint leaves
36 Thai basil leaves (regular basil okay)
24 sprigs cilantro
2 or 3 medium carrots, julienned and chopped into 1-1/2″ pieces
3 oz. dried rice vermicelli, cooked and drained
12 pieces of lettuce (I used Bibb, halving each big leaf to form 2 pieces)
Fill a pan large enough to contain the rice paper with hot water. Prepare a moist surface (such as a damp cloth) on which to make the summer rolls. Have all the other ingredients ready around your workstation.
Take a sheet of rice paper and submerge it completely in the hot water. Remove it immediately—it should still be stiff and easy to handle—and place it on the moist surface. Place 3 slices of avocado horizontally across the center of the rice paper, leaving a 1-inch margin on either side. Place 3 mint leaves, 3 basil leaves, and 2 sprigs of cilantro on top, across the avocado slices. Grab a small handful of carrots and place them in two small heaps across the herbs. Do the same with the vermicelli. Finally, roll a piece of lettuce into a cigar shape and place it on top. Go with conventional wisdom and don’t stuff your rolls, as the rice paper is quite flimsy!
Fold the bottom edge of the rice paper over the center mound, then the left and right edges. Finally, roll the mound upward toward the final edge. Try to wrap the roll as tightly as possible.
Dip in the tahini hoisin sauce and enjoy!
TAHINI HOISIN SAUCE
Makes about 1 cup
Adapted from Gourmet Live
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (gluten-free version)
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
big squeeze of lime juice
Combine all the ingredients and stir until combined.