Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spring Rolls with Kale, Leeks, Fennel, Avocado, Orange and Mint

I figured out why the springroll wrappers have been splitting on me. I lay the wrappers on a kitchen towel to fill them, but the skins are very sticky prior to being fully hydrated. In order not to pick up lint from the towel, I would let the wrappers fully saturate so they would only stick to themselves. I had a little eureka moment when I realized I could use a wet towel and a slightly-less-than-fully-saturated skin fresh from the water bath, which would have some surface water clinging to it. The wrappers are much sturdier this way, don't pick up any lint, and they continue to hydrate after forming the rolls from the residual water. Much better results.

This week's trip to Andy's Fruit Ranch* was less than productive, as the produce looked pretty sad. Apart from some beautiful, fat lobes of ginger and a some nice leeks there wasn't much going on, so I had to suffer the produce section of Jewel. There's always quite a bounty there, but most of it is industrially-farmed crap, pretty and waxy on the surface, plump and perfectly formed for packing in crates but with the flavor and aroma of wet cotton. I've never bitten into anything from the Jewel and had my mind blown the way I have from about any farm stand or a good week at Andy's. Their shit is "that'll do I guess" caliber and never better. This week's that'll do items were a serviceable avocado, a pithy navel orange, a bunch of kale (how can you fuck up kale, it's awesome) and some fennel. I found a female fennel again, possibly a cousin of Latifa since she had a similar sass and ample caboose.

After splitting and washing the leeks I chopped them into fine shreds and wilted them in some olive oil. When they were soft, I added the kale, chopped into ribbons, about an inch of the ginger and the fennel bulb, both cut in julienne. I added salt, a couple sliced cloves of garlic and a splash of white wine, then let everything cook down into a dense green stew. When everything was tender I added the zest and juice of a lemon off the heat. I prefer not to cook lemon into greens, but rather use it as a dressing, as cooked it tends to synthesize weird overtones and seems less astringent. Vinegar seems to suffer this less, but because I intended to use orange in the rolls I didn't want to complicate the acidity by using both vinegar and citrus, which always tastes weird and like poison to me. I've never had poison. Wait... the salty lemonade at the Indian place Heather took us last summer, that was poison and it smelled like a dirty vadge.

I let the greens rest and cool in a bowl, and tried a sip of the pot liquor. Jesus I love the liquor you get from cooking greens like this. If they bottled it I'd drink it like Fresca. Devin needs to come up with a cocktail based on this shit, he'd be bartender-famous, which is like internet-famous but with a slur, a lean and a little wobble. "Fuckin' Devin man best fucking kale pot liquor caipirinhas, best ginger lemongrass daquiris, best chef pants... I love that guy..." I zested the orange and cut a bunch of supremes, and added the zest and byproduct juice to the greens.

I made the rolls by laying down a little carpet of mint leaves and fennel fronds, then laid in the greens with a slice of avocado and a couple of supremes of orange, which have a kind of natural agrodolce effect and an interesting texture. The avocado wasn't as tasty as I had hoped, but the buttery texture and oily richness were really good, and the colors looked smart through the translucent skin.

The rolls were good on their own, but the interior astringency hit your mouth before the avocado richness, and tended to make the initial sensation a little hard on the mouth, so I made a dipping sauce to make the initial impression a little gentler. The dipping sauce was pretty simple, some mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, Siracha and toasted sesame oil.

The best thing about using a spring roll wrapper is that it allows neat pairings of flavors and mouth effects. If a plate had all these elements on it, you'd need to construct an elaborate Alinea-style eating regimen to get the full effect of the ingredients. "What chef would like you to do is take the spoon in one hand and the forchetta in the other." They would totally call it a forchetta like that wasn't an asshole thing to do. "With the spoon, pick up some of the sauce, then nestle the fennel frond and lay a mint leaf on top of it. With the forchetta, move some of the greens-and-fennel onto the spoon, then stab the avocado and orange slices together, and in a kind of one-two motion, chef would like you to get the contents of both the spoon and forchetta in your mouth before biting down. Enjoy."

Eating one of these rolls did pretty much exactly what I wanted. The sauce opens your palette, then you taste the greens and feel the bite of the acid, then both the richness of the avocado and the texture and agrodolce effect of the orange kick in, have a party, get drunk on pot-liquor caipirinhas and fuck on the sofa. Finally the minty quality of the herbs lingers in your mouth as a denouement for a while. I just said denouement like it wasn't an asshole thing to do. (v)

*Should totally be the name of a gay bar featuring Devin's pot liquor caipirinhas.


  1. Hi Steve. I have a favor to ask - if you're so inclined. I make this black bean dip that's simple and tasty (and makes an outstanding base for tostadas). But it's missing something - I know it, but I just can't figure it out. I was wondering if you would do some consulting/designated hitting and take a look at it for me:

    I can't offer anything but the satisfaction that you may score me additional points with the ladies when I have them over for dinner.
    Thanks so much, love the site.

  2. Chris, I'll take a look when I get back to Chicago in a week. I will make sure you have get-to-second-base bean dip at a minimum.

  3. Didn't know how awesome pot liquor was until moving to the south, where it is used as an all-purpose remedy for headaches, hangovers, indigestion, impotence, and race-baiting.

    That said, a pot liquor cocktail probably wants to be served warm. It would be awesome if somebody with superior chef pants and more time on his hands would try the following:

    1. Steep some star anise in heavy cream. Allow cream to cool completely. Remove star anise. Whip cream to stiff peaks.

    2. Strain pot-liquor.

    3. In a clear mug, add 1.5 oz bourbon to 4 oz strained pot liquor.

    4. Float .5 oz of Pernod atop mixture.

    5. Top with anise-flavored whipped cream and toasted, ground fennel seeds.

  4. Ooh, an Asian/French Tom and Jerry. That would be the go-to jam in apres-ski Vietnam. You drink booze, you should totally make a vegan bullshot with pot liquor and document the results on YouTube.

  5. Hey Steve,

    These look delicious! I love how you think out of the box and use non-traditional items in different dishes.

    I have a couple suggestions for you on making spring rolls. I have always put wrappers that I've moistened in almost-boiling water on to a plate to do the rolling, and that works pretty well. The problem with this is that the plate tends to get really wet and they can stick to each other once you've moved them to another dish.

    A friend of mine introduced me to these GREAT plastic strainer trays:

    This is the best way to make these, in my opinion. They won't stick to the plastic, and they have a little time to dry out before you stack them. I haven't really gone out of my way to find them in the city, but I'd imagine if you went to a Vietnamese grocery store up on Argyle, you'd be able to find them.

  6. Forgot to mention that the spring-rolls sound delicious. Am also impressed by your Jaques Pepin segmented oranges. You dedication to this stuff is delightful and inspiring.

  7. That black bean dip recipe looks great as-is, but I'd go with non-canned black beans. (You can soak/brine and freeze big batches of them, so don't whine about convenience.) I do have to beg for a serious Albini upgrade of the recipe, though. I really want a Big Black Bean Dip.

  8. Thanks Daniel - Agreed that non-canned beans would improve the flavor, as well as Albini's upgrade. I would love to write a cookbook and call the recipe Second Base Bean Dip.
    I highly recommend making the dip and some guacamole and then putting that on tostadas and baking for ~5 minutes. It's vegan and a m a z i n g. Then if you add a little spicy cheese like pepper jack you will be in heaven.

  9. Chris, I looked at the bean dip and it looks pretty good. I'm not a fan of cumin, so I'd probably substitute bitter cocoa, but otherwise the bean dip looks like solid pre-makeout bean dip.

    Consider making some pickled onions to go with it. Just slice a red onion real thin and drizzle white vinegar over the slices so they saturate. Doesn't take long, 15 minutes is fine, and if you leave them in the vinegar overnight it makes their color bleed and they turn a lovely pink all over. You can dice the pickled rings real fine if you want to scatter them over the dip, but I like leaving them in rings. The combination of pickled onions, finely sliced scallions and cilantro (or mint if you're a loser who hates cilantro) goes great with beans.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.