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How to make spring rolls ahead of time

Ingredients for spring rolls

In yesterday's food section, I pulled together a bunch of vegan brown bag recipes from the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts, the cooking school on South Lamar Boulevard that specializes in vegetarian and macrobiotic cooking.

Part of the prep work for that story was attending one of the Natural Epicurean's cooking classes that are open to the public. At that hands-on class, chef Rachel Zierzow helped us make half a dozen dishes, including spring rolls with an almond butter dipping sauce.

Unlike traditional tortilla or flatbread wraps, rice paper makes a much lighter (and gluten-free and not so taco-like) wrap that can be great for healthy lunches, and you can fill them with all the ingredients you’d use to make a salad, including pan-fried tofu or tempeh or, if you’re eating meat, shrimp or sliced chicken or pork.

The key is not letting the rice paper dry out after you've made the wrap and not oversoaking the dried paper when you're making it. When making the rolls, instead of soaking the sheets on a plate of water, you can quickly run the paper under warm water from the faucet, and the paper will continue to soften while you add the filling ingredients and fold the paper around them.

But how do you keep them moist in the hours between when you make them and when you eat them? Zierzow's solution: Place a very lightly moistened paper towel on top of the spring rolls before storing them in an sealed container.

Zierzow had another great tip if you'd like to eat spring rolls several days during the week: Instead of making a bunch of spring rolls and then trying to keep them moist after the first day, prepare all the filling ingredients (and the dipping sauce) on one day and then wet the rice paper and assemble the rolls on the morning of the day you plan to eat them.

Once you get the hang of folding them up (think of how burritos are wrapped at Chipotle or Freebird's), assembling the spring roll shouldn't take any longer than making a sandwich.

Spring Rolls

5 oz. rice noodles or mung bean noodles
4 carrots, grated
2 cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds
4 cups spring mix
1/2 cup organic fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup organic fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup organic fresh cilantro leaves
2 avocados, cut into thin, wide strips
12 rice paper spring roll wrappers

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles to boiling water and turn off heat. Let sit for a few minutes until noodles are soft, then drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Lay all ingredients out for assembly: noodles, carrots, cucumbers, spring mix, herbs, avocado slices and spring roll wrappers.

Prepare a large bowl or plate with warm water. Water does not need to be hot but warm enough to soften rice paper and the bowl wide enough to fit a sheet of rice paper.

Take one sheet of rice paper and soak it in warm water until it is pliable, about 10 seconds. (You can also simply run it under the faucet. The paper will continue to soften after you’ve removed it from the water.) Spread the wrapper on a large plate or other clean surface. Work quickly so rice paper does not fall apart.

Place a large basil leaf vertically with 3 cucumber slices to the right of it (stacked vertically) in the middle of the spring roll wrapper. Place a layer of avocado, noodles, carrots. Sprinkle with spring mix and cilantro and/or mint leaves, making sure that 1 inch of rice paper remains visible on the edge closest to you and on both sides of the ingredients. Be sure not to overfill spring roll.

To wrap, bring up the lower lip of the rice wrapper and wrap around the ingredients, tightening slightly as you tuck and roll the wrapper. Fold in the sides to enclose the filling then continue rolling the wrapper. The rice paper will seal itself. Set aside to rest with space in between rolls. Continue wrapping spring rolls until all ingredients are used up. Serve with a dipping sauce such as spicy peanut or almond butter sauce or basil pesto. Makes 12 spring rolls.

Almond Butter Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1 cup coconut milk
4 Tbsp. lime juice
4 Tbsp. spring or filtered water
4 tsp. tamari
4 tsp. ume plum vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium-size bowl until smooth and sugar is dissolved. Serve with raw vegetables, spring rolls or as a dressing for a salad.

— Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts

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