When you think about it, it’s remarkable, really, just how many opportunities we have every day to do something new. Much of the time it doesn’t feel like it. Our days follow patterns. We have baskets full of habits and well-worn ruts that we comfortably cruise along in.
And actually, a certain amount of repetition and stability in your life turns out to be really important and healthy. Which makes perfect sense. Nature is full of rhythms and patterns. We reside within them, and if completely rhythmless we feel jostled and jarred and seriously uncomfortable.
But if we don’t keep our eyes open to all the myriad of tiny dips and swerves within the patterns, it can be easy to feel trapped in some sort of mold that looks a lot like same-old-same-old.
I forget sometimes, that I’m the one making the decision to walk down the exact same street to get to the subway every time I go, when in reality, there are dozens of paths that run there. The destination is the same – rhythm – but I can switch the route up – discovery!
Same with cooking. We need to eat. Pretty darn regularly, in fact! And it’s easy to find ourselves making the same things over and over again. Of course, I’ll be the first person to sing the praises of old weeknight standbys (did somebody say spaghetti?!). They’re lifesavers. But, it’s also remarkable to me just how very many things I’ve never made before, or techniques I haven’t tried. Even with a decent number of years of cooking under my belt.
Like spring rolls. Can you believe that until last week, I had never actually made my own spring rolls?
I’ve had a package of spring roll wrappers in my cupboard for nearly a year now (they were sealed, they seem to have kept just fine) with the intention of making exactly these spring rolls – this flavor combination and everything – but it took me, ahem, a while to get around to it. I guess my non-spring roll rut was a pretty deep and steep one.
But, I’m highly suggestable when it comes to food, and given that it is spring, I found myself thinking, “spring, hmmmm, spring flowers, spring leaves, spring fever…spring rolls!” And just like that, it was finally time to make them.
Now, I’m not even going to dive fully into talking about the filling. You’ve got a combination of crunchy cabbage and butter-smooth avocado. On top of that there’s crab, mango, and cilantro, which brings you earth and sea, pine resin (from the mango) and grass (that’s the cilantro), sweet salt air and sweeter flesh (the crab, of course). A little tropical, a lot playful. It’s basically one of my favorite salads tightly bundled into a roll so all the ingredients can get nice and cozy with each other. Delicious, but, for us at least, not a huge discovery.
No, the real voyage of discovery for me was learning just how terrible I am at rolling spring rolls. I’m a disaster folks! As you’ll be able to see from the many loose ends and little tears in my rolls that couldn’t be fully hidden from camera or diners, even with lots of gentle tucking and turning things torn side down.
Yet, it was fun. My first several spring roll sheets I didn’t submerge in water long enough for them to reach their full malleable-stretchy potential, and I tore them completely to shreds. But, after a bit I started to get the hang of soaking them well, handling them carefully, tugging them gently but firmly to try to coax them just to the limits of their flexibility. (Making spring roll rolling sound oddly similar to coaching gymnastics.)
I mustered all my patience and attention for my last roll, trying finally to get it perfect. No dice. It was still a all loose and saggy around the edges. But it was such enthusiastic leaps and bounds better than my first specimens, I felt good about the effort.
Which brings us back to that good old confluence of rhythm and repetition with newness and discovery. I have a feeling that as I try more spring rolls in the future, I’ll find the rhythm of it. I’ll make little discoveries about angles, and filling volume, and where to hold my fingers, and even though the instructions I follow for rolling spring rolls will be the same, they’ll turn out better and better.
But, um, until then, if you have any tips, please do let me know!
Spring Rolls with Mango, Avocado, and Crab (makes about 16 rolls)
- about 16 medium rice-paper spring roll wrappers
- about 4 oz. cooked crab meat, gently shredded apart with your fingers
- 1 large mango, peeled and cut into long thin strips
- 2-3 ripe avocados, peeled and cut into slices
- 3-4 cups thinly shredded savoy cabbage
- several handfuls of fresh cilantro leaves
- a squeeze of lime juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. honey
- 2 Tbs. rice vinegar
- 2 Tbs. orange juice
- 1 minced chili pepper
- Toss the cabbage with a good squeeze of lime juice.
- Submerge a spring roll wrapper into warm water for 15 seconds, until it is completely soft and pliable. Using both hands, lift it out and spread it flat on a non-sticky surface.
- Pile some cabbage, crab, an avocado slice, and a mango slice on the wrapper. Lift the edge of the wrapper over the filling and tuck it over into the beginnings of a roll, you need to stretch it a bit, but it’s a delicate balance to stretch it to its max while not accidentally tearing it. Fold in the flaps from the adjacent sides to close those edges, then continue to roll it up tightly – it’s like rolling a burrito or a wrap – and seal it shut.
- Place on a platter and continue with the remaining wrappers and filling.
- To make a dipping sauce, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, orange juice, honey, and minced pepper.