There comes a time when every cyclist reaches into a jersey back pocket, extracts a pro-biotic hyper-nutrient choco-green exfoliant chia protein bar and instead of ripping away the wrapping like the savage carbo-craving road shark she is, she freezes. Tongue, stomach and heart revolt. A chilly voice in her head announces the rebel demands: We don’t want to eat an energy bar. Ever. Again. Last year, reflecting on the long PanMass Challenge ride she’d just finished, Jody said to me, “I am sick of f_______ energy bars! I can’t stand it! Next year I’m going to make my own.” Fortunately, she reconsidered. And that’s why you’re being treated to Bicycling Spring Rolls this week.
Who wouldn’t prefer a homemade spring roll to a nutrient brick in a paper wrapper? They’re crunchy, refreshing and even, yes, good for you. They perform an tango on your tongue regardless of whether they’re washed down with water or beer, plus, as you can see from the photos, they’re fun to make. And to paraphrase Michael Pollen, they’re made out of things your grandmother would recognize as food, assuming your grandmother had a passing familiarity with Southeast Asian cuisine. You can take spring rolls on a ride or on a picnic, and once you’ve got the basic method down you can adapt them to what’s in your fridge. Prefer chicken or shrimp instead of tofu? Use it. Like more crunchy elements? Add them. Just remember, several smaller spring rolls will hold their shape better than a single behemoth one. Also, with firm crunchy vegetables, thin julienned strips work better than square dice, whose sharp corners can puncture a delicate rice paper wrapper. Jody has a few more tips below. The single drawback to spring rolls, is their ephemerality. Make and eat (soon) is the rule. After a day the individual components start to love each other a little too much and the resulting moisture breaks down the wrapper. We ate half the first batch after photographing them. The remainders went for breakfast the next morning, a good thing considering the oyster and wasabi mayo omelette from last week.
The PanMass Challenge is only two weeks away. Jody and the rest of Team Rialto-Trade have been training (and raising money) like cycling fiends for the two-day 200-mile ride that benefits the Dan Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. They’ve raised $70,000 of a $100,000 goal. I’m on the support staff this year – team photographer and swag-wagoner during the ride itself. If you’d like to help fight cancer, click here. If you want something good to take along on a ride, any ride, make yourself some spring rolls. Or maybe do both. Enjoy. Ken
Bicycle Spring Rolls
- ½ pound firm tofu, cut into ½-inch dice
- ½ cup organic crunchy peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 small fresh bird peppers, sliced as thinly as possible–add more if you like things really spicy
- Zest of 1 lime
- Juice of 2 limes
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons grated garlic
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 cup cooked short grain brown rice
- ½ cup finely grated peeled carrot
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, steamed and thinly sliced
- 24 small cooked green beans, cut in half crosswise
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks – ¼-inch thick and 2 inches long
- ¼ cup torn mint leaves
- ¼ cup torn cilantro leaves
- 20 12-inch rice paper rounds–I used brown rice wrappers.
- Set the tofu pieces on paper towels while you work on the other ingredients. You want to extract some of the moisture.
- In a small bowl, put the peanut butter, honey, chilis, lime zest, juice of half a lime, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon garlic, and mix together well.
- In a large bowl, mix the remaining lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and the sesame oil. Add the tofu and toss to coat with the mixture. Add the rice, vegetables, and herbs and gently mix together, taking care not to break up the tofu.
- Fill a flat dish with 1 inch of water.
- Dip a rice paper round in water. When it is flexible, but not completely saturated, which should only take a few seconds, remove from the water and lay the soaked rice paper out flat on a bamboo mat or cutting board, Carefully smear a teaspoon of peanut butter down the middle. Top with scant ¼ cup of the filling mixture. Lay a few beans and cucumbers down the middle. Fold in the two side ends. Starting at one end, fold the paper over the filling and then continue rolling to form a tight bundle. Set on a flat surface. A bamboo mat is perfect because it allows a little air circulation. Repeat until you have 16 to 20 rolls, taking care not to have the rolls touching each other. Allow to air dry for 10 minutes. flip over and dry on the second side for 10.
- These can be stored in the refrigerator overnight with a loose covering so they don’t get too soggy, or wrap individually in plastic if you are going to eat them on the rode the next day.
When we first started training for the PMC 3 years ago, I was happy to fill my jersey pockets with Cliff Bars (my favorite were the black cherry), Goo and Energy Shots. On the actual ride, we got to eat FLUFFERNUTTERS! Three years in, the thrill is gone. I crave real food, savory food on my rides. I’ve made what I call “cycle sandos,” little Tuscan rolls filled with sandwich stuff. But this year, I decided to expand and experiment with rice paper wrappers. This is a recipe I’ve used a number of times when I’m organized. Other times, I just pull things out of the fridge and roll them up. One time it was salami, tapenade, cheese and arugula. The key is to use ingredients that aren’t too wet.
Typically, spring rolls come with a dipping sauce. Not only would it be a pain to carry a little container of dipping sauce, but you’d get laughed at. So I put the sauce ingredients inside the rice paper–peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, lime juice and sesame oil. It works.
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