Sometimes, the thing you love, doesn’t love you back. When you approach it, it takes a step back, when you talk to it, it gives only bored single-syllable replies and when look at it with hungry eyes, it returns your gaze with disgust and asks what you are looking at it for. Sometimes, you realize (what a surprise!) that you have a slight masochistic tendency and you keep paying attention to it even if it is really bad for you. You try to please it, even if you may know that it is futile. It may even lead you on. You know, for funsies, because it knows it will send your world spinning and your heart into a frenzy and isn’t that a hilarious button to push? You try to make yourself attractive to it, you think about it all the time and all the deep, meaningful conversation you could have with it. You do all of this, even though you are perfectly aware this love is a one way street and despite that you know you could not ever change the fact that you lust for this one thing and this one thing only and well, sorry, you’re too late, it’s taken, and you can’t have it and even if you could, because it was available, it wouldn’t want you, not in a million years. That pretty much sums up my relationship with spring rolls.
My second gluten-free anniversary is coming up and it was only today that I was able to master the art that are gluten-free spring rolls. FINALLY! I’ve been working on this project since shortly after I was diagnosed in 2013 and to be honest, I gave up on it more than just once. Since the spring of 2013 an endless amount of ideas and ingredients and failures have passed through my kitchen, my poor husband enduring them all, including the associated smell of fried fat, which will linger around the apartment for days after the experiment.
The only reason that I kept this project alive over and over was because I had no alternative and because I kept hearing that gluten-free spring rolls do in fact exist. People had eaten them. They kept assuring me they had. I trusted them, but every once in a while the doubts would coming knocking. “Maybe they don’t know spring rolls” “Maybe their taste buds are numb” “Maybe they are blatantly lying”. Also, my experiments got better and better with time. First, I made them with rice paper intended for use with spring rolls. The irony? I was thisclose to success and should have kept the eye on the price! Instead, I got distracted: I made my own dough, based on a wheat-flour based recipe I used on the internet. I thought I could simply replace it with gluten-free dough and be merry. Nope. Then I tried a type of pasta dough. That didn’t work either. Then, last summer, I made apple strudel. And that night, I lay awake in bed and thought: that would make an excellent base for spring rolls. Or that I could bread the rice paper. It didn’t work. As time passed, I kept voicing my disdain to other celiacs. During one of those conversations someone pulled me aside and said “But spring rolls are the easiest thing to recreate in a gluten-free version”. And then showed me a link to a thread with pictures and all in our Facebook group. I told her, that I had tried this. And that it didn’t work, that the spring rolls had turned out drained in fat, completely soggy and limp. She insisted that I needed to try again, that I needed to continue frying the spring rolls until they were crisp, damnit!
So, I began dwelling in my kitchen once again. I turned the heat up high and kept frying that sucker until the rice paper responded by turning crispy. I was successful even though the rice paper was very thin and intended for summer rolls. I had to use two rice paper layers to avoid the construction from collapsing in my frying pan) did in fact respond to frying by turning all crispy and everything, BUT I messed up the filling. Also, the supermarket was out of shiitake mushrooms, and I ended up buying a glass of the dried kind. A mix of “Asian” mushrooms, the label said. They were expensive and I figured I was doing a good deed. I knew I was wrong when my husband ate only half a spring roll, while loudly complaining that something in the ingredients was off, rotten, bitter and disgusting and how could I be eating them? He was right, they didn’t taste all that well, but I was also direly in need of a success story and had been craving spring rolls for almost 20 months. I resolved to gather my resources once more and try again.
Today was the day. I started off fresh, with a fresh package of rice paper, this time the kind that featured fried spring rolls on the cover. I bought them at the Asian supermarket at Mauritiussteinweg. They are always very nice to me at that place. The man, who works the backend of the store, is never afraid to ask me if I am looking for something. He is never pushy in this question, and always spends a good of time watching me beforehand to ensure that I am really in need of help. He then helps me pick the right ingredients for whatever I need, and is never afraid to point me into the direction of the fresh-herb-shelf. He never sends me off to buy things I don’t need, is always honest when I could buy one thing or the other or to guide me, when I get off track. So this success story is as much theirs as it is mine. I would have never thought to buy a different kind of rice paper, had it not been for them. And now go, take a tour around the supermarket at Mauritiussteinweg and make sure you pocket your large wallet before you head out!
Sometimes, the thing that you love, is smitten with you after all. It won’t need to hide that it loves you back and will pull you close and passionately kiss you for the first time. That pretty much sums up my relationship with spring rolls now.
Vegetarian and Gluten-free Spring Rolls
100g plain tofu
125g shiitake mushrooms
100g enoki mushrooms
1/4 of a celery cabbage head
2 small spring onions
100g mung bean sprouts
1 large bamboo shoot
1 head garlic, minced
salt, pepper, soy sauce, vegetable broth, chili flakes
vegetable oil for frying
10 rice paper sheets intended for spring rolls
Wash the shiitake mushrooms and cut them into slices. Place into your pan with the spring onions, which you have also washed and cut into thin slices. Add the cabbage head leaves cut into thin slices and continue frying for another two minutes, stirring every once in a while. Add the mung bean sprouts, add the soy sauces, the minced garlic, the salt, the pepper, the vegetable broth and the chili flakes. Place the vegetable mixture into a bowl, allow the liquid, which will come off the vegetables, to collect in the bottom of the bowl and then remove the vegetables and place into the same bowl as the tofu pieces. Blend well.
Then, start to assemble the spring rolls. For this purpose, place warm water into a deep dish and run a rice paper sheet through it on both sides. Then place the wet rice paper sheet on a clean surface. Add about one tablespoon of vegetable filling into the upper third section of the rice paper sheet. I suggest giving the rice paper a bit of time, it needs to soften and because it is so thick, this may take about sixty seconds or even longer. Fold the rice paper over the vegetable filling and then tuck the left and right ends over it. You should be able to do this without using force. If you need to force the rice paper to fold, then it may rip and you need to give it a bit more time. Then roll the whole thing up and voilà, you have a spring roll! Repeat with the remainder of the filling and the rest of the rice paper sheets.
Heat a good portion of vegetable oil in your frying pan. Add the spring rolls and proceed to fry at high heat. This will take a couple of minutes and you should continue frying the spring rolls for longer than you think is sensible, because only then will they stay crispy after they have cooled off.