I came to summer rolls late in life. When I was a kid, growing up in a New York suburb (during the Mad Men era of chow mein), the only Asian appetizer rolls I knew were so-called Chinese egg rolls. They were always fried or baked, filled mostly with cabbage, and definitely boring. I had no idea that infinitely better-tasting and healthier Asian appetizer rolls existed.
Now that I’ve discovered them, I’ve got the zeal of a convert, spreading the word that summer rolls are quick, easy, and inexpensive. Perhaps their most attractive feature is that summer rolls can be whatever you want or need them to be. A salad you can hold? A repository for leftovers that cry out to be used? A refreshing appetizer for a stir-fry meal? An elegant and quick contribution to a pot-luck? A vegetarian dish that easily accommodates adding meat or seafood? The possibilities are endless, and (for those who need or want to avoid gluten), they are gluten-free too.
This is a guide to making summer rolls, rather than a recipe with specific measurements. The only required ingredient is the rice wrapper. I bought a package of more than 30 wrappers at an Asian grocery for $1.75. In Washington, D.C., the price for 2 summer rolls at local Asian restaurants hovers around $4.50 - 5.50. Check the menu of a restaurant near you that serves summer (sometimes called spring) rolls, and calculate how much money you’ll save by making these at home.