Tuesday, August 23, 2011

shrimp and avocado fresh spring rolls with spicy peanut sauce

The best thing about our summer apartment in Cambridge, in the bright blue house with the bright purple door, is that we have a new roommate. Meet Seng. 

I have to say that if I were a cat, I would be Seng, unquestionably. We both use our free time for lounging; we both like to be the little spoon; we both get cranky when we’re hungry. I've also heard that we both do the same huffing-puffing thing with our breath when we sleep. 

But what really solidifies my affinity with this little cat is that she shares my consummate love of all things edible. It makes no difference what she finds: potato chips, olives, salad dressing, once even a hunk of moldy cheese (please don’t report me to PETA). She’ll climb up onto the kitchen table to lap up the leftover spoonful of milk in our cereal bowls. When we scold her, she’ll plunk herself down and then strategically roll over, playing off her adorableness, to get her face as close as possible to the forbidden mana just in case we look away and she can sneak a mouthful.

I once asked Merrick whether maybe Seng had a tapeworm, because why else would she be hungry all the time? He laughed and replied, “Tapeworms make animals thinner. Have you seen the size of this cat?”

I think Seng thought she had died and gone to kitty heaven when I unwrapped the shrimp for these fresh spring rolls. Between the ravenous meows and her twining around my ankles, I’m lucky I got anything made at all, but here they are creamy avocado, succulent shrimp, cabbage for a bit of crunch, and the cool freshness of mint, all wrapped in a chewy rice paper roll. I owe my friend and colleague Kristen for letting me in on the big fresh roll secret: despite popular belief, they’re actually really easy to make.

You can find rice paper at Asian grocery stores or a store with a good ethnic food aisle. It comes in stiff sheets like this:
They need a dip in a bowl of hot water to soften. The softening makes the rice paper sticky, so be sure it doesn't fold over on itself. But when it softens, it'll look like this:

And that's when you can fill them, assembly-line style, with anything you might want.

And roll up the sides, like a burrito. Here the stickiness of the rice paper is beneficial; even if you do a rather messy job of the rolling (like I did), the paper will forgive you.

I've made several variations of these spring rolls, but this shrimp and avocado variation is my favorite, especially when dipped in the spicy peanut sauce (which I could eat with a spoon).

Shrimp and Avocado Spring Rolls
Makes 4

12 fresh, good-quality shrimp, size 21/25 (about ½ pound)
4 rice paper wrappers
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 avocado, in 8 slices
4 scallions, sliced in half horizontally
½ teaspoon minced fresh mint leaves

1. Remove all shells from the shrimp, and de-vein them if necessary. Fill a medium saucepan about half-full with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp all at once and boil until the shrimp are pink and not translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. When done, drain shrimp and shock them in an ice bath, or run under frigid water to stop the cooking.

2. Dip one of the rice paper wrappers into a bowl of hot water until soft, and spread the wrapper flat on a plate. Assemble ¼ of the cabbage, 2 slices of avocado, 1 whole scallion, 2 shrimp, and a sprinkle of the mint on top of the wrapper. Fold 2 opposing edges of the wrapper over the filling, and then wrap-up burrito-style. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and ingredients.
Serve with Spicy Peanut Sauce for dipping.

Spicy Peanut Sauce
Makes about ½ cup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or peanut oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup water

1. Heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes.

2. Whisk in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened a bit. Whisk in more water if you prefer a thinner sauce.


  1. Yum!!! This was really delicious. What if we tried grilling or sauteing the shrimp first? It could add a little more savory flavor to the roll.

    You and Seng = Two peas in a pod

  2. Yummy, gummy and so delectable. I love that kind of food...........Of course, the hot sauce might get me and you'd have to call the EMTs, but what you wrote about is worthy of a try. Here's to you and your new skills......
    G Tep

  3. Seeennnggg! I want that cat. And the rolls, minus the shrimp. Gah. Miss and love you!