Over the weekend I went to a friend's river house and floated the Comal River in New Braunfels, a favorite Texas summer pastime for grown ups. You float down the river on a tube while sunbathing and boozing. It's a lot of fun!
The only problem is that the sun and alcohol combo makes you hungry. Extremely hungry. After the float we usually fire up the grill and prepare Texas staples like steaks, hot dogs and burgers. The vegetable of choice is usually the potato..potato chip. They go well with beer after all.
A trip like this takes a big toll on my body though. I like to party and indulge in meat and beer, but these days I recover slower than I did in my early twenties. When I get home all I crave is fresh vegetables. Who says men don't feel guilty for what they've eaten?
Growing up, salads weren't the appetizer of choice. In Romania people prefer soups over salads. We would eat salads every now and then, but mostly when tomatoes were in season. My grandfather Bunu, who I dearly miss, had a big beautiful garden. He was very passionate about growing vegetables, which turned into his full time job after retirement.
I loved spending my summers at my grandparents' house. My grandmother, Buna, would cook for me whatever I wanted. All I had to do was to tell her what I was craving and the next day that's what we'd eat. It was heaven on earth for a chubster like me.
Dinners were especially fun, because I got to help Buna with the cooking. I would go in the garden, pick the vegetables I wanted, chop them up in the kitchen, and ten minutes later there it was- a big bowl of fresh tomatoes, green onions, gogosari peppers (a Romanian sweet pepper with a spicy kick similar in taste to bell peppers) and red radishes topped with home-pressed sunflower oil, coarse salt and cracked pepper. Salads were always served with a crispy loaf of freshly baked bread. So simple, yet so flavorful.
I first had this type of roll at a Korean restaurant in Austin called Koriente. Their recipe includes a few other vegetables, but I found these five (cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and avocado) to be the ones that I have most often in my fridge. Feel free to experiment by adding fresh zucchini, white cabbage, celery, leeks of even sliced portobello mushrooms to the hand rolls.
Also, I find that people have different opinions about the roasted seaweed, which you can find at any Asian market. Some love it, some don't. If you're in the second category wrap your veggies in green leaves like romaine, butterhead, round or looseleaf lettuce or just don't slice the cabbage leaves and use those.
The sweet and spicy gochujang dip will add that extra kick and flavor to the hand rolls. It is relatively easy to find at Asian markets, but if you can't, just go with good ol' Sriracha sauce.
Whatever you do, you'll end up with a fresh, crisp and healthy meal that will be done within 15 minutes. Yesterday was the Kentucky Derby, so we served it up with a watermelon julep on the side. Enjoy!
VEGETABLE HAND ROLLS
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
- 1/4 head red cabbage, finely sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 3-4 carrots, julienned
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
- 1/2 English cucumber, deseeded and finely sliced
- 2-3 sheets roasted seaweed, cut into 4x4 inch pieces
Sweet and Spicy Korean Chili Dip
- 3 TBS korean chili paste (gochujang)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, grated
- 1 1/2 TBS soy sauce
- 1 1/2 TBS mirin
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 TBS honey
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 TBS roasted sesame seeds
- 1 TBS cold water
- In a small bowl combine gochujang paste, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil and seeds. Mix them together well. Add 1 TBS cold water.
- Keep the sauce refrigerated until serving. If you end up with leftover dip store it in the fridge. It will stay good for weeks.
- Slice and julienne your veggies and place them on a tray or serving plate.
- Using a pair of scissors cut the roasted seaweed sheets into 4x4 pieces.
- Assemble hand rolls by placing vegetables on the seaweed. The proportions are up to your personal preference.
- Serve with dipping bowls of soy sauce and Korean chili.