A single game-changing ingredient can turn summer salads into festive finger food for a beach or backyard gathering: rice paper rounds, also called spring roll wrappers.
They are widely available on the international aisle of larger grocery stores and in Asian markets. Working with them always feels a bit magical to me. They come in a package, dehydrated and brittle, looking like thin sheets of almost-opaque plastic. But a brief dip in warm water transforms them into pliable, sheer wrappers for creating tidy bundles of whatever chilled fillings you can imagine.
Here, I went with the most brilliantly hued garden vegetables I could find: carrot, watermelon radish, bell pepper and red lettuce leaves, along with fragrant fresh basil and mint, a cool crunch of cucumber, and plump, pink shrimp. It's important to have all the ingredients lined up and ready before you begin, because a softened wrapper needs to be filled before it gets too sticky and hard to handle.
Because the ingredient you add first will be visible against the sheer wrapper, I recommend starting each roll with a different component, so you get the full spectrum of color and variety facing up on your serving platter.
Serve the rolls with the accompanying dipping sauce. Although the wrappers are the ingredient that loads the bases, the tangy-sweet-spicy sauce is the mouthwatering hit that brings it all home.
Colorful Summer Rolls With Dipping Sauce
The rolls may be prepared several hours in advance; cover with a damp paper towel and refrigerate in an airtight container. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
For the sauce:
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chile sauce, such as Sriracha
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
1 green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
For the rolls:
8 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, cooked and chilled
16 medium fresh basil leaves
16 medium mint leaves
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup thinly sliced radish, cut into half-moons, preferably watermelon radish
1/4 English (seedless) cucumber (unpeeled), sliced thinly into half-moons
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks (julienne)
3 red leaf lettuce leaves, spines removed, torn into large pieces
8 round rice paper wrappers (about 6 inches in diameter)
For the sauce: Whisk together the rice vinegar, honey, lime juice, chile sauce, fish sauce and green onion in a medium bowl until well combined and the honey is dissolved. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Slice each shrimp in half lengthwise. Line up the remaining basil and mint leaves, carrot, radish, cucumber, red bell pepper and lettuce in separate bowls.
Fill a 9-inch or larger pie plate with very warm water that is not too hot to touch. Place a rice paper round in the hot water and soak for no more than 15 seconds, just until it is pliable and the pattern on the surface is barely visible. Transfer to a clean work surface, making sure to lay the softened round flat.
Layer some of each of the ingredients onto the center of the round, then roll it up, burrito style, tucking in the sides as you go. Place the finished roll on a plate and cover with a damp cloth or paper towel. Repeat with the remaining rice paper rounds and filling ingredients, starting each roll with a different filling ingredient on the bottom, so a different color ingredient is showing under the translucent rice paper wrapper for each roll.
Serve with the dipping sauce.
Per serving (using half the sauce): 120 calories, 9 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar
Yield: 4 (2-roll) servings.