Monday, July 12, 2010

Winter Summer Rolls

W00t!  I -- for the weird fusion of seasons--
How I wish'd to offer one suit of reasons.

But I'll be honest; 'tis as you can surely comprehend it--
Any end reason but curiosity's, eh, complete bullshit.

Okay?  For Vietnamese din' plus squash is so enormously tasty!
Yo, it makes flavors possess you in loud manners quite hasty.

Ah!  Yummy.  Ooh gosh...I'm righting fragmentations, and--
Oh my.  Rhyming anagrams is, IMHO, getting out of hand.
Yes, in the spirit of mixing things around haplessly until something vaguely palatable appears, I've written a poem of anagrams.  The lines in each couplet are anagrams of each other.  Also, the first letters of each line rearrange to spell "WOAAH BOY!" because this poem -- and the dish that inspired it -- is all kinds of ridiculous.

My (maternal) grandma is easily the best and most prolific chef in our family.  We used to go over to my grandparents' apartment every other weekend for a much-anticipated feast of healthy, incredibly flavorful Chinese food.  Now that everyone's a little bit busier, we enjoy the fruits of her culinary labors several times a week, in the form of Tupperwared meals she prepares specifically for my mom to reheat at home.  Yup, my grandma's pretty amazing.

In the past few weeks, though, my grandpa's been in and out of the hospital, so she hasn't had time to cook for us, let alone for herself.  My mom reported that one day, on a rare respite from my grandpa's bedside, my grandma went out and "treated" herself to Chicken McNuggets for lunch.  She, selflessly sending savory shrimp balls and hearty Chinese stews to her family on a weekly basis, resorting to McDonald's -- I resolved immediately to pack her a healthier, tastier, and more exotic special meal.

I decided on summer rolls -- also known as Vietnamese spring rolls -- because they're portable and can be eaten without heating up.  I decided to fill those summer rolls with baked butternut squash, fried sage, and other cold-weather comforts because I wanted to make them wholesome and warming...and because I thought it would be interesting.

And how interesting it was.  The sweet squash and crispy sage played off each other awesomely, the toasted walnuts took the place of traditional Vietnamese peanuts, and the lentils, barley, and shiitakes made a lovely earthy base for the spicy stir-fry sauce.  My grandma was delighted by her lunch (though, really, what grandma isn't delighted by a meal cooked by her granddaughter?), and spent a good ten minutes excitedly talking through the mishmash of surprising flavors with me.

Winter Summer Rolls

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 tbsp crushed black pepper
  • 1 tbsp parsley flakes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for coating
  • 1 packet sage
  • 4 cups shiitake mushrooms, washed
  • 1/2 cup lentils, dry
  • 1/2 cup barley, dry
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • kung pao stir-fry sauce
  • 1 pack Vietnamese rice paper
  • water (for softening rice paper)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Cut the squash in half, remove the guts and seeds, rub with olive oil, and sprinkle with crushed black pepper and parsley flakes.  Place both halves face-down on an olive-oil-coated baking tray, and place in the oven for about 45 minutes, until tender.

Cook the lentils and barley together, in a pot of water over medium heat for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, heat about 1/3 cup olive oil in a frying pan, and fry the sage leaves flat in the oil for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until crispy and aromatic.  Spread them out to cool on top of a paper towel on a plate so the excess oil drains.

Saut√© the shiitakes in the remaining sage oil (there shouldn't be much left), stirring until the mushrooms are meaty but not watery.  Crush the walnuts with a food processor, and, in a separate pan, toast for 1-2 minutes.  When the squash is baked, cut into long, summer-roll-friendly strips.

Assembly is simple.  Soften each sheet of rice paper in a plate of water, then scoop on several spoonfuls of the lentil-barley mixture.  Add a squash strip, a scoop of shiitakes, and several sage leaves.  Sprinkle with toasted walnuts, add kung pao sauce to taste, and wrap up.

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