Celebrate Earth Day using garden-fresh ingredients

By Wolfgang Puck Published April 20, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Content Agency

These crispy cylinders feature lots of fresh seasonal vegetables.

All along the streets near my Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, colorful banners have been announcing local observances for Earth Day. Officially celebrated on April 22, the event began on college campuses across the nation back in 1970 and aims to make all of us more aware of the importance of keeping our planet healthy, clean and safe.

For me, the ideal place to celebrate Earth Day is at my local farmers market. Where else can you see the beautiful ingredients that result from organic, sustainable farming and taste how good they can be? That is especially true in springtime, as the earth renews itself after winter and begins to give us so many delicious, colorful, healthful vegetables.

How do you observe the holiday in your own kitchen? Just about any recipe featuring the bounty of the Earth would make a good choice, including salads, vegetable soups, stir-fries, pasta dishes tossed with julienned vegetables, and on and on. But I thought it would be especially fun to mark this Earth Day with a recipe that literally has the season in its name. It’s one of the Chinese cuisine’s most popular appetizers: spring rolls.

These crispy cylinders get their name for a pair of related reasons. Whether their filling includes some form of meat or is completely vegetarian, they typically feature lots of fresh vegetables, all rolled up inside a thin noodle wrapper. For that reason, they are traditionally served as a special treat during the Chinese Spring Festival, the 15-day-long observance of the Chinese New Year as winter gives way to spring.

So I hope you’ll find the following recipe for vegetarian spring rolls a perfect treat to honor Earth Day. They’re ideal to prepare on a weekend, when you have a little extra time, and you’ll find them surprisingly easy to make if you keep a few simple things in mind.

First, streamline shopping by heading either to a well-stocked supermarket with a good Asian foods section or to a nearby Chinese market. That’s where you’ll be sure to locate the few special — but not really hard to find — ingredients such as glass noodles, mushroom soy sauce, pickled ginger and packaged spring-roll wrappers.

Next, be sure to carefully follow the instructions for stir-frying each julienned vegetable individually, ensuring that they’re all tender-crisp; then drain the vegetable mixture well so your filling and wrappers won’t be soggy. Finally, fry the rolls cautiously, taking care first to make sure the oil is the proper temperature; then avoid overcrowding the oil, which can drop the frying temperature.

It’s that easy. And you’ll wind up with a perfect treat for your own at-home Earth Day party.

VEGETARIAN SPRING ROLLS

Makes 20 to 24

For the hot Chinese mustard sauce:

4 tablespoons Chinese dry mustard

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

4 tablespoons pickled ginger liquid

1 lemon, juiced

Pinch turmeric

1 tablespoon sugar

1 large pasteurized egg yolk

1 tablespoon chile oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 cup peanut oil

Aromatics:

2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

3 large cloves garlic

2 green onions

Pinch red-pepper flakes

1/2 cup peanut oil

Pinch salt

Pinch black pepper

Pinch sugar

For the vegetable filling:

1 large onion, trimmed

1 medium carrot, trimmed and peeled

1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed

1 large red bell pepper, halved, stemmed and seeded

1 large yellow bell pepper, halved, stemmed and seeded

1 small green cabbage, cored

Peanut oil, for stir-frying

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 pound glass noodles, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then drained and chopped into smaller strands

1/4 cup mushroom soy sauce

2 tablespoons chile paste

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

To form the spring rolls:

Spring roll wrappers

1 large egg beaten together with 1 tablespoon each water and cornstarch, to make an egg wash

Peanut oil, for deep-frying

Directions:

First, prepare the hot Chinese mustard sauce. In a bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients except the oils. Stir well with a whisk. While stirring briskly, drizzle in each oil until emulsified. Cover and refrigerate.

Next, prepare the aromatic mixture. In a processor with the stainless-steel blade, combine the ginger, garlic, green onions and pepper flakes. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil; continue processing until pureed. In a saute pan or wok, cook over medium-high heat until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

For the vegetable filling, cut each vegetable into thin julienne strips. Heat a little peanut oil in a wok over high heat. One at a time, stir-fry each vegetable until brightly colored and tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Then season lightly with salt and pepper, and transfer to a large bowl, adding each new vegetable as done. Drain excess liquid from the vegetables. Stir in the noodles, mushroom soy sauce, chile paste, sesame oil and cilantro. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

When the vegetables have cooled, stir in the aromatic mixture. As soon as you are ready to form spring rolls, use clean hands to squeeze out all excess liquid.

To form the spring rolls, place a wrapper on a clean work surface, and brush its edges evenly with egg wash. Place about 1/2 cup of filling near one edge. Fold in both sides over the filling, and roll up the filling inside, gently pressing down and sealing the wrapper’s final edge. Repeat until all filling has been used.

Fill a deep fryer with the peanut oil, or pour into a deep pot to a depth sufficient to submerge the rolls. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Deep-fry the rolls in batches, taking care not to overcrowd them, until deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. With the deep-fryer basket or a wire skimmer, transfer the rolls to paper towels to drain.

With a sharp knife, carefully cut each roll in half. Drizzle with hot Chinese mustard sauce, or pass it alongside for dipping. Serve immediately.

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