What we have with these two dishes is a delicious mix of contrasts. With the rolls, the pale, white, chewy rice paper wrappers are filled with bright, colorful, crunchy vegetables, and they're mild tasting until dipped in the chile lime sauce. Meanwhile, the fried squid is crispy on the outside and coated with a riot of flavor after being stir-fried with garlic, green onions, and chiles. Under the crisp coating, the squid is pale and mild. These recipes came from an article about party food in last June's Food and Wine. I didn't actually make them for a party, but I can tell you they would have worked well for one. The summer rolls can sit in the refrigerator for a few hours after being assembled, and the squid can be kept warm in the oven after it's been fried. I did make one small change to the summer rolls. One of the filling items was supposed to have been rice vermicelli, but I was determined to use all raw ingredients and not have to cook anything for the rolls. So, I used shredded lettuce in place of the noodles. I made a slight change to the squid as well since I skipped the dusting with five spice powder that was suggested. Otherwise, I followed the instructions and was thrilled with the results.
For me, making summer rolls is one of those fun kitchen tasks like pitting cherries and rolling fresh pasta dough. You soften a brittle rice paper wrapper in warm water, lay it flat, and pile on the fillings before folding in the sides and rolling it up snuggly. It seals itself into a nice, little package. I think the self-sealing is possibly what makes it so fun. The fillings here were thin strips of red and yellow bell pepper, shredded lettuce instead of rice vermicelli, strips of avocado which I tossed with lime juice to prevent it from turning brown, julienned cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, Thai basil leaves from my garden, and I might have added a few thin strips of serrano chile as well. The dipping sauce for the rolls was made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, water, and a chopped red chile. The fried squid was breaded simply by dipping the cut pieces into egg and then into cornstarch. It was fried in batches and left to drain. Once all the squid was fried, it was then quickly stir-fried in a little oil in which garlic, green onions, minced red onion, and a finely chopped jalapeno had been cooked.
I actually really like squid, but I realize it might not be everyone's favorite ingredient. When it's fried though, it's hard not to like, and this version with the added flavor from the final stir fry was especially good. The salad in roll form was fresh and light while feeling a little more substantial than just a salad on a plate. These two dishes full of contrasts went together perfectly.