On hot summer days, I want all the no-cook recipes I can find. Maybe I’m rebelling against my prep-cook past, when I’d suffer in a steamy kitchen basement for hours at a time, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me to turn on the stove in this weather. This means I typically depend on salads to sustain me through the season. But when I want a change of pace, summer rolls can offer a refreshing twist.
Traditionally, summer rolls are rice paper wraps filled with raw vegetables, herbs, meat, and rice vermicelli. I like to think of them like any other wrap in my pantry, though, rather than taking the obvious route with the filling. Here I’ve taken one of my favorite summer salads, a combination of sweet watermelon with crunchy jicama and plenty of fresh herbs, and wrapped it all up in chewy rice paper for a fun change of pace.
How To Make Watermelon Summer Rolls
I like to start by mixing together a dipping sauce for these summer rolls. Because these rolls are so light, I opt for a rich sauce with a powerful punch of flavor to liven up the dish. I use a thick coconut cream for the base of the sauce, which has a velvety texture that coats the rolls when you dip them. Stick with unsweetened coconut cream for this dip, not cream of coconut, which is the sweet stuff meant for a theme-restaurant piña colada.
I season the sauce with a generous dose of fresh lime juice to cut through the coconut cream, along with minced Thai green chilies, fish sauce, and coconut aminos. Coconut aminos is a salty-sweet sauce made from coconut sap. It doesn’t taste of coconut at all, but rather has the savory dark flavors of soy sauce. It’s often used as a soy sauce substitute by individuals with dietary restrictions, or for its purported health benefits. However, I enjoy coconut aminos for what it is—another tasty way to add umami to my food. If you don’t have coconut aminos, you can substitute soy sauce and a touch of sugar for a comparable seasoning. After mixing up the sauce, I set it aside while I work on the summer rolls.
Wrapping up summer rolls is part cooking, part craft, making it a fun to do with friends or kids. I first prep all my ingredients, which in this case are matchsticks of watermelon, jicama, and ginger, along with chopped peanuts and loads of fresh herbs. Any variety of soft herbs will work in this, but I especially like the Vietnamese-inspired combination of fresh mint, cilantro, and basil. Having all my ingredients ready to go makes it fast and efficient when it comes time to wrap up the rolls.
Once the ingredients are ready, I set up a wrapping station, which makes handling the finicky rice paper wrappers easier. First, I fill a wide and shallow bowl with room temperature water for dipping the rice paper. I’ve found a pie plate to be just the right size. I next line a cutting board with a clean, damp kitchen towel to make a surface for laying out and filling the rice paper. The damp towel prevents the moistened rice paper from sticking to the cutting board, and using it to keep your fingertips wet will ensure that they don’t stick to your hands, either.
When I’m prepped and set up, I work with one sheet of rice paper at a time. All it takes is a quick dip in water to transform the sheets from stiff to chewy. They won’t appear softened immediately, but as they sit on the damp towel, they grow tender and pliable.
I lay the ingredients on the rice paper, starting with a generous handful of fresh, torn herbs along with their tender stems. Then I top it with a few matchsticks of watermelon, jicama, and ginger. To finish off the filling, I add a sprinkle of hearty roasted peanuts, a squeeze of lime, and a pinch of kosher salt. Take care not to overfill the rice paper, which will make it tough to wrap up into a neat roll.
Getting a tight roll takes some practice because the delicate rice paper can easily tear. Luckily, the just-moistened wrappers are so sticky, you can use your fingers to pinch together any small holes. I fold the right and left sides of the rice paper over the filling before rolling it up from bottom to top.
I serve these summer rolls right away alongside the coconut dipping sauce. On their own, these watermelon-filled rolls make for a delightful snack or appetizer, but with a piece of grilled meat or seafood tossed in, they can even serve as a light summer supper.