Uncook Dinner Tonight

With area temperatures expected to reach 100 degrees today, the idea of cranking up the stove may seem superfluous.

summer rolls
Cool off with Vietnamese summer rolls. (Kim O'Donnel)

Steamy conditions call for raw measures - or nearly raw. Discard that notion of crudite and dip; an uncooked meal does not have to be the stuff of TV-style vittles.

Meet the Vietnamese summer roll, the quintessentially uncooked dish guaranteed to keep you ultra cool and nourished under extreme weather conditions. A popular item on Vietnamese and Thai restaurant menus, the summer roll (aka goi cuon) is easy to replicate at home. Most of the work is in chopping and assembly.

Summer rolls can be as creative as you want them to be, but you'll need a few key ingredients as foundation: rice paper wrappers and rice vermicelli noodles, which are readily available at Asian grocers (and increasingly available in mainstream supermarkets).

Rice vermicelli noodles can be boiled, but if you're a raw foodist or just don't feel like boiling water, you can soak the noodles in warm water, for about 20 minutes (or until pliable), followed by a thorough rinse under cold water.

Wrappers, which are packaged dry and brittle, need to be reconstituted in warm water for about 30 seconds to make them pliable for rolling. You'll also want to assemble rolls on top of a damp towel to keep wrappers from drying out and becoming cardboard-like.

Try these tonight and see if they don't make you forget about the heat for a few minutes.

For more summer roll variations, check out the Food section's recent story.

Got a favorite uncooked meal? Share in the comments area below.

Summer Rolls

Ingredients for 12 rolls (enough for 6 people):
12 rice paper wrappers (with extra on hand in case they tear)
4 ounces rice vermicelli noodles

Plus any 4 of the following items for filling:
12 medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
A mixture of mint leaves, basil and cilantro, about 2 ½ cups
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
3 medium carrots, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienned
1 mango, diced
1/2 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, torn into 2 inch pieces.
6 scallions, diced

Cook rice vermicelli: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until noodles are thoroughly cooled. Cut with scissors into 2-inch lengths; set aside.

Cook shrimp: Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add shrimp and boil for about 90 seconds, until they turn translucent. Remove from heat and drain; rinse under cold water until cool Slice in half, lengthwise.

Prepare rest of items for filling and place them in small bowls for roll assembly.

Soften rice paper wrappers: Dip a wrapper into a pot of warm (not hot) water, using a tong as a guide. Allow wrapper to soften, about 25 seconds. Remove from water and place on damp paper towel or dish towel. Repeat, layering wrappers in between towels.

Assemble rolls: Remove wrappers one at a time, leaving the rest under the towel layers until ready to use. Place wrapper on a damp towel as a work surface. Using a pastry brush, apply water to moisten.

Add a small amount of noodles at the bottom edge of wrapper (side closest to you). Roll to the midpoint, tucking in corners. Add shrimp, if using, and roll another quarter turn. Add herbs and any other filling items. Roll tightly and seal end with your finger tip. Wrap with damp towel until ready to serve.

Slice rolls in half and serve with a dipping sauce, such as the one below:

Mix together: 2 tablespoons creamy, unsweetened peanut butter, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 teaspoons chili paste with garlic and 1 teaspoon sugar. Gradually add water (up to 1/4 cup) until sauce is cake-batter consistency.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 17, 2006; 12:11 PM ET Dinner Tonight
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You could also make bun (Vietnamese rice noodle salad).

It's basically components of the summer roll without the wrapper, more lettuce, and nuoc cham as the dressing instead of peanut sauce (recipes for nuoc cham are easy to find online). Good stuff, and less time consuming than rolling summer rolls since you can just sort of throw it together.

Posted by: Summer roll fan | July 17, 2006 1:23 PM

I absolutely love making ceviche out of anything: clams, shrimp, tilapia, squid; you name it. There is nothing like the clean flavor, but then you have the added complexity of whatever pepper you decide to use. MMMMMMM.

Also, in the Bahamas they serve something called "conch salad" very similar to ceviche. It is so refreshing whilst, being in the heat.

Posted by: MandyB | July 17, 2006 1:25 PM

Wow--you all are fancy. We just had fruit salad (melons, strawberries, grapes) with bread from the bakery and cheese.

Posted by: Julie | July 17, 2006 8:16 PM

We make to like a huge antipasto in my family. The only thing you might remotely have to cook is eggs to hard-boil them, but even then, you could probably pick those up at a salad bar.

To go with, we also make a simple aglio e olio - since the oil should be warmed over the lowest heat, the hottest thing you'll actually have to do boil the pasta water.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 17, 2006 8:44 PM

I've gotta go for Cordoba style gazpacho -- tomatoes pureet with olive oil, cumin, a small red or orange pepper, a few cloves garlic, and a couple crustless slices of bread soaked in water. Add a dash of salt and white wine vinegar, then strain the puree. The bread thickens the texture and it tastes like a delicious liquid salad.

Also popular at my house is salad nicoise made from wedged potatoes, steamed green beans (the two hottest parts of the meal) with tomatoes, tuna in oil, anchovies, lettuce, olives, and a mustardy garlicky vinegrette. The stuff's good in any combination. Leftover grilled veggies or meat also make good additions.

Posted by: Rita | July 24, 2006 3:26 PM

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