RECIPE: Wrapping Spring Flavors

Spring rolls in slowly and (sometimes) steadily in northeastern Wisconsin. It starts with a subtle shift of the wind from the north to the south. With that shift, you begin to smell the defrosting forest and hear the songbirds chirping as they make their way home. With the south winds, you may even see diehard kite surfers out in the harbor, catching their first exhilarating rides on the lake!

Some years, we’re lucky to have the snow gone by April 1, but more often than not, the joke has been on us! Most years, we thick-skinned northern-climate folks get to watch our spring bulbs work their way up through a wintry crust of snow and ice. Driving down the country roads, you see the arrival of the sandhill cranes, hearing their song drifting down from the skies above. There is beauty in it all.

For me, though, the biggest mark of spring returning is simply shifting our clocks ahead an hour and recapturing the daylight hours that had been lost with the onset of winter. The evening light is a game changer for me and many other year-round Door County residents.

Along with all the natural spring teasers, my culinary cravings shift from stick-to-the-ribs comfort foods to light, crunchy, fresh options: lots of salads, fresh veggies and herbs. 

Oh, how I miss the flavors of fresh herbs during the winter, so I shed a happy tear each year when I see my chives starting to poke up through the soil and the thyme and sage starting to come back to life. They reassure me that warm weather is really, truly right around the corner. 

With fresh food beckoning me, I start eating salads most days for lunch, and sometimes for dinner, too. This is where creativity must step up its game because my palate gets bored quickly with the same ol’ salad everyday. 

A great option for adding pizzazz – while testing your culinary skills and adding fresh ingredients to your menu – is spring rolls! These Southeast Asian delicacies are sometimes referred to as salad rolls: the fresh, uncooked variety of spring rolls, not the deep-fried cousins that resemble egg rolls. Spring rolls are served at room temperature and pack a flavor punch. 

They’re a bit labor intensive to create, so that makes them fun to assemble with a group! Want a pro tip? Make sure all the ingredients are prepared ahead so that you can set up an assembly line of sorts. 

Most ingredients are available locally, but I recommend a field trip to an Asian market, the closest being in Green Bay. The traditional ingredients and herb varieties you’ll find in such a market will elevate the flavors of your rolls. 

Plan different combinations – these can be made vegetarian or with meat – then start rolling, rolling, rolling! Dip your finished rolls in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce or a sweet chili sauce. 

Close your eyes, and take a bite. The fresh flavors and all the crunch will transport you to the warm days ahead!

Spring Rolls 

Makes approximately 20 rolls

Prepare everything before you start assembling the rolls, and as you do so, it’s important to shred, chop and julienne the vegetables so they’re uniform in size and rather delicate.


1 bunch of scallions, julienned, matchstick chop

2 or 3 carrots, washed, peeled and shredded

½ daikon radish, washed, peeled and shredded

1 small head of leaf lettuce (wash it, remove the excess water, and keep the leaves whole or tear large leaves in half)

1 small package (about 8 ounces) of vermicelli rice noodles (prepare them according to the instructions on the package)

1 bag of medium-sized, precooked shrimp (remove the tails, and chop in half along the vein line so you see whole shrimp through the finished wrap)

Mint, Thai basil and cilantro (remove the stems, shred the leaves, wash and pat dry)

Mango, julienned, matchstick chop

Spring-roll wrappers


Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Set up a shallow dish with an inch or two of lukewarm water. We used a half sheet pan, but anything that’s large enough to contain the spring roll wrappers while they’re soaking will do. 

We used our butcher-block surface for preparation, but any flat surface will work. We set up two rolling stations.

Soak each spring-roll-wrapper individually for approximately 10 seconds. It will still be a bit tough and a little sticky when it’s removed from the water, but trust that it will soften as you add the ingredients. (When the wrappers are soaked too long, they tear.)

Build the rolls upside down, which means adding the ingredients you want to see at the top of the finished rolls first. We started with the shrimp, then layered the veggies, mango, noodles, herbs and lettuce. Do not add too much of any one ingredient because that will make it too difficult to roll, and the wrappers will tear.

To roll, start by folding in both sides of the wrapper. Then fold one end of the wrapper over the ingredients to hold the wrapper sides and ingredients in place. Roll the ingredients tightly – but not so tightly that the wrapper tears – until you reach the other end of the wrapper. The wrappers have a naturally sticky texture that helps to hold them together.

Repeat until you’ve used all the ingredients. It’s important not to stack the finished rolls because they’ll stick together and tear. Instead, we placed the finished rolls in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan. If you choose to store them, wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap, and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. Spring rolls are best eaten fresh the day you prepare them, but you can store them in your refrigerator for up to three days. 

Photo by Rachel Lukas.


Sweet & Spicy Peanut Sauce

½ cup sweet chili sauce (see below)

½ cup chunky peanut butter 

2 Tbsp hoisin sauce

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp sriracha (optional) 

Warm water if needed

Whisk all the ingredients together. If the sauce is too thick, whisk in warm water a bit at a time to achieve your desired consistency.

Sweet Chili Sauce

This is a convenient, easy and delicious option: Simply pick up this premade sauce in the ethnic section of a grocery store.