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Sesame beef and arugula summer rolls for breezy summer dining.
Sesame beef and arugula summer rolls for breezy summer dining. (Renee Comet - For The Washington Post)

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By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Step away from the barbecue. Let someone else make the fruit salad. This summer, embrace a staple of the Vietnamese table: the summer roll.

Light, refreshing and easily personalized, the summer roll is well worth mastering. It's a near-perfect blend of noodles, meat or fish, vegetables and lettuce, all enclosed in a rice paper wrapper. It's great finger food for a party, and two or three make a nice light snack.

The technique is easy to master. Ingredients, once difficult to find, are now in almost any decent-size market. The essentials are the rice paper, crisp eight-inch rounds that are packaged in small stacks, and the rice vermicelli, both available in the Asian aisle. From there, the contents can be varied to meet your tastes and the contents of your refrigerator. The only downside is that they can't be made ahead because the rice paper becomes rubbery.

The typical summer roll found in Vietnamese restaurants is a blend of rice vermicelli, iceberg lettuce, shrimp and herbs, but it doesn't have to end there. In the following recipes we've mixed things up a bit to give you an idea of just how flexible a summer roll can be. After that, make up your own combinations.

Former recipe editor Stephanie Witt Sedgwick is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

Lemon Grass Chicken and Snow Pea Summer Rolls

Makes 16 medium rolls

Lemon grass gives the chicken in these summer rolls a lemony fragrance with a subtle, less tart flavor than you would get from fresh lemon juice or rind.

For the dipping sauce:

1 stalk lemon grass, tough outer layers removed, finely chopped

1-inch piece ginger root, finely grated

1/4 cup mirin* (see box above)


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