Senegalese Summer Rolls
By Pierre Thiam
This recipe is obviously inspired by the classic Vietnamese summer roll. Senegal saw a wave of Vietnamese immigrants around the time of the First Indochina War while Vietnam and Senegal were both still under
French colonial rule. Nems, our take on fried Vietnamese spring rolls, are a beloved staple on many Senegalese menus. There’s a great recipe for vegetarian nems in my first cookbook, Yolele!, but here I wanted to take a lighter route with the refreshing, healthy summer roll.
My Vietnamese uncle-godfather often prepared traditional summer rolls with shrimp or minced pork. Here is a vegetarian option with grilled eggplant, mango, carrot, and lots of fresh herbs. I also skip the rice noodles Uncle Jean used to include in his filling, and the result is a much lighter summer roll that still has all the Vietnamese flavors we love.
Be sure to have all your ingredients ready before you start rolling. If you make these ahead of time, store them on a damp towel in a covered container. Don’t let the rolls touch each other or else they’ll stick together.
Recipe from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam.
Senegalese Summer Rolls with Peanut Ginger Sauce
Peanut Ginger Sauce
- 3/4 cup unsweetened smooth peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 medium Japanese eggplants
- Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
- 16 (8 ½-inch) round rice paper wrappers
- 1 bunch mint, leaves only
- 1 bunch basil, leaves only
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
- 1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into ¼ by 2-inch pieces
- 1 Kirby cucumber, peeled and cut into ¼ by 2-inch pieces
- 3 scallions, cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
- 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
- 1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated
Preheat the grill or a grill pan to hot.
To prepare the peanut sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. If you’d like a slightly thinner sauce, add a few more tablespoons water.
To prepare the rolls: Trim the eggplant and cut it lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the olive oil and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Let cool. Cut the eggplant into 1/2 by 2-inch pieces.
Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on a plate or cutting board. Fill a wide bowl with warm water (the bowl should be large enough to dip the wrappers in).
Immerse a wrapper in the warm water for 5 to 10 seconds, until the wrapper is pliable. Carefully lay it flat on the towel. In the center of the wrapper, place, in turn, a few leaves each of the mint, basil, and cilantro. Add a few pieces each of the mango, grilled eggplant, cucumber, scallion, and a large pinch of grated carrot. Be careful not to overfill the wrapper.
To roll up the wrapper, fold in the left and right sides over the filling. Take the edge closest to you and tightly roll away from you, from bottom to top, like a cigar. Set the roll seam side down on a platter or baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap as you repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
Serve immediately with the lettuce leaves and peanut sauce on the side. To eat, wrap a lettuce leaf around a summer roll and dip in the peanut sauce.
Reprinted from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam with Jennifer Sit (Lake Isle Press, 2015). Photo credits Evan Sung.