Beetroots are the athlete dopers of the allotment patch. The go faster stripes of the vegetable world. The uppers and whizzers of middle England.
In studies, they’ve been proven to make the drinkers of beetroot juice 5% faster at running. Athletes who had previously frozen their muscles in nitrogen space pods are now making a pilgrimage to the farm shop.
It can only be months before Switzerland opens a beetroot institute, next to Dignitas, where athletes will be hooked up to stainless steel pumps and drip-fed gallons of the stuff, turning a deep puce colour in the process.
Runners, jumpers and hurdlers, all becoming 5% faster - exactly the same 5% as each other. Because as sportsmen and women have pleaded in the past, you don’t do these things because you want to, but because everyone else is doing them, and you’ve just got to keep up.
But what happens in the event of Switzerland’s inevitable beetroot shortage? There’s a lot of Borscht to be made in the nearby Ukraine, and they won’t let you export their main ingredient easily. Will Hoy and Wiggins come back to England like marauding zombies, trampling courgette flowers (Ottolenghi will never forgive) to get to the beetroots in veg patches across the home counties? I imagine Jules in Caterham will spot Pendleton gnawing away at them from the kitchen window. The dips section of M&S will look like the apocalypse of picnics when Ennis has flung hummus from here to Dorking in search of more Beetroot and Mint dip. Lilli Vanilli’s Bethnal Green cake shop will be rioted and looted by Daley and Adlington. Vanilli and her beetroot cake don’t stand a chance against someone who has thighs for shoulders.
This recipe didn’t at first call for beetroots, but other recipes have in the past, so I had every confidence in them working out here. This recipe is adapted from The Kitchn and was originally made as a starter at a Vietnamese-themed dinner party. They are nothing without the peanut sauce. Also, they are surprisingly unfiddly to make if you get the Blue Dragon rice wrappers. They do what you tell them to do.
Vegetable Summer Rolls with a Spicy Peanut Sauce
Makes about 15 rolls as long as you don’t overfill them
Time: ages. Probably about 45 minutes.
For the peanut butter sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
3 to 4 tablespoons water, to thin out the sauce, if necessary
For the noodle filling
1 1/2 ounces cellophane noodles
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Red pepper flakes
For the vegetable filling
1/3 seedless cucumber
1/2 medium carrot, peeled
1/2 red bell pepper
2 to 3 medium radishes (I used beetroot instead. Not so much as a substitute, more of an instead of)
1 spring onion, chopped
For the vegetable dressing
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 lime, juiced, about 1 tablespoon
To assemble the rolls
8 rice paper wrappers
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
16 to 24 fresh mint leaves
Separate bowls for sauce, herbs, noodles, and vegetables
Mandoline or box grater
Cake pan or frying pan for softening the rice wrappers
First make the spicy peanut sauce. Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce until smooth and creamy, and stick it in the fridge.
Then make the rice noodle filling. If the cellophane noodles are very long, break them into smaller bits. Cook the cellophane noodles according to the package directions. Drain the noodles, put them in a bowl, and toss with the sesame oil and a dash of red pepper flakes.
Then make the vegetable filling. Use a mandoline or box grater to slice the cucumber, carrot, beetroot if you’re using it, and red pepper into thin strips. If you are using large radishes, you can slice them on the mandoline or box grater. Or just slice into thin rounds by hand. Keep all the veg separate.
Whisk together the rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice in a large bowl. Add a bit to each roll as you’re assembling them, which is what I did.
Then soften the rice wrappers. Fill a round cake pan halfway with warm-hot water. For each wrapper, immerse it in the hot water bath until it softens, which takes about 30 seconds. Watch for it to begin curling, then immediately flip it over and continue flipping until it is just softened. Use both hands to pull it up out of the water, being careful so it doesn't collapse on itself, and spread it immediately on a plate.
Then put filling in the center of the wrapper. Fill the center of the softened wrapper first by laying about 3 to 4 herb leaves down the center. Then lay down about 1 to 2 tablespoons of noodles (you want to have enough for 8 rolls). Then, add 1/8 of the veggie mixture. Add a few sprigs of cilantro and 2 to 3 mint leaves, depending on how large they are.
Then roll up the summer rolls. To roll up your roll, first fold the top and bottom edges of the wrapper over the filling, then fold in the edges towards the center and continue rolling the filled wrapper until it's closed and snug.
Continue this process with each of the wrappers. You may need to change your hot water halfway through. As you finish each roll, place it on a cookie sheet and cover the rolls with a damp towel.
To serve, slice in half with a sharp knife and serve the peanut sauce on the side.