Summer Playtime in the Kitchen

Originally posted 6/22/15

Summer is here at last and it’s time to make fruits and veggies the stars of the plate. My favorite summer meals feature the simplest ingredients: a pint of fresh blueberries, a handful of green beans, cheese from the farmer’s market, heaps of salad. Au revoir roasted vegetables I’ve had you up to my ears full. Though I adore these simple meals, putting in a little more time can create a big return in flavor complexity and in the convenience of having food prepared for several meals.

Summer also brings an abundance of fresh herbs. In the summer the sun draws the essence of herbs out to play, to imagine, to inspire. Basil transports tomatoes to another level. Lemon thyme makes fruit jump and pause with aromatic height and earthiness. Cilantro dances with many partners on the salsa floor. Parsley’s bright green is like lounging barefoot in the grass. Mint hits high notes but calms in a steady cool. These two recipes are healthy and delicious with dynamic herbal flavors. They also create minimal heat in the kitchen.

The herbs used in the recipes are meant to be examples that can be replaced with what is available and exciting to you. I encourage you to use the recipes as a guide but follow your intuition for the combinations that feel right in the moment. What’s in your garden? What catches your eye at the farmer’s market? Use the sensuousness of the season to guide your nose and palate. I’ll make suggestions for substitutions where appropriate to give a sense of some other combinations that would be complementary. Enjoy summer playtime in and out of the kitchen!




summer rolls:

9-inch summer roll rice wrappers, at least 20, Red Rose is a popular brand

2 heads soft lettuce like boston (iceberg or green leaf would also work), washed and dried and torn into pieces about 2 inches by three inches

1 large daikon radish, peeled, cut into thin strips 3 inches long

3 large carrots, peeled, cut into thin strips 3 inches long

1 large cucumber, peeled (optional), seeded, cut into thin strips 3 inches long

2 sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange), seeded, cut into thin strips 3 inches long

1 bunch scallions, cut into thin strips, 3 inches long

juice of 1 lime

2-3 avocados, sliced, removed from skins, gently tossed with lime juice

1 bunch mint, leaves picked, washed, and dried

1 bunch basil, leaves picked, washed, and dried

1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked, washed, and dried

Note: the size of the vegetables is flexible. Work with the size and shape of each vegetable to maximize the number of usable pieces. Smaller and thinner is better to get more flavors into each roll.

peanut sauce:

1 1/2 C roasted salted peanuts

1 C water

1/4 C tamari

1 T brown rice vinegar

1 T molasses

1/2 tsp sea salt

optional 1/2 C crushed peanuts


large bowl, at least 11 inches diameter

plastic cutting board: Bamboo and wood tend to stick to the wrappers. If you don’t have a plastic cutting board use a large plate or try a piece of wax paper on top of the cutting board.

parchment or wax paper

serving plates or storage containers


Make the sauce first as the flavor and texture will benefit from a little time to sit.

For the sauce:

Place all ingredients (except crushed peanuts if using) in a blender. Blend until smooth. Stir in crushed peanuts if using. Note that peanut sauce will thicken as it sits, so don’t be concerned if it looks thin when first made. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the rolls:

  1. Prep all the vegetables according to the ingredient list.
  2. Arrange vegetables in easy access around a clean plastic cutting board. 
  3. Set up plates or storage containers in easy access for the finished rolls. The rolls will stick to each other if they touch. When storing, separate rolls with wax or parchment paper.
  4. Fill the large bowl with hot water.
  5. Dip one rice wrapper in the hot water. When the water is very hot the wrapper will need a very short time to soften 5-10 seconds. As the water cools, the wrappers will need more time. As you work with the wrappers you’ll get a feel for how long works best. Feel free to change the water and start again with hot water as needed.
  6. Place the wrapper on the cutting board. Imagine the wrapper divided in half top and bottom. Place lettuce just below the imaginary dividing line and then fill the lettuce with at least one piece of each vegetable, keeping the edges of the wrapper clear.
  7. Bring the bottom of the wrapper up rolling over the veggies tightly, fold in the sides tightly and continue to roll all the way up the rest of the wrapper. The rice wrapper will stick to itself and seal. Place the roll in the storage container or serving plate.
  8. Keep rolling until the ingredients are used up. Don’t forget to taste test to see if you like the proportions of vegetables and herbs and adjust accordingly.


  • Try roasted almonds or cashews instead of peanuts for the sauce.
  • For herbal options think soft in texture with big flavor: shiso leaves, parsley, lemon balm, other mint family plants like thai basil or holy basil, sorrel, watercress, nasturtium leaves.
  • Add in cooked fish or chicken. If using chicken, simmer it in water, shred it and mix with rice wine vinegar, some honey, and salt to keep it moist. If using fish, rolls should be eaten for that meal, and within the next twenty four hours given proper refrigerated storage.




This compote packs a flavor punch. The crunchiness of the hazelnuts adds satisfying texture and protein. The compote is great on it’s own but especially delicious mixed with yogurt or served over ice cream, pudding, custard, or cake.


16 oz fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

20 oz frozen blackberries

1 1/2 C hazelnuts

1/2 C +2 T honey or herbal honey (or more to taste)

2 tsp lemon zest

2 T lemon juice

1 T orange zest

1/4 C fresh orange juice

1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

pinch sea salt

1-2 C fresh mint, washed, leaves torn, (amount adjusted to taste)


  1. Toast hazelnuts on a small sheet pan in a 350F oven or toaster oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
  2. Heat blackberries in a medium saucepan on medium heat with 1/4 C water to prevent burning. Cook until completely defrosted. Add orange and lemon zests and let cool.
  3. After the hazelnuts have cooled, chop them by hand or quick pulse them two or three times in a food processor.
  4. In a large bowl, combine quartered strawberries, cooled blackberry zest mixture, chopped hazelnuts, honey, orange and lemon juices, salt, apple cider vinegar.
  5. Mix and taste. Adjust sweetness to taste.
  6. Place some mint at the bottom of serving bowls, top with compote and with more mint, or serve over desired dessert.

Makes about 6 cups.


  • Try an herbal honey or an herbal apple cider vinegar.
  • For herbal options think bright aromatics: lemon balm, other mints, thyme, lemon thyme, thai basil.
  • Try different berries or even other fruit like mango.
  • Try other nuts. Almonds and macadamia nuts are very versatile with sweet dishes.