Whatever you think about the current trend of snapping photos of food to post on social media, I think we can agree on one thing. People are paying much more attention to how food looks these days. We want beautiful, Instagrammable plates, and restaurateurs know a photogenic dish is more likely to generate internet buzz. Home cooks are upping their game, as well, vying to style food worthy of a magazine spread.
In this brave new world of beautiful food, the colorful summer roll has flourished. The classic Vietnamese summer roll, or rice paper roll, is usually made from rice noodles, green onions, fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint, and bright pink shrimp, tofu or some other protein.
It’s all wrapped in translucent rice paper, so that the colorful fillings show through. Why not add flowers? Placing brightly colored blossoms on the rice paper turns the roll into a feast for the eyes.
In this Summer Flower Roll, I opted for a few more flashy ingredients and tossed in slivered red cabbage, shredded carrots and creamy avocado. Because the avocado gives it some richness, I went with a light and tart vegetable version of the lime and fish sauce dip often served at Vietnamese restaurants. Then, I scouted some edible flowers.
I always grow nasturtiums, bachelor buttons and small sunflowers to use in summer meals. Chives and most edible herbs also have edible flowers. Pansies are perfect for these rolls because they lie flat and are the right size. Violets, calendula and marigolds, impatiens, gladiolus, bee balm and roses are spectacular in this recipe.
In the heat of summer, you can also make these rolls with squash blossoms that are cut into strips. When using squash blossoms or other flowers with a big central calyx and stamens, use the petals only.
Look for edible flowers by the fresh herbs at your grocery store, at the farmers market, or grow them yourself. Only use organic, unsprayed ones, and make sure that they are edible. Don’t pick them on roadsides or in parks. Anyone with allergies to flowers should not use them.
The only trick to making these beautiful rolls is to place the blossoms and petals just north of the filling, so they will be on top in the final roll.
The essence of summer is rolled right in, and these will be a hit with everyone who tries them. Your dish might even get Instagrammed!
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.