It turns out that he was watching me all along. I was embarrassed for falling and took that as a sign to call it a day."Oh come on, you have one more crow left in you," the man said to me, he knew exactly what I was trying to do. "Not today," as I began to roll up my mat. He then repositioned himself. "All you have to do," he was looking in the mirror at his own body to ensure a perfect set up, "is bring your knees up as high as you can. Seriously, reach for your shoulders. And from there it's easy - fall into it and trust yourself that you won't fall over. Just trust yourself." I had been trying to get this posture for a few weeks so I got back down on my mat and gave it a go. I felt like a frog, so silly, with my knees all the way up to my chin. You can do this. Trust yourself. Get it right. Right away, as my thighs fell naturally atop my arms I felt the weight of my entire body in the perfect balance of my hands and arms, with no sign of falling over until I was ready to. Holy crow, I got it and all I needed was his simple tip. It wasn't a particularly difficult position, I just needed to be taught the technique.
The real star here is the cashew sauce. It has a bit of processed sugar in it, but this is one of those instances where you can ignore that fact and pretend otherwise. I'm getting good at that. A good sauce, to me, is built on contrasts. Here, the balance plays off of neutral (oils + almond butter) vs tangy (vinegar), smooth (almond butter) vs chunky (cashews), and sweet (sugar, hoison) vs spicy (chili, ginger). Hats off to Alicia for whipping this up through trial and error.
I've made these rolls 3 or 4 times this summer, and they never fail as a lunch, appetizer, or snack. Put as much mushroom meat as you'd like, I prefer more to less. Here is a great resource anyone new to fresh rolls and for learning how to do the fold. I will quote from here as I explain how to construct the spring rolls.
Chunky Cashew Sauce:
2 tbls sesame oil
2 tbls smooth almond butter
6 tbls olive oil
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews, divided evenly
2 tbls brown sugar
2 tsp chili pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 tbls freshly ground ginger
4 tsp hoisin sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
Use a food processor or hand blender to combine the sesame oil, almond butter, 2 tbls olive oil, and about half of the cashews. Do not overdo it, just enough to break up the cashews.
In a small pan, heat a bit of olive oil on low heat. Add in the brown sugar, ground ginger, and chili flakes. Since raw ginger has a pungent taste, this will reduce some of its bite while also releasing some heat from the chili pepper flakes. Once the sugar begins to bubble, pour the mixture into the food processor with other mixture.
Add in the hoisin, vinegar, and the rest of the olive oil and stir in the sauce. No need to pulse here. Lastly, add the remaining cashews and pulse in short and quick intervals to break down the nuts further. The result will be a smooth sauce base with chunks of cashews.
Shiitake Fresh Rolls:
1 cup Vermicelli noodles, cooked
3 medium bunches of shiitake mushrooms
1 tbls olive oil
1-2 tbls sesame oil
1 medium sized carrot
1/2 English cucumber
8 large mint leafs
8 large basil leafs
8 pieces rice paper
Bring 1L of water to a boil. When boiling, remove from heat and pour over a bunch of raw noodles in a bowl. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until noodles are soft. Meanwhile, cut both the cucumbers and carrots into matchsticks.
Over medium-high heat, add 1 tbls olive oil. Add in the mushrooms and allow them to soften and realese some of their juice. When done, take off the heat and marinate with the sesame oil. This is kind of optional, it just adds a nice flavour. Allow this to cool completely, and transfer to a new plate when cooled.
Set up your station with the carrots, cucumbers, herbs, mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, rice paper, and a large bowl of hot water all within reach. Dip the rice paper into the hot water and remove when it is still slightly firm. Lay down the rice paper and start assembling at the top 1/3 of your paper. First a handful of noodles, then several sticks of carrot and cucumber each, then a generous piece of mushroom, and finally a basil and and mint leaf.
Use the "tuck and roll" technique to complete the roll. I will quote Todd and Diane here: "Gently pull away the edge of the wrapper from work surface and roll over the filling. At the same time, use your fingertips to "tuck" fillings together under the wrapper. "Tucking" allows you to keep all fillings together and tight, so that the roll remains firm and straight." Repeat until all of your fillings are used up, resulting in apx. 8 rolls.