Celebrating the publication of Van Life Cookbook, authors Danny Jack and Hailee Kukura talk about how their van life came to be, and what inspired them to write a cookbook. They also share a recipe from the book for delicious and refreshing summer rolls.
“The idea of our book came about in the summer of 2020 when we both put the finishing touches on the van towards the end of the nationwide Coronavirus lockdown and needed a creative project to get stuck into. Danny finished the fit out inside the van, and I painted a mural on the bulkhead screen. Needless to say, the van came into its own that year when Danny’s events work suddenly stopped and I was placed on furlough. Our van provided an essential space for us to escape to nature and make sense of our changing circumstances. Since then, our trips together and to see friends have proven fundamental to our shared well-being, experiences and appreciation of our environment”
“Having lived and worked in London since 2011, I began looking for more meaningful ways to spend my evenings and weekends and became inspired by self-build campervan videos and people’s stories on Youtube. These offered up a new DIY challenge as well as an economical alternative to buying a purpose-built camper or RV. The appeal of having a spontaneous city escape vehicle grew quickly and in early 2018 after purchasing our van online, the van build commenced outside of our flat in London. What started out as a part-time project during evenings and weekends became a two year on and off programme, fitting around work commitments eventually getting it over the finish line in 2020
It was that summer when travel restrictions eased that really ignited our passion for exploring in the van and adopting the principles of van life: eating well, having an appreciation of nature, living simply and frugally and enjoying more of the good life that led to the idea for the book ”
Summer rolls with cheat’s peanut satay sauce
I learned how to make summer rolls from my friend’s mother, Mai Lan, who created the most wonderful Vietnamese dishes from her kitchen on Orcas Island. You can buy the rice paper from any Asian supermarket or online, and once you get the knack of the water preparation, they are super simple and fun to make. They keep well for picnics with a damp piece of kitchen paper on top to keep the rice paper fresh.
Makes 6 summer rolls
For the summer rolls
100g/31/2 oz dried thin rice noodles
a splash of sesame or olive oil (optional)
6 round sheets of rice paper (each
18cm/7 inches wide)
1 carrot, washed and sliced into
finger-length thin strips like thick matchsticks
1/2 cucumber, sliced the same as the carrot
3 radishes, sliced (optional)
5 Little Gem lettuce leaves, finely chopped
6 sprigs of mint, leaves picked
6 sprigs of coriander, cut into thirds lengthways
For the cheat’s peanut satay sauce
3 tbsp peanut butter (preferably smooth)
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, or grated
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp white sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
First prep all the ingredients for the summer rolls and put in separate piles on a plate or in small containers.
For the peanut satay sauce, in a small dish, simply stir together the peanut butter with the vinegar or lime zest and juice, sugar, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of water until fully incorporated and smooth. If it’s a little thick, stir in a little more water. Set aside.
Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain, refresh with cold water, then drain again and leave in the pot. You can toss them with a little sesame or olive oil to prevent them from sticking together, if needed.
Take your first round of rice paper, then submerge it in a shallow dish of cold water for 11/2 minutes or until fully pliable. Carefully take it out and place on a dry wooden chopping board or clean tea towel. Add a few of the noodles and a few pieces of each vegetable, lettuce and herbs to the middle of the rice paper round, arranging them neatly.
Next, roll up like a burrito, folding in the ends first, then the rest, packing tightly as you move upwards. Add a little more water with your finger when you get to the end if it’s too dry and use it as glue to help it stick together, resting it seam-side down on the board. This takes some practice but even the messy ones are tasty, so keep going! Repeat for the remaining rolls.
To serve, cut the rolls (on the diagonal, if you like) in half or quarters and enjoy with the peanut satay dipping sauce.
Extract from Van Life Cookbook: Resourceful recipes for life on the road: from small spaces to the great outdoors by Danny Jack and Hailee Kukura. Photography by Holly Farrier.