The winter will last as long as it likes, and it’s looking like that is way too long this year. While we can’t change the weather, we can at least pretend it’s nice out by eating food that is reminiscent of those summer days we miss. A great, fairly easy, and fairly inexpensive possibility is Vietnamese spring rolls. They can make delightful appetizers or wonderful light meals.
To make Vietnamese spring rolls, you will need:
· A package of rice paper wrappers (thin round sheets made of rice)
· A package of rice vermicelli noodles (sometimes labeled as “rice sticks”, these are very thin rice noodles)
· Fresh cilantro (You’ll need a couple of sprigs per roll)
· ½ pound of medium cooked, peeled, and de-veined shrimp, tails removed (2-3 shrimp per roll)
· Boston, green leaf or romaine lettuce
· Fresh bean sprouts (you’ll need 3-4 sprouts per roll)
Making spring rolls is something that takes a little patience to learn. Once you get the feel for it, you will be able to make them faster and faster. The first several, however, will take time. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a pile of torn wrappers your first few times making them. I went through plenty of wrappers when I first learned, and even now I tear a few.
First, get some water boiling in one medium pot, and some water warming in another medium pot. Add the rice noodles to the boiling water and cook until soft. This won’t take long. Drain, rinse with cool water in a colander, and set aside in a bowl, covering it with plastic wrap so the noodles don’t dry out.
The water that is warming will be used to soften the rice paper one by one as you make the rolls, which will be explained in more detail later.
Spring roll production setup:
Pick a table or countertop area where you have some room to work.
Place the cilantro, shrimp, lettuce, and bean sprouts near you so you can easily add them to the roll you are making. Place the bowl with the cooked noodles nearby as well.
Put a large plate in front of you and place a damp paper towel on it- this will be your plate on which to make the rolls.
Place the container or plate, lined with damp paper towels that will be where you put finished rolls in a place within reach from your production plate. Have another damp paper towel handy to keep the finished rolls covered so they don’t dry out.
Place some trivets or potholders on your counter or table and place a large rectangular Pyrex, or other sort of dish that can withstand the warm water without cracking, on the trivets. Pour some of the warm water in the dish so it is about 1- 1 ½” deep. Add more water to the pot & continue to keep warming it on the stove so you can add new warm water as the water in the dish cools without having to wait. Over the course of making spring rolls, you will probably pour cooled water out from your dish and add new warm water several times, as warm water works best to soften the roll wrappers.
Okay, now you are set up and finally ready to make your first spring roll. You will make the spring rolls start to finish, one at a time.
First, take a spring roll wrapper and slide it into the Pyrex dish of warm water. It will become softer and more pliable. The trick is to soften it, but not to the point that it will tear too easily. You will develop a feel for this as you make more and more rolls. It generally takes under a minute.
When it is softened, lay the wrapper flat on the damp paper towel on your preparation plate. Slightly to the left of the middle, place two or three shrimp in a column.
On top of the shrimp place about a tablespoon of noodles.
On top of the noodles place a couple of small cilantro sprigs.
On top of the cilantro sprigs place a couple of bean sprouts
On top of the bean sprouts place a piece of lettuce leaf (no spine) big enough to cover the pile of components you have made.
Fold the top of the wrapper down, the bottom up, and then roll the wrapper to the right, like you are wrapping a burrito or similar thing. The trick is to wrap it snuggly, but not to rip the wrapper.
If the wrapper didn’t rip (or at least not badly- a small tear is ok), then place it on your finished plate with a damp paper towel over it and start the next one.
If the wrapper did tear, no big deal- just salvage the components and toss the wrapper and start over again.
Repeat this process until you have as many rolls as you would like to make. I usually make two per person.
The order of the components doesn’t really matter, other than that the rolls tend to be prettier if the shrimp show through from one side and the lettuce from the other, which is why I put the shrimp on first and the lettuce on last. Really though, it will taste the same in any order.
A good way to conserve on cost when making these is to cut the shrimp in half lengthwise and only placing 3 halves in the roll (outside of the shrimp down so it looks nicer). This way your shrimp will go twice as far.
The rolls can be made ahead of time as long as they are kept refrigerated in a Tupperware container. (Again, lined with damp paper towels and covered with damp paper towels.) It is okay for finished rolls to be touching each other.
A popular sauce to serve with the rolls can be made by combining:
¼ cup coconut milk (Chaokoh is a great brand)
½ cup hoisin sauce (Kikkoman or Koon Chun Brand, NOT Dynasty Brand)
¼ cup water
Combine the above ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with spring rolls. The sauce can be garnished with chopped peanuts.
I hope you enjoy this yummy and healthy taste of summer!
- Kristin Enkvetchakul