One of my favorite things to do in the summer is make Vietnamese Summer Rolls. They’re refreshing, healthy, and have lots of flavor. And best of all – it requires very little cooking! The last thing I want to do on a hot day is turn on the stove. And if you don’t like shrimp, try sliced steak or shredded chicken.
I warn you though, these do need to be made fresh. The rice paper becomes hard after a few hours, and the vegetables lose their crunch. If you’re making this for a party, I suggest preparing the vegetables and sauce beforehand, and assembling them right before serving.
2 ounces Vietnamese or Thai rice noodles
12-14 rice paper rounds
18 medium shrimp, pan fried or grilled w/skewers
1/4 cup, or 12 fresh Thai basil leaves (or regular basil leaves), rinsed and dried
1/2 cup, or 12 whole large fresh mint leaves, rinsed and dried
1/2 cup, or 12 whole large fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and dried
1/2 cup shredded carrot
3 lettuce leaves, leaves, spines removed, leaving 6 halves
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons cup lime juice
1 tablespoons sugar
1 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Asian red chili paste, such as sriracha sauce
pinch of shredded carrot for granish
1. Bring water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse and cool.
2. Line up ingredients in small bowls before beginning to make rolls. Fill a large bowl or saucepan with very warm water. Place two rice paper round in the hot water. Soak for between 30 seconds and 1 minute, or until rice round is pliable and pattern on the round is barely visible. Remove and place on a clean surface.
3. Place 2 basil leaves on the inner edge of the rice round, about 1-inch from the edge and leaving about 1-inch on each side. Top with a little bit of the cooked rice noodles. Place 3 pieces of shrimp on top. Top with about 2 tablespoons carrots, then 2 leaves of mint and a few sprigs of cilantro. Fold 1 piece of lettuce leaf and place on top of pile.
4. Bring the edge over filling and tuck underneath. As you continue to roll, fold in the sides. Finish rolling, repeat with the other rolls, and reserve under a damp cloth or paper towel.
5. Make the dipping sauce by mixing together all the ingredients. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
6. When ready to serve, slice in half and serve, cut ends up, with dipping sauce.
The fun (and annoying) part of this is having the chance to use ingredients you normally wouldn’t use. You can find some of these ingredients at the local store, but there are a few that you probably need to venture out to the Asian grocery store for. But no fear! I will explain what these ingredients are, and where you can get them.
First one up: Rice paper. It’s made by pounding rice into powder, adding water, and then pressed in flat sheets. This comes in a few different sizes. The smaller ones make great bite-sized rolls, but I like making the larger ones and cutting them in half. If this is your first time, get the larger ones to start out with. The one I use is about 10 inches across (I’m guessing). I was able to find this at an Asian grocery that carried Southeastern ingredients, but wasn’t able to find it at a Chinese grocery. This is one of the harder ingredients to find on the list.
Rice paper feels more like plastic, and is dry and brittle to the touch. It can easily crack if you’re not careful. The pattern you see here is actually functional – once the pattern disappears in water, the paper is ready for use.
When soaked in water, it quickly turns into a gel-like state. It feels elastic, and is pliable and strong. I use two of the rice papers, since they are so thin. When they both dissolve, they turn into just one sheet.
Here are the noodles you’ll need. Again, you’ll have to venture out to an Asian grocery store for this one as well. The noodle section of an Asian grocery store can be overwhelming. There is usually a smaller section within it for rice noodles, and the packaging usually has Thai or Vietnamese characters on it. It comes in wide, medium, and thin – get the thin kind. It’s only 69 cents! You don’t need much for the recipe – just pick up the smallest package.
noodles are very thin. Probably the thinnest noodles you can find in the aisle, other than bean thread noodles. These cook longer than you think. Even when they look like they’re done, it may still be crunchy in the middle.
Assembling the summer rolls
To make things easier, line up all your raw ingredients so that the rolls are easy to assemble. Don’t go overboard – it can get big very quickly! I made a mistake here – I would put the basil/mint/cilantro first, so the green shows through the rice paper.
Bring the bottom edge of the rice paper until it wraps around the filling. Bring in both sides, and roll to the top. The rice paper should stick to itself. Cut the roll in half on a bias, and serve the halves open side up.
Make the dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham)
Rice vinegar has a different taste than regular vinegar. It’s milder, and sweeter. It’s used frequently in many different kinds of Asian dishes, and is the key ingredient in sushi rice. I was able to find this at the ethnic foods aisle at Safeway.
My favorite hot sauce! This is called sriracha sauce and is mostly used in southeast dishes, though I put this stuff on everything. It’s nicknamed the “rooster sauce”, since the most common brand is the one with the funny looking rooster on it. I bought the kind that has garlic flavor, so I didn’t add any minced garlic to my sauce. I was able to find this at the ethnic aisle at Safeway. To read an interesting story about this sauce, go here.