Vietnamese spring rolls (or summer rolls) are one of my favourite things to eat and I always order this as starter when we visit a Vietnamese restaurant.
The light, refreshing roll contrasts with a punchy sauce and I feel like I never get enough of these things. The beauty of making food at home is you can have as many pieces as you like. You can eat as many as you like for a main course without confusing your poor waiter.
I’ve made these rolls once before but it was a messy failure. My mistake was to soak the rice paper in hot water and for too long. By the time you roll up, it disintegrates and you can forget about trying to eat them with any ounce of dignity. I have found the secret which I will share with you below.
When we were eating in Hanoi, Vietnam at the start of this year, I noticed that the rice paper rolls were a tad under softened. That led me to believe that the rolls are wrapped while the paper is still papery.
Maybe you are like me when making traditional dishes. You read a bunch of recipes, then pick out the hardest bits or the bits that don’t appeal. Then you pray for the best as you attempt to make a cheat version of a dish.
Here is my cheat’s recipe.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Summer Rolls)
16 sheets of rice paper
400g pork steak
1 tablespoon chili oil
200g prawns, cooked and shelled
10cm length of cucumber
16 large or 30ish small mint leaves
1 baby cos lettuce
- Use a big plate or a platter to assemble all your ingredients on before you start to roll.
- Season the pork steaks with a little chili oil and plenty of salt.
- Add to a frying pan and cook on a very low heat for 12 to 15 minutes, turning once. You only want a tiny bit of colour.
- Remove from pan and rest for 5-10 minutes.
- Slice pork thinly against the grain. This makes it more tender.
- Remove the rubbish end slices as they aren’t as pretty. Consider them a cook’s treat!
- Add the good slices to the platter.
- Carrot: Peel and grate. Add to the platter.
- Lettuce: Cut off the base and wash thouroughly. Slice finely and remove the thick rib/stems.
- Cucumber: Peel and cut in half lengthways. Run a teaspoon down the middle to scoop out all the seeds. Chop the lengths into think half circle slices.
- Mint: Wash and pick leaves off stems. If using big leaves, tear in half. Keep small leaves whole.
Ready to Roll
The trick is…
- Start with 1 plate of cold tap water.
- Your rolling station is a clean tea towel that is wrapped around a chopping board. The flat, absorbent surface is perfect.
- Immerse 1 sheet of rice paper into the plate of water for 3 seconds only. It will not seem like it’s ready yet, but the paper will continue to soften as you fill it and even after you roll it.
- Set the wet sheet it on top of the tea towel and chopping board.
- If it is very wet, brush over lightly with a second clean teatowel.
- Fill with fillings in a line across the middle and a little towards the bottom, careful not to over fill. No more than half a cup of filling in total. I started with lettuce, then added cucumber (4 slices), then carrot, then pork (3 slices), then mint (1 large leaf or 2 small leaves) and finally 3 prawns.
- Whatever you end with will be on the top so something pretty like a row of pink prawns on top of mint is perfect.
- Fold the bottom edge over the filling, fold in the 2 sides and roll up.
- Place on a platter.
I always laugh when I discover a prepped ingredient after I’ve plated the dish. It happens more often than I can count. In the past, I’ve made baked quiche only to turn around see my neglected bowl of beaten eggs sitting on the table. This time, I had soaked a portion of vermicelli and set it aside but then completely forgot to use it. So this recipe is without vermicelli. I found these summer rolls to be filling enough without the noodles. It’s more traditional to have noodles inside though.
Edit: My buddy Danielle from Keeping Up With The Holsbys came up with the genius trick of putting the sauce inside the rolls. No more spillage if you decide to double dip!
Punchy Peanut Dipping Sauce
A handful of peanuts
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon hoison sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind, dissolved in a little hot water
1 or 2 tablespoons of palm sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)
1 teaspoon of chili oil (or oil and fresh chilies)
- Smash the palm sugar in a motar and pestle. Remove and add to a small ramekin.
- Add peanuts and salt to the mortar and pestle and crush. You don’t want to grind too fine as the crunch of the peanuts adds a fantastic texture to the sauce.
- Tip into the ramekin along with all the wet ingredients and mix well.
These rolls can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and served the next day. The refrigerator will dry out the rice paper a bit so just give them a mist with water about 10 minutes before serving. You don’t want to soak them, just give them a chance for the rice paper to be supple again.
Experiment with different ingredients and please let me know how it goes!
This post is in conjuction with Delicious Vietnam run by Anh of A food lover’s journey and Hong and Kim from Ravenous Couple. September’s Delicious Vietam event is hosted by Phuoc from Sydney, Australia on her blog Phuoc’n Delicious.