Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer Rolls

Vietnamese summer or salad rolls are a true culinary wonder, fresh vegetables and meats and/or seafood wrapped up in a delicious rice/tapioca blanket…mmmm. Most people know what spring rolls are…at least those who have had deep fried Chinese food, as for summer rolls; they are less common and much, much more mysterious….

“Spring rolls are pastries mostly with julienne vegetables (such as cabbages, carrots, or wood ear fungi). Some include strips of meat, usually beef or chicken; others have seafood in them. The filling is wrapped in a thin, flour wrapper, and usually deep fried. Pork is typically used for Vietnamese fried spring rolls.” -According to the official spring roll fan listing at (which got its definition from a Wikipedia article).

Summer rolls aren’t deep fried but the fillings are similar. The wrapper is not flour based for frying but usually make of rice or tapioca.

According to Wikipedia summer rolls are called goi cuonin in Vietnamese. This translation is mistaken to mean spring roll, it really means “mix salad rolled”. But spring roll stuck, and the term summer roll was probably coined to differentiate between the dish and its deep fried cousin.

For ages I wondered what the delightful translucent wrapper was that help the summer rolls together. When I asked the sushi chef (itamae) from my grocery store what the strange wrapper was, he said “rice vermicelli”, which I instantly pictured as noodles not anything close to what I needed. And of course the store didn’t carry anything remotely like that so I was stumped. When I was browsing the Steamy Kitchen Blog, ( ) I saw a video on how to make summer rolls! I had finally found what I was looking for. I stopped by the Asian food store and visited an area I had passed many times before. I took my time picking out some wrappers and got to work..

There isn’t a super definite recipe for summer rolls as you can put anyting in them. I have eaten summer rolls on multiple occasions; I have made them with meatballs, and eaten them with vigor at home, at grocery stores, and at restaurants. When making a summer roll, what you come to expect for the finished product depends on the freshness of the ingredients and how traditional your recipe is.

At my local grocery store they have a sushi section which also hosts a variety of summer rolls, my favorite of which is the spicy chicken roll with sweet chili sauce. A little farther down the road is my local Asian market, which hosts more traditional rolls; lettuce and herbs with rice noodles, pork, and shrimp, all in one roll, with peanut dipping sauce.

A basic recipe I like is one found on Chow ( )

Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

By Regan Burns
Give yourself plenty of time (and counter space) to make these. And be sure to have a few extra rice paper wrappers on hand—it may take a few tries before you’re rolling like a pro.
What to buy: Look for medium-size shrimp. For a slacker solution, buy a ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail ring from the supermarket and slice the shrimp in half lengthwise. Rice sticks and rice paper wrappers can be found in most Asian grocery stores. For the wrappers, we like Red Rose brand.
Game plan: Be sure to have all your ingredients ready and easily accessible when you start to roll. Store the summer rolls in a dish or plastic container that’s roomy enough to hold them without their touching. Place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the container to keep the rolls moist. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.
12 medium shrimp in their shells
2 ounces dried rice sticks or rice vermicelli
8 (8-1/4-inch) round rice paper wrappers
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
24 small mint leaves (from 1 small bunch)
16 basil or Thai basil leaves
8 small sprigs cilantro
1 Thai hot pepper, serrano pepper, or other small hot chile pepper, seeds removed and sliced into very thin matchsticks
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-by-1/4-by-2-inch sticks
2 large scallions, trimmed, halved, and sliced into 3-inch lengths
4 Boston lettuce leaves, cut in half
Peanut Sauce
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until they are bright orange and just cooked. Drain shrimp in a colander and run cold water over them until they are cool. Peel shrimp and halve them lengthwise down the center. Cover and refrigerate.
Cook the rice sticks according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Clear a work surface, such as a large wooden cutting board, for rolling the summer rolls and prepare a pan that is roomy enough to hold the finished rolls in a single layer. Place all filling ingredients in separate containers, and arrange them in the following order around the board: rice paper wrappers, shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, hot pepper, cucumber, scallions, and lettuce.
Fill a wide, shallow dish, large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers, with hot water. Evenly submerge one rice paper in the water for about 30 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.
Working quickly, lay three shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper. Layer a scant 1/4 cup of noodles over the shrimp, followed by a few bean sprouts, 3 mint leaves, 2 basil leaves, 1 sprig of cilantro, and 2 pieces of the hot pepper (if using). Place 3 to 4 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 scallion pieces on either side of the noodle pile. Roll one piece of lettuce into a cigar shape, and place it on top of the noodle pile.
Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top. (Don’t despair, this takes some practice!)
Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward and the row of shrimp faces up. Place in the prepared container.
Serve summer rolls with Peanut Sauce.

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