Monday, August 20, 2012

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Some people get insatiable cravings for chocolate cake; I get mad cravings for softened rice paper. There are some moments where I just could die for a moistened sheet of chewy, glutinous rice paper, rolled neatly around veggies and herbs. Aum! Other household half blanches at the thought, but I just know there are like-minded folk out there. My recipe is infinitely variable; you can essentially pick and choose among the stuffing ingredients or add in others, to your personal taste. If you've never made Vietnamese spring rolls before, I've tried to write detailed instructions on how to fold them, but there are also numerous videos to consult on Youtube that show the process. Once you've got the technique down, banging out a bunch is a snap. Just make sure to eat them relatively soon after making them, as they don't keep very well. Any leftover filling ingredients get chopped up and thrown into a bowl for a tasty next-day lunchtime salad.

This is the best lighting I can manage when I cook after sunset!
 Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Makes 6-8 rolls; 2-3 servings

*6-8 rice paper wrappers (available in Asian grocers and the International section in most large supermarkets)
*1-2 oz rice vermicelli
*1/4 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
*1 small cucumber, peeled (optional), seeded, halved, and cut into thin batons
*1 handful of cilantro leaves
*1 handful of mint leaves
*1 handful of Thai basil leaves
*A couple shiso leaves, torn
*1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into thin slivers
*A lobe of mango, cut into slivers
*A couple leaves of romaine or butter lettuce, cut into strips (if using romaine, its helpful to remove the ribs)
*3 scallions, green parts cut into sections

Boil the rice noodles according to package instructions, about 3 minutes. Drain, then add some cold water to the pot, pop the noodles back in and swirl, then drain again and set aside to cool, fluffing every 10 minutes or so. Fill a small shallow pan with enough water to cover shrimp and bring to a simmer. I usually add a bruised piece of lemongrass stalk, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, and a few dried peppers to the water, but plain eau is fine. Add the shrimp when the water is simmering, and cook for about 3ish minutes or until just cooked through. Drain, cool, and slice in half lengthwise. Pick the rest of your ingredients and cut, rinse, dry...whatever is entailed. Fashion all the fillings into an assembly line of sorts, and then pull out the rice paper wrappers.

To assemble the rolls, run your sink tap until the water is flowing warm-but-not-hot, and gently turn the rice paper wrapper under the stream for about 5 seconds per side to soften it. Lay it on a clean, dry surface and then start to add fillings. I usually put in a nice strip of lettuce first, laying it down near the bottom of the circle, and the lettuce acts as a cradle for the rest to come - a bit of noodles, followed by a little bit of everything else, artfully arranged. Just be careful to not overstuff. Start to roll by grasping the bottom edge and folding it tightly over and around the filling. Once you've got a full revolution and a half in, you can fold the open sides of the roll in towards the center, and then lay a couple sliced shrimp on top before continuing to roll over again, sealing the shrimp in. Once you've rolled to completion, place the tube on a platter, wipe off your surface, and repeat the process with the other wrappers. Serve with sriracha, lime wedges and a dipping sauce of your choice (peanut sauce is good here).

Vegetarian Variation:
Nix the shrimp!

Pork Variations:
Poach thin slices of lean pork until cooked, cool and add to spring rolls. OR, fry bacon and cut to fit - I love the salty crunch this variation offers (and it pairs really well with slices of mango).

Also works with tofu, fried egg strips, chicken, crab, lemongrass beef strips, and so forth. What's YOUR favorite filling combination?

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