After a steady diet of sugar-rich patisserie and yeasty breads, I was craving for these spring rolls right before the New Year. The days before and after Christmas were packed with holiday-type food, and my freezer was bursting at the seams. Sweet rolls, cookies, challahs and goodies wrapped in puff pastry were coming out of my ears so by the 28th of December, I was ready for a simple meal – preferably with plenty of cucumbers, carrots and turnips.
These Vietnamese spring rolls and Vietnamese Goi salad more than satisfied that craving and yes, they broke the monotony of holiday eating.
Someone told me that spring rolls are generally tasteless; they only “come to life” when they’re dipped in a special hoisin sauce. I disagree. There are ways to make lifeless and tasteless rice noodles (vermicelli) tickle your fancy.
What’s my secret? It’s not really a secret as many cooks adopt this method when whipping up some Asian meals. The key is in preparing the filling up to 24 hours ahead. Read through the recipe and follow my tips!
You will need:
- 1 box of Vietnamese rice paper (picture is below). Make sure you DON’T buy the kind that says “extra thin”; otherwise, they’ll be difficult to handle.
- fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
- fresh coriander (cilantro), coarsely chopped
- cucumber, cut into julienne strips
- carrots, cut into julienne strips
- celery, cut into julienne strips
- bean sprouts
- rice vermicelli
- 2-3 lettuce leaves (Romaine or any curly lettuce)
- roasted peanuts, chopped into tiny pieces
- fish sauce
- juice of one fresh lime
Notice that I didn’t specify quantities. This will be up to you. I suggest you use only half of the rice vermicelli pack. Follow the directions on the pack, some rice vermicelli call for soaking in hot water, and the length of soaking time varies from brand to brand. Half a pack will yield about 12-16 spring rolls (medium size).
The pictures below show what rice paper looks like. They come in round plastic cases or cellophane bags and they keep indefinitely in a cool dry place. What I like about them is there’s no waste – you use only what you need and store the rest. The frozen wrappers that I buy to make fried egg rolls tend to go to waste because they come in a large bunch and what doesn’t get used can’t go back into the freezer.
I took a photo of a single sheet of rice paper (right) so you can really see what it looks like:
Here are the steps:
Make the filling a day ahead:
If your rice vermicelli needs to be soaked in hot water, do soak them as per the instructions on the packet. Drain and quickly rinse them with cold water. Shake to remove excess water and set aside to cool completely (about 2 hours).
When your rice vermicelli (noodles) are dry, add your carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts and celery strips (as if you’re making a salad) and then throw in some mint leaves and cilantro. Sprinkle fish sauce and lime over it. Add your peanuts. Mix well. If you want to add salt and pepper, you can – but fish sauce is salty already. The mixture you end up with should resemble something of a noodle salad. Cover with plastic and put it in the fridge overnight, or for at least five hours if you’re in a rush. (Important: set aside some of your julienne strip veggies, sprouts, peanuts, mint and cilantro because you will use them as additional topping once you’re ready to make the spring rolls).
While your noodles are in the fridge and absorbing the flavors, prepare your hoisin sauce.
This recipe is from Williams & Sonoma. You’ll need:
1 tbsp oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped and smashed
1/3 cup hoisin sauce (available in some supermarkets and in most Asian groceries)
1/2 cup chicken broth (I use 1 cup because my broth cubes are salty)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
a few drops of hot chili sauce or jalapeno peppers
Heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sugar, chili sauce and chicken broth. Cook well. Add hoisin. Mix well and continue to let this mixture simmer. It will take about 10-15 minutes before it begins to thicken. Stir from time to time. When it has thickened, turn off heat. Set aside. Do NOT throw in the peanuts yet. The peanuts are thrown in when you’ve transferred the sauce in a serving bowl and you’re ready to serve the rolls.
Making the Spring Rolls:
Take your noodle mixture out of the fridge. At this time, the noodles shall be less sticky and will be easier to handle. Lay out the extra carrots, celery, cucumber, peanuts, mint, bean sprouts that you cut up the day before. Take a pie dish or any wide-mouthed bowl and pour lukewarm water into it. Make sure everything is within reach.
Take one rice paper out of the container and dip it in the water for 3-5 seconds, making sure it’s completely wet. There is no need to wipe off excess water. Just shake gently. Don’t worry if it curls. To avoid curling, don’t dip it in the water for longer than 5 seconds. When you lay it out in front of you, it should be “creaseless” (for lack of a better word).
Now take a lettuce leaf and spread it out on the center of the rice paper, followed by 1-2 tbsp of your noodle mixture. Top with your garnish. Last topping should be the peanuts. Look at diagram below and proceed as follows.
Take the right side (# 2) and fold over. Then take the left side (# 4) and fold over. Take the side nearest you (# 3) and take it up to where it covers the entire filling and roll up gently. Make sure you roll as tightly as possible, tucking in whatever garnish comes away.
Here’s what I mean:
If my instructions re folding aren’t very clear, I apologise. Let me refer you to a youtube video for an actual demonstration: note that she starts with the side closest to her. You can do that as well. I prefer to start from the right and left sides!
As for the Vietnamese Goi, I got the recipe from www.ravenouscouple.blogspot.com. I don’t know if you like the texture and taste of instant jelly fish. I don’t, but the daikon (Asian turnip) was excellent. Not putting shrimps and instant jelly fish won’t significantly alter the taste of Goi…well, to me it didn’t.
I could eat Goi everyday. Even after a plateful, you don’t end up with a heavy feeling. I’m grateful to the ravenous couple for their Goi recipe. By making the salad, I learned about daikon which will now be part of my “root” inventory. In many ways, it’s similar to Jikama (singkamas).
Oh yes! Vietnamese spring rolls have different versions. Mine’s the vegetarian version. Some add shrimps, strips of pork, beef or chicken. I know some even add fungus crisp (available in Asian stores) and exotic mushrooms. There’s no limit to what you can do. If you’re planning on adding more ingredients, you’d be better off buying the largest size of rice paper!