Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls
“Have you watched the movie Babette’s Feast?
It’s a Danish film, by Gabriel Axel, full of annoying subtitles, washed out scenery, bland boring people that culminates into one of the most delectably prepared feasts I’ve ever seen, including the most expensive dish -“Cailles en Sarcophage” or Quail in puff pastry – deboned quail, seared, stuffed with foie gras and HUGE truffle slices, and a magnificent sauce of figs and truffle spooned over top. Watching these Puritan-type old spinsters warm and open up over delightfully thought-out and prepared cuisine is one of the reasons I love to cook.
Ordinary food becomes gastronomy, acquaintances become friends, relationships improve over each intimate and delicious bite.
It’s what makes you think about what would please that night for dinner, or that weekend for brunch with loved ones, new acquaintances or just the two of you on a romantic evening. Which led me to this dish, which is sadly not as eleborate or expensively delicious as Cailles en Sarcophage, but would satisfy anyone on the hottest of summer nights, or set out the fixings and rolled out as a group would be a fun project to bring even the somber-most hearts together.
I love fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, especially in the dog days of summer when the green seems to have disappeared among browning foliage and grass and the pavement is so hot you can’t walk barefoot on it without hopping back and forth between each foot. The cool is finally coming here but it’s hardly seemed like fall at all with our temps being in the 80’s 90’s!
You can fill these with any variety of vegetables, meats or tofu and you can use a choice of fresh herbs, but I sort of love the combination of Thai basil and mint in the more traditional way of things.
I did decide to go a little off-kilter however by using fresh and crunchy zucchini noodles in my version this week instead of the usual rice noodles. After all it’s summer (sort of), and fresh produce still abounds so I walked out to my garden and picked veggies and fresh herbs and got to rolling up some refreshing spring rolls for dinner one night when the Wonderful guy was at his men’s bible study….and it was a chick food kind of a night.
Start off doing some prep work. You can use either cook medium-sized shrimp – (you can use 1-2 shrimp depending on what size of wraps you’re using) or buy the pre-cooked shrimp, which is what I opted to do. Keep in mind that you’re only counting 1/2 of a shrimp as one shrimp however….(see next step).
Cut the shrimp in half as shown in the following photo.
They will be nice little flat halves of shrimp. You don’t have to cut your shrimp, but it just makes the roll a little less stuffed I think to halve them. You will ned 2-3 of these halves per fresh spring roll, so count out how many you wish to make. I made 8 tonight so I really only needed 4-6 shrimp.
Next cut some chives into 4 inch pieces, at least 8 or more if you love chives.
Other ingredients I used to fill my wraps were shredded carrots, using a potato peeler (but you could also just buy the matchsticks for a time saver) slivered red peppers, slivered snap peas, cucumbers and radishes and thin spears of asparagus. You’ll want to tear some lettuce leaves into about 4 inch long by 2-3 inch wide pieces (I used green leaf lettuce) and also some leaves of mint, cilantro sprigs and leaves and either Thai basil or regular basil. Thai is the best if you can find it.
It’s important to prep everything ahead of time because it will make rolling these spring rolls a snap.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention, traditional Vietnamese spring rolls use rice noodles as a filler but I wanted to capitalize on summer, and fresh zucchini noodles, sometimes called “zoodles”, so I hauled out my spiralizer and began to make them on the plate with the smallest holes.
Now for the wrapper – you can find these in Asian markets or order here. I use this brand:
These are crispy rice paper rounds that you will dip in water to soften and use. They are a bit tricky and awkward at first, but you’ll get it after a few.
Fill up a round shallow sauce pan (one that’s bigger than the rice papers) with water.
Dip one right in and hold down with your fingers for about the count of 10 seconds.
Lay it out gently without letting the sides stick to each other. It’s kind of like a challenging game of cling wrap war….
I seriously detest using cling wrap.
Now typically you lay in your lettuce first. This makes a nice “nest” of sorts for all your small ingredients. Do your layering of ingredients down to the end of the rice paper wrap closest to you.
You can lay one or two of these down and then begin to top with the rest of your ingredients. I started with a blob of the zucchini noodles and then stacked the rest.
Don’t layer on the shrimp yet.
We’re going to start to roll by holding the rice paper wrap closest to you. Gently pull it up and over your toppings taking care to your move your fingers to the back of the toppings to hold on to them and tuck them in as you roll.
Tuck the end of the wrapper under the vegetables.
Take the two ends and tuck them onto the roll. You can also do this at the end and because the wrapper is so gluey-like it will stick just fine!
Now you should have the back edge left still unrolled. Lay down your shrimp. This just makes it prettier when rolled up.
Next, continue rolling all the way up!
If you want to be fancy-schmancy, you can add in a long chive stem down with the shrimp and leave the end open for it to stick out.
Then go ahead and roll the next seven of your fresh spring rolls! You can cut them in half to make a pretty presentation and serve them with my famous Thai peanut sauce for dipping (Find that recipe here!). It’s delicious!