When it is hot out, one of the best things in the world is a nice, easy, mostly stove-free meal you can feel good about eating with your family.
Well, here is one the whole gang can get involved in preparing and enjoying together. It is colorful, loaded with fresh vegetables and flavors, and is healthy, too!
We’ve made Vietnamese Fresh Rolls several times at our house. The kids first fell in love with them as a “make at your table” dish at Pho Lemongrass in Coolidge Corner, Brookline.
I’ve taken the liberty of including some shortcuts here, which may make the dish less authentic but serve to make the meal easier to prepare and, hopefully, more appealing to eaters and cooks who may shy away from "exotic" fare.
Vietnamese Fresh Rolls
Yield 8-12 spring rolls (serves 4 as entrée).
- 4-6 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles, cooked according to the package directions, rinsed and drained (available at supermarkets and Trader Joe’s).
- 12 rice paper wrappers, 8.5 inch diameter (available at Asian markets, Whole Foods, and many supermarkets. Look in the international aisle).
- Large shrimp (peeled, deveined), cooked and sliced thinly or chopped. You may substitute cooked chicken breast, beef, pork loin or tofu — all sliced thinly — or use any combination of the above. (When using just shrimp, we used about a pound).
- Shredded or grated carrots.
- Cucumber, peeled and seeded, sliced the long way, very thinly.
- 1 bunch watercress, washed and trimmed.
- Bean sprouts (optional).
- Fresh basil leaves, whole (optional).
- Chopped fresh mint leaves.
- Chopped fresh cilantro.
- Finely chopped peanuts.
- Sweet chili sauce (supermarket or Trader Joe’s)
- Peanut sauce (you can make your own or buy at the market. We like the Full Circle brand peanut sauce available at , which has a touch of coconut milk in it along with peanut flavor). To make your own peanut sauce, mix 1 part crunchy peanut butter to 2 parts Hoisin sauce. Add enough water to make the sauce thin enough to pour from a spoon.
1. Fill a large bowl with hot water. Soak the rice wrapper sheets one at a time until just softened, but still rather firm; about 10-20 seconds. Place softened sheet carefully on plate, unfolding and reshaping back into a circle if necessary.
2. Place herbs (mint leaf, cilantro, and/or basil) and vegetables of your choice into the center of each wrapper. Add shrimp (or chicken, pork, tofu) and top with a small handful of cooked thin noodles and bean sprouts. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.
3. Roll, burrito style, by folding the bottom of the wrapper over the filling in the center. Fold in the left and right sides and roll away from you.
4. Dip into peanut and/or sweet chili sauce.
Most of these ingredients can be found at your regular grocery store. Check the international aisle for the sauces and noodles. Look for the Asian or Thai offerings. Some of the sauces and noodles, as noted, are also available at Trader Joe’s.
The rice paper wrappers are a little tricky to prepare at first. Small children should NOT do this step on their own, as it involves hot water. An adult should soak one rice wrapper at a time in very hot water until soft. Remove with tongs and place on plate or paper towel. The wrapper will continue to soften as you fill it with ingredients and roll it.
Keep in mind the ingredient list is just a suggestion. Feel free to make any substitutions you like. Don’t have watercress handy (or don’t like it)? Use baby spinach or regular lettuce. Can’t eat shrimp? Try thinly sliced cooked chicken breast, tofu or pork loin.
Fill the rice wrappers as you would a burrito, keeping ingredients toward the center and rolling the bottom flap up first, and then the sides. Hold from the bottom when eating.
Most importantly, don’t stress. The idea is to have fun and try something new. The rolls don’t have to be perfect. If you can’t find the rice paper wrappers or have trouble working with them, do not fret. You can always throw the ingredients together on your plate, top with crushed peanuts and sauce and eat as a salad.