I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love Vietnamese rice paper rolls. But despite their popularity, they’re the sort of thing most people don’t tend to actually make from scratch. They’re a tad intimidating but well worth the effort. It’s one of the best things you could possibly learn how to assemble – not only are they infinitely versatile, but rice paper rolls are gluten-free, dairy free, egg free, vegetarian or even vegan if you choose, low in fat and calories – there aren’t many finger foods that fall into as many categories and are as universally adored. And they’re perfect for ringing in the Chinese New Year, which is, after all, celebrated in many other Asian countries as well.
Once you get the hang of it – all you need is a little practice – these really are a snap to stuff and roll. This recipe is a rough guideline, as Vietnamese rice paper rolls can be stuffed with anything you like – thinly sliced red pepper, pea pods, lettuce, crab meat, cooked shrimp, blanched asparagus, bean sprouts, shredded lettuce, whole chives, jicama, mango, chopped salted peanuts or cashews, shreds of leftover cooked chicken or pork. They travel well, and kids love them as much as grown-ups do.
The key is to soak rice papers until they’re pliable, then pat them dry so that they stick to themselves when you roll them up. All the measurements are approximate – you just need enough filling to stuff as many rolls as you want to make.
And make lots of peanut sauce. It’s great to keep in the fridge and toss over cold spaghetti with any leftovers you might have on hand – chopped roast pork or chicken, cucumbers, pea pods, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli slaw…
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
15 small-medium rice paper wrappers
100 g (3 1/2 oz) thin rice vermicelli noodles (about a handful)
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
15 cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
half cucumber, cut into matchsticks
half mango, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Small handful fresh cilantro, mint or thai basil leaves, torn or left whole
1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts or cashews (optional)
To prepare the filling, place noodles in a bowl of boiling water and let stand for about 3 minutes (or as package directs) to soften. Drain well and place in a medium bowl. Add carrot and rice vinegar and toss to combine. Cut the shrimp lengthwise in half.
To assemble the rolls, fill a shallow dish (I use a pie plate) with hot water and lay a clean tea towel over your work surface. Soak one rice paper round at a time in the water for about 10 seconds, until it’s pliable, and lay it on the tea towel. Pat the surface with the edges of the towel to absorb any excess water. Place two shrimp halves (cut side up so you can see the pink through the wrapper), a stick of cucumber, a stick of mango and some noodles down the middle of the round. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts (if using). Fold over one long side to cover, then fold up both ends. Roll the whole thing up as tightly as you can without tearing the wrapper. Set aside on a platter as you roll them, but don’t stack them on top of each other, or they may stick. If you like, cover with parchment until you’re ready to serve them. Makes lots.
Use more or less broth to make this sauce as thick or thin as you like. If you like coconut flavor in your peanut sauce, add a teaspoon of coconut extract instead of coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat.
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 Tbsp. soy sauce or Tamari
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or honey
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar or lime juice
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. curry paste (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a blender or jar and whiz or shake until smooth. Add water or coconut milk if you need to thin it a bit. Refrigerate until you need it.
For more recipes to celebrate Chinese new year, check out the Babble slideshow!