All three of them opted for the spring rolls, outvoting me. But I’m the cook, and I was craving summer rolls, so I made both.
Spring Rolls and Summer Rolls
First the summer rolls (sometimes also called fresh spring rolls), since they’re the cook’s favorite. How could anybody not like these? They’re the perfect healthy finger food for warm summer days.
I eat a lot of these, but I hardly ever make them myself at home. I think I had trouble rolling these before, into what I considered perfect cylinders, like the ones served in restaurants. So, I abandoned the idea of homemade summer rolls altogether.
But I’m a more confident cook these days, and after consulting a couple of cookbooks and online recipes, I gave it another go. Besides, I already had most of the basic ingredients on hand. Leftover rice papers from a previous attempt (good to know they last a long time, those papers), rice noodles, and all these herbs from the garden.
These rolls can be filled with anything you like, really. The ones you get from the Vietnamese restaurants are usually filled with pork and shrimp. But to me, the best part of the filling is the fresh vegetables and herbs. And the rice noodles; they help give the rolls some body and are the perfect vehicle to soak up the sauce.
So, fill away. As long as you have the noodles and the fresh vegetables and herbs in them, I’d say you’ve made summer rolls.
I filled mine with rice noodles, julienned carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber sticks, grilled chicken strips, lettuce, and different kinds of herbs. I liked the ones with mints the most. And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can omit the chicken, and will still enjoy an incredible meal.
But just in case you wanted chicken in yours, here’s the marinade recipe for it:
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, minced finely or crushed into paste
1 tbsp minced lemon grass
Marinate chicken pieces (from 2 breasts) for at least 30 minutes, prior to grilling.
To make the rolls, assemble your ingredients first (mise en place is the fancy term for it) around either a chopping block or a large flat plate. I like using my glass chopping block for this.
First, dip your rice paper in a shallow bowl filled with hot tap water. Not boiling hot, but hotter than warm. Don’t soak for too long; that was my initial mistake. It would render the paper too soft and thus tear easily. Around 5 seconds is all it needs. Don’t worry if the paper still feels rigid in some parts when you take it out of the water. It will continue to absorb the water as it lies on the chopping block or plate. Then, it’ll get all sticky. That’s what you want to happen. It’s now ready for filling.
Stack your filling ingredients into a neat rectangular pile on the bottom 1/3 of the paper. I started with a half lettuce leaf, then noodles, then chicken and other veggies and herbs. Then while pressing down on the filling with one hand, I folded up the bottom of the paper with my other hand. You can fold the sides at this point, if you like, and continue rolling up, tucking in the filling as you go. I found out they were easier to roll with the sides unfolded. And they looked prettier that way.
After a few ugly rolls (too thin, too fat, torn wrappers), I was able to make pretty ones for the camera. Practice, practice, that’s all I can say, which means more rolls to eat!
Besides the fresh vegetables and herbs, the sauce also plays an important part in what makes summer rolls so yummy. I like peanut hoisin sauce best for my dipping sauce.
Peanut Hoisin Sauce
This is taken directly from Mai Pham’s “The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking.”
1 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup puréed or finely minced yellow onion
1 tbsp ground chili paste, or to taste
1 tbsp chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
Put first four ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if too thick. Set aside to cool. Transfer mixture to a sauce dish and garnish with chili paste and chopped peanuts.
Now, onto the spring rolls. This is a recipe I’ve developed based on my family’s taste preference, but you can use any meat or vegetables you like.
The most important step of all is to place the filling is a colander lined with a bowl or plate once it is cooked, to make sure that any liquid in it drains away. Filling must be dry to achieve crispy spring rolls. Soggy spring rolls are the worst!
2 chicken breast, cup up into small cubes (TG can’t stand ground meat, that’s why. Otherwise, you can use ground chicken, pork, or even turkey.)
2 cups shredded carrots
6 cups shredded cabbage (You can add other vegetables. I’ve added kale, broccoli, even green beans. But cabbage is the norm.)
1 big onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbsp crunchy fried shallots (optional, but it adds a lot of flavor)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 package spring roll wrappers (about 25 pieces)
1. Marinate chicken in soy sauce, sugar, and pepper.
2. Sauté onion and garlic in oil, until onion starts to sweat.
3. Add chicken, sauté until chicken is just cooked.
4. Add carrots, stir until carrots are wilted, but not totally cooked.
5. Add cabbage and scallions, stir until cabbage are wilted, but not totally cooked. (This is quite an important step. Overcooked vegetables will turn mushy when spring rolls are deep-fried later.) Add salt & pepper as needed.
6. The most important step. Place the filling mixture in a colander to cool, so that all liquid drains away.
7. Once filling is cool, add the fried shallots, and mix thoroughly. Now you can start assembling the rolls.
8. Use about 1 1/2 tbsp filling for each wrapper.
9. Seal rolls with either egg white lightly beaten or a thick paste made of flour and water. I use the paste.
10. Deep fry rolls until golden brown.
Depending on how much filling you put in the rolls, you might end up with leftover filling. No problem, add beaten eggs and turn it into Egg Foo Young!