Why make Fresh Spring Rolls?
Vietnamese fresh spring rolls are one of my favorite Asian appetizers. Although egg rolls and fried spring rolls might be more familiar and common in the USA, I’ll always pick a fresh spring roll over either of the other options. Fresh spring rolls are super tasty, leave you feeling refreshed and yet satisfied, they are better for you since they are fresh rather than deep-fried and … they are easily the pretties of all the rolls by far!
What’s in a Vietnamese Fresh Spring Roll?
A Vietnamese style fresh spring roll is a savory mixture of fresh vegetables and herbs, cold thin rice noodles and often a cooked protein (like shrimp), wrapped up in a rice paper wrapper. This recipe includes lettuce, cabbage, carrots, red pepper and cucumber as the vegetables, along with thin vermicelli rice noodles, but it’s the shrimp and especially the mint that make them something special to me. If you don’t like mint, you can substitute cilantro, but you have to use one or the other for the true effect. Fresh spring rolls are easy to make ahead, store for a few hours nicely and are best enjoyed with your favorite dip – peanut sauce, sweet Thai chili sauce, hosin sauce, a soy-based dipping sauce. I could make a meal out of fresh spring rolls in a heartbeat.
Step 1: Prepare the Shrimp
Fresh spring rolls are not cooked – that’s why we call them “fresh”! So, whatever ingredients you put inside the roll must be edible in their raw state or cooked before you wrap it up. You can buy cooked shrimp, but they are super easy to prepare yourself (and cheaper too). I bring a skillet of salted water to a boil and then drop raw, peeled and deveined shrimp into the water for just about 2 minutes. Then drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking process and pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel. You can learn how to peel and devein shrimp here. Once cooked, slice the shrimp in half horizontally. Snap – now you have twice as many shrimp!
Step 2: Prepare all the Ingredients
Once you have your shrimp cooked, you will just need to prepare the other ingredients for the roll. Cabbage, carrots, peppers and cucumber just need to be peeled and cut into pieces. Do try to slice the cabbage into thin strips and julienne the carrots, peppers and cucumber as thinly as possible – they are easier to eat that way. Cook the rice noodles by following the package directions or just pouring boiling water over the noodles and let them sit for 3 minutes before draining. I toss the cooked noodles with a tiny bit of sesame oil for just a hint of flavor and to help keep them from clumping.
Step 3: Set up your Rolling Station
Set yourself up for success when you start to build your rolls by setting everything out around you, including a skillet or cake pan of hot water. Dipping the rice wrapper into the water is the hardest part of the task. Actually – taking the rice paper OUT of the water is the hardest task. Just be patient with yourself and if it starts to stick on itself, just pop it back into the water. You’ll get the hang of it.
How to Build a Fresh Spring Roll
My biggest tip for you in building the rolls is to think about how they look from the outside. Whatever you put down first will be visible on the outside. That is why we start with the shrimp and mint leaves and give them a backdrop of lettuce. Place the shrimp with their pinkier exterior sides down and place the mint leaves with their greener upper surface down. This way you’ll have the prettiest rolls when you’re done. With the shrimp, mint and lettuce leaf down, you can add the remaining ingredients in any order you like. You’ll see what I’ve done in the images above. When you’re ready to roll, start by rolling the bottom of the wrapper over the ingredients first, then tuck in the sides and roll tightly over the rest of the filling. You’ll learn from experience, but try to use the right resistance. Too little and the roll will be floppy. Too much tension and you might tear the rice wrapper.
What Dips to Serve with Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls
Here’s where you add your own preference to this easy appetizer – what dips do you like? I really love sweet Thai chili sauce and since it comes in a bottle, that’s definitely the easiest of dips to serve with these rolls. A homemade peanut sauce is super easy too, however, and so delicious. Add a little hoisin sauce to it if you like your sauce a little sweeter. You could also make a simple soy-based dipping sauce by combining equal parts soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, along with some grated fresh ginger, some crushed red pepper flakes and finely minced scallion (add a drip of honey if you want it sweeter). You could seriously dip these delicious fresh spring rolls into any favorite Asian dipping sauce and be perfectly happy… and refreshed!