The first time I experienced Vietnamese Summer Rolls was out on a date with Amy. She took me to a Thai restaurant in Wilmington, that neither of us can remember the name of now. According to Amy, they served the best Pad Thai around and also served fresh summer rolls as an appetizer, which she found equally amazing. Since I had never experienced Thai cuisine before, I was delighted to give it a try and loved it! We dined there a few times before moving up to Western Massachusetts and after our move to Springfield, I started experimenting with summer rolls at home. After a bit of research and reading several recipes I felt confident enough to begin. I bought rice papers, vermicelli, fresh herbs, lettuce, cucumber, and carrots then went about setting up my mise en place. Summer rolls are prep intensive, similar to lasagna but the flavor rewards are so worth it. After prepping everything I needed, I soaked my first paper and quickly discovered folding summer rolls is tricky even with all the prep work. It took several trail and error practice runs but eventually I worked out a system and roll them fairly easily now. My first couple of rolls still turn out wonky so don’t lose patience if you have to start a roll over or if the rice paper happens to tear. Just keep at it, have fun and never be afraid to try something new.
For truly authentic Vietnamese Summer Rolls mint and Thai basil are must haves but feel free to experiment with different flavor combinations. You can also opt for vegan rolls or mix it up with shrimp or chicken. I’ve even seen recipes for dessert summer rolls using seasonal berries. This batch, I used Fair Weather Farm lettuces and herbs that I helped to harvest. Putting more effort into the ingredients on my plate helps me feel a deeper gratitude and appreciation for the food I eat. Farming and harvesting is really hard work and when you experience that first hand it really helps make the produce taste better! Summer rolls are an excellent way to glamour up a salad and as a bonus they are gluten free. I’ve brought them to several bbq’s along with Amy’s amazing peanut sauce and we never bring any home.
Please bare in mind that I don’t really measure when cooking. I’m a by hand and taste kind of cook so a little individual interpretation and creativity is required.
4-6 rice papers
1 -2 cups of warm water
4 – 6 large lettuce leaves or several small ones, I prefer red leaf lettuce when available
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped herbs such as mint and Thai basil
1 cup Cuke, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh sweet peas and sliced radish
2 cups vermicelli, cooked per pkg instructions and cooled
2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil, divided
1 – 2 tablespoons Sesame seeds
1 pkg cubed tofu, water drained
1 tablespoon all natural peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon chili oil, optional
1 tsp Hoisin sauce
Salt and pepper
Several sheets of Wax paper
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the peanut butter with one tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil, chili oil, Hoisin sauce and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss the cubed tofu in the mixture until well coated and set aside. Once the vermicelli has cooled slightly, toss it with a couple teaspoons of Toasted Sesame Oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set seasoned noodles aside to continue cooling. In a medium sized sauce pan add the warm water and set aside. Wash and prep all produce. Now set up an assembly line on your kitchen island or counter top. Set up prep according to what works best for you. I roll on a cutting board with the rice papers and warm water directly in front of me and arrange the remaining ingredients in order of how I want to layer them.
So wet the rice paper first in the warm water, place it on the cutting board, then layer the lettuce on top of that followed by seasoned noodles, seasoned tofu, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, cucumber, sweet peas, radish, and then finish with herbs. If you’ve ever rolled egg rolls or a burrito then this process is exactly like that. Once you’ve layered the ingredients on top the rice paper fold the sides first from left to right towards the center of the roll. Then roll from the bottom of the rice paper to the top while continuously tucking the ingredients and sides of the roll in as needed. (It helped me to watch other people rolling on YouTube) Continue rolling until all ingredients are used. Line a baking dish with wax paper and layer the rolls in the dish as you finish them. If rolling several at once (recommended) separate each layer of finished rolls with additional wax paper. The rolls will stick together if they touch and subsequently the rice paper may tear. Let the rolls chill in the fridge at least 30 minutes and if storing them over night be sure they are covered securely so the rice paper doesn’t dry out. Slice each roll in half and serve with your favorite dipping sauce and a crisp glass of white wine or Sake.