Vietnamese summer rolls, fresh spring rolls or “salad rolls” as directly translated from gui cuon, is probably one of best known of Vietnamese dishes, alongside the ubiquitous pho. Its enduring popularity – in restaurants, magazines, blogs, potlucks and parties – can be largely attributed to its freshness and tastiness, as well as to its adaptability to whatever ingredients you have on hand. As long as you’ve got fresh, crisp, colorful veggies, they are bound to be delicious.
Recently I’ve come across some scrumptious summer rolls on FoodGawker. Seeing that I had loads of veggie scraps to get rid of, I thought I’d try my hand at them. I bought a packet of rice papers from Cold Storage, and prepared to stuff them with a vegetable medley of lettuce, carrots, roasted red peppers, mango, avocado, and cilantro.
Rice paper is sold dried, and once rehydrated in water, it becomes a semi-transparent and elastic sheet. If you’re into aesthetics, it is important to plan your layout for layering the ingredients, so as to ensure the bright-colored veggies show through the roll. This can be done by placing the brighter colored ingredients against the skin (ie bottom layers), while the less “appealing” ingredients like lettuce as the top layers. I also learnt the hard way not to go overboard with the filling; you want a nice compact plump roll, but not one that is bursting or tearing.
Undeniably, the real flavor resides in the dipping sauce. Typically, the dipping sauce for Vietnamese summer rolls (nuoc cham) typically contains chili, garlic, hoisin, fish sauce, lime, ginger. However, I took this opportunity to tweak a almond butter-tamari dressing that I had used previously for a salad. While slightly inauthentic, it still exemplifies the sweet-salty-spicy combination of nuoc cham. Alternatively if you’re lazy, a squeeze of bottled sriracha would do the trick instantaneously.
The dipping sauce turned out rather thick and a bit too salty. Actually to call it “dipping” is quite a misnomer since its consistency was more suited for spreading instead! Nevertheless it still went excellently well with the rolls.
I feel conflicted about dishing out a recipe for the Summer Rolls, because it can be regarded as a “kitchen sink” dish. They can be as easy or complicated as you want. Use a nice colorful combination of veggies (and shrimp if you’re non-vegetarian) that pleases your eyes and palate. Importantly, use the freshest ingredients possible because inherently, summer rolls are all about freshness.
I’m quite happy with the results since this is my first attempt at handling the rolls. The crunch of the veggies against the chewy rice skin, the sweetness of the mango against the salty & spicy sauce; there was just so much complex flavours going on! Aesthetics wise, the rolling may look amateurish but practice makes perfect.