Rice Paper Rolls
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I suspect these won’t be nearly as cheap for you as they are for me if you don’t have an Asian grocery near you, but I also suspect that more people have an Asian grocery near them than think they do. Your local Asian grocery probably doesn’t have a website, so try old school and check the phone book — the Asian grocery in my neighborhood is conveniently called “Asian Grocery” — or the next time you’re in your local Chinese restaurant, ask if they know of any local retail grocery stores that sell Asian ingredients.
Even if you don’t have a cheap Asian grocery near by, this will still be cheap because it’s one of those recipes that uses tiny little bits of food to make you feel really full. Sort of a loaves and fishes thing.
You can put all kinds of things into these spring rolls but I’ve decided that the best (and simplest and cheapest) combination is rice noodles, cilantro, peanuts, and carrots. I’ve also made them with shrimp, when I was serving it as more of a meal than an appetizer, and one recipe I have calls for basil and mint, but I don’t think anything is better than just those four.
Regardless of what you put inside the spring rolls, the key is the dipping sauce.
My favorite is the Spicy Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce (nuoc cham) from Nina Simonds’ Asian Noodles cookbook.
Spicy Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
juice of 3 limes or 2 lemons
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 Tablespoons grated carrots
In a medium bowl, soak the crushed red pepper in the lime juice for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar, and garlic and stir to dissolve the sugar. Just before serving, add the carrots. Refrigerated, in a covered container, the sauce will keep up to 5 days. Makes about 2/3 cup.
And my notes…
Unless you’re making a giant number of spring rolls, 2/3 cup is probably at least 1/3 cup more than you need, so I nearly always cut this recipe in half. Also I love garlic as much as anyone, but even to me a tablespoon of garlic seems like a lot. I usually use less.
I’m not really sure how to give the recipe for the rolls, since how much filling you need depends on how many rolls you’re making. If you live alone, you should definitely do this for a party, because the minimum number of rolls you’re likely to end up with is about 20, and they don’t really keep. (They keep for a day or so but they’re not nearly as good the next day because they dry out.)
But in general, you want to chop up the peanuts and cilantro and grate the carrots. While you’re taking care of that, you should soak the rice sticks (also called dried rice vermicelli — basically you want the really thin rice sticks that cook up like thin spaghetti) in hot water, but you won’t need nearly as much as you think. I buy it in 16 ounce packages and feel like I should put in about 1/4 of the package but it’s always way too much. I think you really need closer to 2 ounces. But the noodles are totally cheap and you can always eat the ones you don’t use in the rolls, so it won’t hurt to prepare too many. While you’re soaking the noodles, also put on a pot of water to boil.
When everything is ready, set up a little assembly line with a tray for the completed spring rolls, a plate to roll them on, your bowls of filling ingredients, and a large bowl into which you poured the boiling water.
According to Vegetarian Planet, where I got the basic technique for this recipe, you ideally want to have two different sizes of rice paper wrappers, 14-inch and 8-inch, but there’s only one size at my Asian grocery and that works out fine. Just get whatever you can get.
Now dip one wrapper in the bowl of hot water to soften it, then put it on the plate. Take out a second wrapper and do the same thing, putting it on top of the first wrapper. The hot water should soften them and make them pliable and slightly sticky.
Put a small amount of filling in a strip across the lower third of the wrapper — a little bit of noodles, some cilantro, some carrots, and some peanuts — then fold the bottom half of the wrapper up over the filling, fold in the sides, and roll it the rest of the way up.
The first few times you’ll put way too much stuff on and they won’t roll up properly because they’ll be too stuffed. After that you’ll get the hang of it and they’ll come out fine.
Make as many as you feel like, and serve with the dipping sauce. Your friends will love you forever.