Rice Paper Rolls

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Rolls Before

Spring Rolls Before

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.

Spring Rolls After

Spring Rolls After

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.

9 Responses to “Rice Paper Rolls”

  1. Abby Says:

    I have a package of these wraps in my pantry that I have never cracked open even when I’ve been down to my last dollar, because I’ve been a bit intimidated, but this recipe looks do-able, so I will give it a try!

  2. lessisenough Says:

    The rolls are really good, and worth the trouble to roll them all up. Apparently the key is to dip them in hot water (if you use cold water, they’re slippery but not sticky) and to use two wrappers per roll (otherwise they tear). Good luck!

  3. Kate Says:

    I just appreciate your blog so much. –the thinking, the tone…

    I’m making the Peanut Millet regularly now and raving about it to everyone who will listen.

    Can’t wait to try these. I bet even my kids will like them if I leave the cilantro out of theirs.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks, glad you like it.

    You could definitely leave out the cilantro or substitute some other herb, like basil or mint.

    The peanut millet was definitely the high point of my millet experiments. I haven’t tried anything else in a while — I think I overloaded on different variations trying to figure out what would work best. I should probably try to get back to that. Maybe next week…

  5. Lilly Says:

    Tip for keeping spring rolls: line a resealable container with dampened kitchen cloth or paper towel…lay out the rolls and depending on the depth of your container you may be able to stack several layers so long as you use more dampened paper towels in between. Lay one across the top row, use a sheet of plastic wrap to seal it all in then snap your lid on to the container. I’ve made these last about 4 days.

    Its best to make these fresh just before eating so the insides don’t become dry.

  6. Sandy Barth Says:

    My rolls are very sticky. How can I avoid that

  7. lessisenough Says:

    Well you want them to be a little bit sticky, so they hold together. I have had good luck using the strategy that Didi Emmons outlines in Vegetarian Planet. Boil water, pour into a large bowl (large enough for the wrapper to fit in) and dip the wrappers in that for a few seconds, take them out when they are still a little stiff and put them on a plate. Use two wrappers together, so put the second one, also dipped in the water but still a little stiff, on top of the first. The water on the plate and the residual water on the wrapper will soak in and soften them all the way while they sit. Put the filling in the middle and roll up.

    Didi Emmons does say that if you use cold water, not hot, the wrappers will be slippery rather than sticky. So if your wrappers are too sticky, maybe try it with cold water and see if that works better for you.

    Good luck!

  8. Joyce Says:

    can you refrigerate these after wrrapping in damp paper towels and placing in a resealable container ??

  9. lessisenough Says:

    I’ve refrigerated leftovers but they do dry out. I haven’t tried putting paper towels with them, that should help.

    They are okay after a day, but not nearly as good as they are fresh. And more than a day, they’re too dry.

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