When it comes to cooking, I learn mostly by observing, doing, and experimenting through trial and error. And sometimes simply from seeing things and attempting to re-create them.
I have been fascinated by the Vietnamese shrimp rice paper rolls ever since trying my first one a long time ago. I also realized they would be a interesting subject to photograph, with shrimp cheerfully peering through the cloudy, almost translucent rice paper of the well-stuffed roll.
When I saw rice paper wrappers at Whole Foods, I decided to make these rolls, guided in part by memory, in part by the ingredients I had on hand.
The ingredients vary. I've had ones simply with shrimp, lettuce, and rice noodles, as well as ones with more complex flavors from cilantro and Thai basil. These can also be made with pork or beef, or simply with vegetables for a vegetarian option. When I made these, we were also making pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle stew, and had some toppings left over (bean sprouts, scallion, cilantro and basil), and as a result I've used some of the ingredients in the rolls. The rolls are also frequently made with rice noodles, which I've opted not to use to make them lighter.
To prepare the rolls, slice each shrimp length-wise. You will fit three shrimp halves inside of each roll. The remaining ingredients should be sliced into long, thin strips. The wrapper (I used brown rice paper wrappers, hence the darker color in the photos) is then soaked in a bowl of warm water for a few seconds to soften it. Take it out and place it on your work surface. Be sure that it isn't dripping wet when you begin to work with it, and work quickly to assemble the rolls so that the paper doesn't dry out. Then to assemble each roll, place three shrimp halves, pink side down onto a wrapper, arrange the other ingredients on top, and wrap it into a tight bundle.
The summer rolls can be served with a peanut sauce or nuoc cham (nước chấm) which is a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chili paste, with precise ingredients varying by region. I've made my own spin on the dipping sauce, with lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, as well as a healthy dose of Sriracha to make it an even balance of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy flavors.
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Makes 8 Rolls
You will need:
12 medium raw shrimp
8 round rice paper sheets (about 8 1/2 inches wide)
1 daikon radish, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/3 cup bean sprouts
3 scallions, sliced into matchsticks
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
1/3 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
a bowl of warm water large enough to lay a sheet of the rice paper flat
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp is pink and fully cooked through. Rinse under cold water to cool. Peel and devein the shrimp, then slice each shrimp in half, lengthwise.
2. To assemble the rolls, dip one sheet of rice paper in warm water until pliable. Place on a wood board. Place three shrimp halves in the middle of the wrapper in a line, pink side down, and top with roughly 1/8 of each of the remaining ingredients, then wrap each roll snugly by folding in the top and bottom ends, then by rolling the sides into a tight bundle. Place seam-side down on a lightly oiled plate (to avoid sticking). Repeat with the remaining rolls. Serve with the dipping sauce or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes about 1/3 cup
You will need:
1/4 cup lime juice (about 1 1/2 limes)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp Sriracha, or to taste
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
Whisk lime juice and brown sugar in a small bowl or measuring cup until the sugar is dissolved, then add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Serve or refrigerate until needed.