Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vietnamese Summer Rolls - Appetizer Extraordinaire

This weekend, our friend Josh came over for diner and brought his new girlfriend. We have had Josh as a guest maybe a thousand times, including vacations together, Christmas parties, full family dinners. Not only is Josh one of our best friends, but he is the easiest guest ever. He loves our kids and our dog. He gets along with our extended families. And most importantly, he will eat anything your serve up. He is the antithesis of the picky eater. (Though he swears that there was a period in his childhood when he subsisted almost entirely on hot dogs.)

This is all by way of saying that while I love to cook new things when Josh comes over, I don't fret if we are just serving up pizza or sandwiches or hot dogs for that matter. But the whole new girlfriend thing inspired me to go the extra mile. Here was the menu:

Cheesy crab in pastry cups courtesy of Mrs. D, Josh's mom
Vietnamese summer rolls, handmade right in my kitchen
Shredded Asian flavored beef
Stir-fried vegetables over udon noodles
Cheesecake brownies for dessert

With the exception of the stir fried veggies and noodles, which were pretty basic, every other dish was totally blog-worthy. (I will post more later this week, promise.) But the best part, in my humble opinion, was the summer rolls. I have always wanted to make these, and now that I have found and learned to sort of navigate an Asian grocery I was ready to give it a try.

Check out my knife skills. Perhaps Top Chef Moms Edition?
I consulted a variety of recipes on the web and basically used this one from The New York Times. The prep time on this recipe is not small because you have to carefully cut the vegetables to make them uniform size. That being said, it is well worth it. These were delicious, and I think that Megan, Josh's new girl, was suitably impressed. (Why I felt the need to impress her is not entirely clear to me - a subject for another blog entry...?)

Here is what I put in our summer rolls. There are, of course, tons of ways to vary this recipe to fit your needs and tastes.  Photos by Dave.

Here is all of the veggies chopped and ready to go.
  • cucumber - seeded and cut into long thin strips
  • jicama - halved, peeled and cut into long thin strips
  • 2 carrots julienned
  • mung bean sprouts
  • rice sticks and/or rice vermicelli - cooked and rinsed
  • cilantro, mint, Thai basil - roughly chopped
  • 1 lb medium shrimp - cooked, tail off. (You could also use chicken, pork, tofu or just go all veggie.)
  • 1 Korean hot pepper finely chopped (I only added this to a couple of rolls to make them spicy.)
  • rice paper 
Dave showing off his camera skills that are far superior to mine. Jealous much?
Here is what you do:
-Get out a large plate and put a damp paper towel on it
-Soak a rice paper in warm water for about 10 seconds and place it on your work surface
-Start with two shrimp and then add a little of everything else.
-Roll it up like a little burrito - fold the bottom up first, then fold in both sides, then roll the rest of the way up.
-Place on plate and refrigerate covered until ready to serve. I read several recipes that noted not to let the rolls touch on the plate. Also, several suggested to only prepare them 2 hours or less before serving, but I made them about 4 hours before go time and they were just fine.

I don't typically do the step-by-step photo thing. About a hundred other bloggers have cornered that market, but this once I am making an exception.

Ready to go. Yes, I have an apron with my name on it. Cooler than cool, right?

After you put in all of the ingredients, roll the bottom up first.

Then fold in each side.

Roll it up the rest of the way.

I believe I actually said, "Ta da!"
I served them with a peanut dipping sauce and a tangy fish/rice vinegar sauce. You can buy a good peanut sauce at Trader Joe's. If you want to make it, just combine a 1/4 cup of peanut butter with a little soy, some hoisin, some hot sauce like sriracha and some sugar/honey to sweeten. Just play with it until it tastes right to you. For the tangy sauce I combined a few tablespoons of rice vinegar, white sugar, sriracha, fish sauce and a little mirin until it tasted good.

These would be fun to do with kids, too. I made an all veggie one for Kara and she actually liked it. One warning, I had way more ingredients than I actually needed for 10 rolls. If you are going to make these, I recommend either making a lot and/or planning your weekday meals around an Asian theme to use up the delicious fresh herbs and vegetables in the fridge.


  1. Yay! I'm easy! Wait, what?

    Everything was very delicious. Of course now I won't be happy with just hot dogs when I come over.

  2. Then you better keep bringing your girlfriend with you...

  3. I believe you mispelled it if you are referring to my photo skillz. And I believe that they would properly be referred to as Mad or Phat.