Makes 16 rolls
Total time: 45 minutes || Active time: 45 minutes
I just took my first trip to London and I’ll write more about that soon, but the first thing I felt like making when I came home was…Vietnamese-inspired food! Perhaps my palette was overloaded with mashed potatoes and delicious gravies, and I needed the bright fresh flavors of ginger and mint.
I have an obsession with Southeast Asian food, and until I take my dream trip to Vietnam, I’ll gratefully settle for my favorite Vietnamese here in the states, like Lan in NYC and Jasmine 26 in Minneapolis. And, of course, whatever I make at home.
This time, it’s rice paper rolls. Call them summer rolls, if you prefer! They are the perfect appetizer for any occasion, really. I served these with a rich coconut curry, but they’d be just as at home at a summer BBQ or on their own for lunch.
For me, the most important characteristic of a rice paper roll is freshness. Fresh ingredients and fresh wrappers. The rice paper should be supple, and the temperature should be chilly. Inside, there should be crunch and clean flavors. I like to save the spicy assertive notes for the sauce.
I love how beautiful my cutting board looks with the simple ingredients for stuffing inside!
Here we’ve got my favorite cabbage to eat raw, nappa cabbage. It has a gardeny flavor and the perfect amount of snap; not too difficult to chew. Carrots, cut into matchsticks, for their color and crunchiness. Avocado to add a creamy fattiness that is the perfect foil for all of the veggies. And you can’t have rice paper rolls without fresh herbs! Mint and cilantro make these rolls pop. Since I served these as part of a larger meal, I didn’t feel a need to add tofu, but you totally can, if you like. Baked or sauteed and sliced into strips is ideal.
The peanut dipping sauce employs a little cheating ingredient: red curry paste. This way, we don’t have to do any more chopping or cooking, everything goes into a little blender and 30 seconds later a spicy, peanutty, gingery, tangy sauce appears. Magic! Just double check your red curry paste for fishy ingredients. Thai Kitchen paste is widely available and vegan.
If you’ve never worked with rice paper wrapper before, don’t be intimidated! Follow my notes below and you can not go wrong. And even if you do, no big deal. There are, like, a million wrappers in a package last time I counted. But really, it’s all about the fun, so grab a friend and get rolling! You’ll be a pro in no time. Now go get fresh.
~ These tips are all going to be for how to keep your rice paper rolls from ripping. But as I said, if one rips, it really doesn’t matter. Either eat it anyway (as a test subject!) or empty out the ingredients and start again. NBD.
~ When adding the wrappers to the warm water, add them one at a time. If you put them all in at once in a pile, they’ll stick together. Do 3 or 4 at a time, adding them into the bowl individually.
~ Keep a clean towel nearby, to wipe your hands and keep them dry. This keeps the slipperiness to a minimum. Also, wipe down your rolling plate every now and again to keep it from being too slippery.
~ Don’t overfill the rolls. I’m including a pic to give you an idea of how much filling to add, but don’t worry, if you’re using too much filling, you’ll figure it out quickly.
~ Avoid having pointy sharp ingredients right at the surface of the wrapper. Carrot sticks and cilantro stems like to poke through the wrapper, so as best you can, try to prevent that.
~ Reserve extra nappa cabbage leaves for serving. The wrappers like to stick to the surface of plates, but they lift easily away from cabbage leaves.
For the Red Curry Peanut Sauce:
3 tablespoons creamy, natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon agave
1 teaspoon sriracha (or more to taste)
1/4 cup water
For the Rice Paper Rolls:
22 cm rice paper wrappers (8 or 9 inches)
1 head nappa cabbage, a few leaves reserved, the rest thinly sliced
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced into matchsticks
1 cup fresh mint leaves
A lot of fresh cilantro springs (about a 1/2 bunch)
First, make the sauce. Just put all of the ingredients into a small blender and blend until smooth. Add a few tablespoons water if needed, to thin. Taste for seasoning and keep sealed until ready to use.
OK, now let’s get rolling!
Prep all ingredients and lay them out on a cutting board. Drizzle the sliced avocado with lime or lemon juice to prevent browning.
Have ready a dinner plate to roll on. Also, have a baking dish lined with moist paper towels, to place the rolls once ready. This will keep them fresh and prevent sticking.
Use a large bowl, wide enough to accommodate the rice paper wrappers. Fill the bowl with really really warm water, that is not too hot to handle. You’ll have to refresh the water a few times while rolling, to keep it warm.
Add 3 or 4 wrappers to the warm water, one at a time, and dunk them in to submerge. Let steep for a minute or so, until nice and soft.
Remove a wrapper from the water. Handle gently and patiently, and spread it out on the plate. It won’t be perfect, but that’s ok, just get it as flat as you can without being too fussy.
Place a bit of cabbage, a few carrot sticks, a slice or two of avocado, and a generous amount of cilantro in the lower third of the wrapper. Add a few leaves of mint. Like so:
Now fold the sides over the filling, and roll up the bottom of the roll, tucking it over the filling, and continuing to roll until it’s, well, a roll!
Place each roll in the baking dish and cover with damp paper towels to keep fresh. You can even make these a day in advance, wrapping the dish tightly in plastic wrap, until ready to use.
Serve with sauce, and if you’d like to be fancy, you can cut them in half and place standing cut-side up on a cabbage roll. Pretty!