Monday, August 15, 2011

Vietnamese Springs Rolls

Near downtown Honolulu lies a small pedestrian mall lined with hole in the wall cafes and lunch spots from every corner of the world. I was blessed to be within walking distance of culinary tour of the globe. One favorite lunch was the Vietnamese spring rolls from either Fort Street Cafe or Ba Le Sandwich Shop. These rolls were not of the deep fried variety, but rather fresh rolls of mint, basil, rice vermicelli and either shrimp or tofu skillfully wrapped in translucence rice paper. The little works of art were almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Many filling variations of the fresh spring rolls (or summer rolls if you prefer) exist. I tried to replicate the flavors and textures from my favorite lunch spots as best as my memory would allow.

Makes 4 rolls

The Ingredients:
2-3 oz rice vermicelli (rice sticks)
4 spring roll wrappers (rice paper rounds)
12-16 medium shrimp, cooked, shelled and deveined
8-12 mint leaves
8-12 basil leaves
4 springs of cilantro or parsley
4 small lettuce leaves (romaine or bibb)
1 medium carrot, julianned or shredded
peanut sauce or other dipping sauce

The Process:
In a large sauce pan bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add the rice vermicelli and cook for 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Fill a shallow baking tray (my 10" Pyrex pie plate worked beautifully) with hot water and place one spring roll wrapper into the water until soft (about 15-20 seconds). Remove from water and gently transfer to a damp cloth or paper towel. Line 3-4 shrimp down the center of the wrapper. Layer the mint, basil, parsley/cilantro and lettuce leaf over the shrimp. Arrange one quarter of the carrot shreds over the greenery. Mound one quarter of the cooked vermicelli over the vegetables. Gently fold the lower half of the wrapper over the filling. Fold in the sides,encasing the filling and then roll the wrapper upwards. Repeat with remaining 3 wrappers and filling.

Serve with dipping sauces of your choice.

The Review:
Don't fret if the first few do not turn out as beautifully as you hope. The sticky rice paper is an exercise in small motor skills, patience and anger management. I didn't create a successful roll until my third attempt. And even then, the resultant rolls were far from photogenic. However the flavors and textures were everything I remember of these quick and healthy lunches. The dominate flavor in my memory had always been the mint and I found 2 to three leaves per roll easily provided the flavors I recalled. Yet the mint was not so strong as to overshadow the shrimp. Ba Le also had an amazing marinated tofu version of the spring roll...but that is a challenge for another day.

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