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One Saturday morning this summer, I decided to make my own Vietnamese style spring (cold) rolls. I was prompted to do so after I bought some at the Farmer’s Market in West Tisbury. It has been an old family tradition to pick up a couple anytime our children were visiting. I bought some for Buck and I this time and was really disappointed in the flavor and especially the sauce. It was thin and too sweet and had little other flavor. I said to myself, “Kay, you should learn to make these.” So I did.
I researched on the internet, starting with a sauce. I found one for peanuts and ginger and made my own adaptations. See my recipe below.
The next day, having gathered the ingredients for the rolls themselves, I began to prep them for the final assembly. I remembered learning the term, "mise en place" many years ago from Nathalie Dupree at the Rich’s Cooking School in Atlanta. It is a French culinary term which literally means ”everything in its place”. lt was Nathalie who taught me both the term and how to set out all my pre-measured ingredients on a tray for each dish I was preparing. If you have ever watched a cooking show on TV, you always see everything ready to add as the recipe is being assembled by the TV chef who has to both cook and keep her smiling face to the camera. This is using “mise en place”. It makes you wish you had a sous chef living at your house.
I don’t always set up such an organized set of ingredients for simple dishes, but it really helps when your have a complicated recipe or even just one that requires a quick or last minute assembly. It is a very practical approach and takes a lot of pressure out of cooking. Who wants to be hunting for a measuring spoon or a bottle of hot sauce while your dish is either getting cold in a serving dish or overcooked on the stove? Cold rolls are best done at the last minute and there is only a narrow window of time when the soft outer rice skins are both pliable and sturdy for rolling. Besides I love the visual of all those lovely colors and textures.
Here is my mise en place and a recipe for cold rolls. Of course you can substitute different fillings- bean sprouts, tofu, shredded chicken. I even think crispy cold duck, or pork cracklings would add a nice texture. Amounts can vary and you can even change ingredients for guests who want special combinations. And of course, with everything so neatly lined up, you can enlist folks to make their own.
One of our visitors, Clarissa Striker was put to work for her lunch the day we made ours. We discussed how fun it would be to try this at her apartment in NYC for guests where she could arrange her ingredients on the kitchen bar and let her friends make their own combinations. Instant party!
8 rice spring roll papers. These come in various sizes and we used the ones that were about 8 inches in diameter
1/2 pound peeled cooked shrimp
1 cup carrots, cut into matchstick size
1 cup cucumber, peeled and cut into matchstick size
2 scallions, green tops cut into 4 inch strips
1 bunch cilantro, use leaves cut from stems
8 ounces cooked rice noodles, tossed with a little sesame oil to keep them from sticking together
Substitutions or additions
Crispy duck pieces
fresh basil leaves
other grated raw veggies such as zucchini or beets
Simmer about 3 cups of water in a skillet large enough to submerge each rice paper wrapper. Turn off the heat and one by one soak the rice wrappers about 10-20 seconds. Lay flat on a clean cutting board or counter that has a paper towel on top.
If you let the wrapper soak too long or if your water is too hot, they will get too fragile to work with.
Add your fillings to the center of the wrap in a column about 1 1/2 inches wide. Start by folding bottom of the wrapper over the fillings. Then tuck in one side and roll the remaining wrap from the opposite side. The rice wrapper will naturally stick to itself. You can leave the top open or fold in as you did the bottom.
Place the rolls on a serving plate and top with a damp towel to keep moist if not serving immediately.
This is a good time to recruit help from your guests while you set the table and pour some drinks. Serve with dipping sauce and sriracha, if desired. These can be stored in a refrigerator for a couple of days.
There are lots of variations for this sauce. I adapted this one from the Minimalist Cook. There is a very similar one offered by Melissa Clark from the New York Times that includes coconut milk. I sometimes serve the sauce with grilled pork chops or sauteed duck breast. It keeps well in the fridge.
1/2 cup salted natural crunchy peanut butter
1 1/2 Tb. soy sauce or tamari
2-Tb. brown sugar or maple syrup (add to taste)
1 lime, juiced
1-2 tsp siracha or other hot sauce or to taste
1/2 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
hot water to thin sauce
Prepare peanut sauce by adding all ingredients except water to a mixing bowl and whisk. Add hot water 1 Tbsp at a time and whisk until desired consistency is achieved (should be pourable but thick). Set aside.