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Today: Make those Vietnamese spring rolls you're craving in the hot weather—and customize them any way you want.
During the summer, whether I’m enjoying the dry heat in California or stepping out into a moist blanket in Boston, I always crave one dish: gỏi cuốn, fresh spring rolls made of pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, and vermicelli, all wrapped up in bánh tráng, or rice paper.
These rolls, which you can find on the appetizer menu in most Vietnamese restaurants, have been around for years and in Vietnam, even the rice paper is made from scratch. Especially in the hotter seasons, there’s something irresistible about the freshness of the roll. But even if you aren’t making the rice paper from scratch, you can still achieve a refreshing, cooling roll at home.
One of the best parts of this dish is that it’s completely customizable—every restaurant has its own rendition. Prawns are the traditional filling, but here I use shrimp. Some people omit the pork for a lighter roll; some add mung bean sprouts for some extra crunch. I’ve also had spring rolls with shredded mango or shiso leaves.
In this version, I use thinly sliced lean pork, lemongrass-poached shrimp, vermicelli, carrot, cucumber, mint, Thai basil, cilantro, and garlic chives. You may choose to omit some of these ingredients, but I urge you to include Thai basil if possible: I’m not going to claim to be an authority on Vietnamese food, but I do know that the distinctive taste of Thai basil gives the spring rolls a stamp of authenticity. You should be able to find Thai basil in most Asian supermarkets, but if you can’t, omit basil altogether and use additional cilantro, mint, or shiso in its place.
The rolling method varies as well: Sometimes the rolls are are open-ended, with garlic chives poking out; sometimes only one end is left open; and sometimes both ends are closed, as shown here.
There are two steps for ensuring a successful spring roll: mis en place and properly moist rice paper. Prep all of the ingredients before hand so that you have everything at the ready for assembling the spring rolls; the part of this recipe that takes the longest isn’t the actual assembly but the ingredient preparation.
Once your filling is set to go, you'll dip the rice paper in warm water until it’s pliable but not super soft. I let the rice paper soak for about 10 to 15 seconds so that it has some structure but can be bent easily. I then lay it on my rolling surface (a wooden cutting board), where the water will continue to soak through the rice paper as the roll is assembled so that it's the perfect consistency by the time I've finished rolling.
More: Intimidated by rolling spring rolls? This step-by-step tutorial can help with that.
1/2 pound pork (loin, shoulder, and/or belly)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 stalks lemongrass, crushed (optional)
4 ounces rice vermicelli
1 package (12 ounces) 8 1/2-inch rice paper wrappers
6 leaves lettuce, iceberg or romaine, torn in half
1 cup carrots cut into matchsticks
1 cup cucumbers cut into matchsticks
Fresh Thai basil
Photos by Betty Liu