Monday, August 10, 2009

Vietnamese Spring/Summer Roll

Here is a refreshing idea for a quick appetizer. Known as gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese, this vegetarian version of a spring roll (or summer roll depending on the time of the year that it is served and its ingredients) takes very little time to prepare and best of all, you can add most anything you want to it. In short, you can come up with your very own version of a spring roll and wow your friends.

Generally, a Vietnamese spring roll contains cooked shrimp (or pork), rice vermicelli, lettuce, Thai basil and cilantro all wrapped up in an almost-transparent rice paper and served cold with a Hoisin-based dipping sauce. As you know, one is not limited to those ingredients alone. The rice paper wrapper is quite unique. In its initial condition, it looks like a round plastic disc and almost translucent. Quickly dip it in water (2 seconds will do) on both sides and you'll see the hard plastic-like disc transform in front of your eyes into an almost transparent, pliable wrapper.

Now, to construct the roll, lay the now soft wrapper onto a plate or another flat surface. Scoop all your ingredients (vegetables, shrimp, Thai basil, cilantro) onto the lower third of the wrapper. Be careful not to overload the wrapper. Experiment until you get the right amount to put on. I usually go vegetables on the bottom, followed by the shrimp and topped with Thai basil, cilantro and crushed roasted peanuts. From the bottom, roll the lower edge over the ingredients and then fold the two sides over and continue rolling until you get to the other end. Make sure you keep the roll tight around the ingredients.

As for the dipping sauce, I use Hoisin (a Chinese dipping sauce) as the base and thin it out slightly with some rice wine vinegar and to add a little heat, I also add a touch of chili and garlic (or sambal) sauce. Note that Hoisin is pretty salty all by itself and you don't really need that much of it to start. To remedy the saltiness, add some sugar. And there you have it, a Vietnamese Spring (or Summer) Roll with dipping sauce.

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