Friday 1 November 2013
Vietnamese Salad Rolls
It's officially November! Even though the weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter, I wanted to share a fresh and healthy snack item you can make at home. These cold salad rolls originate from Vietnam and they are very versatile. Traditionally, these are prepared with chilled shrimp and/or pork but I've made a vegan version here. Feel free to add anything you like! I filled my rolls with deep fried tofu, vermicelli noodles, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, peanuts and fresh cilantro. Other ingredients that work well in this technique are lettuce, bean sprouts, fresh mint, Thai basil, mango, pineapple, radishes, avocado, bell pepper and cashews. As I mentioned, I have cabbage in mine. Cabbage works well but I recommend Napa cabbage over the regular green cabbage. The texture is softer and more palatable. I had a bunch of cabbage left over from my batch of borscht last weekend so I used that instead. If you can help it, go for Napa.
First and foremost you are going to need some rice paper. You can find these at most Asian markets or online. They come in a few different sizes. The ones I used are about six inches across but you can find bigger ones. When your salad rolls are done you can eat them as is or slice them into sushi sized pieces (which I usually do). The bigger sheets will only yield more salad rolls.
"Hey Bram, those look great! I have a question though. Could you use those to make spring rolls and fry them?"
"Cool. Do you recommend it?"
No. Rice paper is different from spring roll wrappers (or "shells"). Spring roll wrappers are already pliable square sheets that you keep in the fridge. They work best for frying. You can use these rice papers for frying, don't get me wrong. They just tend to bubble up in the oil and the texture is off. Suit yourself, though.
Rice paper is hard and crispy. In order to make them pliable so we can roll them up, we need to hydrate them. Pour some very warm (not boiling) water in a large bowl, pan, or pasta plate. Dip the rice paper in the warm water and give it 5 - 10 seconds to get soft. Gently pull out the rice paper (be careful not to tear it) and place them on a clean, flat surface before filling and rolling (do one at a time). I like to dip half of the circular paper in the water and slowly turn it so that the entire disc gets soaked but you never take your hand off it so it's easy to remove from the water.
Before you even start that, you need to prep all your fillings and make what the French call a mise-en-place, which just means everything you need is prepped, within reach and ready to go. Here I have seeded and julienned cucumber, julienne carrots, thinly sliced cabbage, thinly sliced green onion, chopped peanuts, firm tofu that I deep fried for a few minutes until it had a golden, crispy coating (then seasoned with a little salt), some cooked vermicelli noodles and fresh cilantro. Vermicelli noodles help to give body to these little snacks. Just make you sure you use the thin, angel-hair variety. Vermicelli also comes in flat, almost-linguine shaped noodles that are better suited for stir fries and pad thai.
I hope the photo above is easy enough to make out. You have to move pretty fluidly when you're rolling these and I didn't have anybody else to take pictures. It's near impossible to wrap these by hand and take photos with a camera at the same time. Below I poorly drew step by step instructions. Use the photo above to gauge how much filling you'll need and where to put it. You want it just below the center, parallel to you. Be gentle as not to tear the paper, but roll firm and tightly so the finished product holds it's shape. It might take you a couple of tries to get right. It's important not to over stuff the rolls or they will be messy and not roll properly. When you're arranging the different parts of the filling, keep in mind that the layer you start with on the bottom will be the part that is exposed through the paper. So make sure you use a colourful, presentable base (I used my carrots and cucumber).
The steps above are to give you an idea of how to roll the paper (much like you would a burrito or wrap). You'll want to keep it rolled tighter than it is pictured above. Gently press the filling together as you roll to keep it in place.
Your finished product should look something like this! You're done. As you can see below I ended up with eleven of these. I sliced them each in half and ate them with hoisin (a dark, thick, sweet Asian sauce) and Sambal (a garlic, chili paste). These also go great with Thai peanut sauce, plum sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, you name it...
Once you make them it won't take you long to get the hang of it. These are a lot of fun to make. They make a great snack, appetizer, or if you make enough of them, a light meal. I kept them in the fridge and noshed on them over the course of a day or two. What a treat.
It's so important that we eat lots of fresh vegetables and here is a fun and interesting way to do it. You never have to make them to same way twice so be creative and have fun. I hope you give these a try.
See you again soon,