In the nick of time: spring rolls, for spring (Recipe of the Month)
Spring rolls are one of my absolute favorite things to make. They might seem intimidating at first, but I promise once you get a hang of manipulating the rice paper wrapper you will be surprised you haven’t attempted to make these before.
The best part is you can make and assemble all of your fillings in advance. You can use whatever fillings you like, but I like to use shrimp for its flavor, freshness and texture. I also mix herbs in with the rice noodles so that every bite has an intense herbal quality to it.
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- A generous amount of salt
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- ½ yellow onion
- A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped, stems removed and set aside
- ½ pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I soak them in salt water for 10 minutes to give them a nice crunch)
- 10 or so basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 10 or so mint leaves, thinly sliced (the herbs are entirely up to you, so go heavier if you like herbs)
- 1 pound thin rice noodles, cooked following the instructions on the package, then rinsed in cold water to stop the cooking and tossed with some neutral cooking oil to prevent sticking.
- 1 package rice paper/spring roll wrappers. These should be in most grocery stores.
- 2 cups baby lettuces, such as a spring mix or something similar.
- ½ English cucumber, sliced into sticks
Ingredients for the sauce
- ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chili paste
- 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
Instructions for the rolls
- Put up a pot of water to simmer, add the peppercorns, salt, garlic, onion and cilantro stems to the water.
- Rinse the salt water off the soaking shrimp; once the water is at a simmer, add them to it.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes, until fully cooked. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
- Dry the shrimp off and slice them in half longways so they are symmetrical. Reserve them in the fridge for later.
- Mix the chopped cilantro, sliced basil and sliced mint with the cooked rice noodles; season the noodle mixture with a little bit of salt to brighten the flavor.
- Prepare a wide, shallow baking dish with warm water in it to soften the rice paper wrappers.
- Soak each wrapper in the warm water for 10 or so seconds. They will become very malleable, so be sure to have a surface ready (such as a large cutting board) to put them on to prevent them from sticking to themselves. I would suggest you roll one at a time to prevent sticking.
- To wrap the spring rolls, set a base of rice noodles about 1½ inches from the bottom of the rice paper sheet, follow that with 4 shrimp pieces, a small handful of baby lettuce leaves and 2-3 cucumber sticks. Make sure that the fillings are also about 1 inch in from each side.
To roll them up, gently take the 1½ inches of paper on the bottom and roll it up and over the filling. Tuck it in on the opposite side of the filling, and tuck in the 1-inch on each side. Then finish rolling up to the top. If it is difficult to visualize this, there are hundreds of YouTube videos demonstrating how to roll spring rolls.
- Set the finished rolls aside until they are all made or eat them as they’re made, as I do. They are surprisingly filling, so 1-2 per person should be enough food for a nice meal.
Instructions for the sauce
- Mix the rice vinegar, water, soy sauce and chili paste in a bowl. Taste it for seasoning; if it is too acidic or spicy, add some more water. If it isn’t salty or acidic enough, add some more vinegar.
- When you are happy with the seasoning, add the reserved chopped cilantro.
I hope you enjoy your spring roll adventure. You can easily omit the shrimp and substitute roasted pork, or only use vegetables. As always, we look forward to hearing how you make this recipe your own.
In Recipe of the Month food writer Steven DeSalvo shares a recipe Montclairians might enjoy making. DeSalvo has a degree in hospitality business management from the University of Delaware and has worked extensively in restaurants and hotels. If there is something you want to know how to make, or if you’ve eaten a dish at a local restaurant that you are dying to make at home, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.