Quintessential Summer Fare
Goi cuon, whether translated as salad rolls, summer rolls or spring rolls, are always fresh rather than deep-fried. What a difference! Crisp vegetables, fresh and bright taste, nutrient rich and delightful to eat—Vietnamese rice-paper wrapped rolls are quintessential summer fare.
Traditionally served as a snack food in Vietnam, goi cuon are usually made with pork, shrimp, herbs, rice noodles, bean sprouts and lettuce wrapped in rice paper. My version replaces the pork with fresh mango and usually includes lightly poached shrimp along with an abundance of fresh herbs, rice noodles and vegetables—a virtual salad in each bite.
So easy to assemble from an assortment of fresh and colorful ingredients, Salad Rolls are a great do-it-yourself party food. Give everyone a quick lesson on softening and folding the rice paper wrappers and they’re good to roll. Prepare one or two dipping sauces in advance such as Spicy Peanut Sauce and/or nuoc cham, the slightly sweet dipping sauce served with most everything Vietnamese.
Salad rolls can also be prepared up to two hours in advance and kept covered with a damp paper towel in an airtight container. Mai Pham recommends not refrigerating Salad Rolls as that toughens the rice paper.
One of the joys of life are the synchronicities—when seemingly unrelated events come together in a meaningful way. And that’s how I learned about Salad Rolls.
I attended a food conference in San Francisco which included a demonstration by Mai Pham, restaurateur, author and an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). As she prepared Salad Rolls, I was all eyes and ears as they were totally new to me and looked fabulous.
Within a short time I was asked by an acquaintance to fill in for her for two weeks as a private chef for one of her famous Malibu clients. On my second day the client asked if I knew how to make Salad Rolls. Most fortuitously, I could answer “yes.” The client also had me add slices of fresh mango to the rolls—a wonderful addition that I’ve continued to include ever since.
Gathering the ingredients–no problem
Salad Rolls were a featured recipe and thoroughly enjoyed during last week’s cooking class in Bozeman. I easily found the rice papers (banh trang) and rice noodles here in a number of Bozeman stores—pretty amazing that they’ve become staples even in this part of the world. I could even buy wild Alaska shrimp from a local market. And the herbs, scallions and lettuce were gathered from my own and a friend’s garden. The ripe mango? I didn’t find one. Though, by buying it a week in advance, I was able to ripen the mango in time by placing it inside a brown paper bag for 5 days.
16 medium shrimp with shells (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ lemon cut into 4 slices
½ teaspoon salt
10 twelve-inch rice papers OR 10 8¼-inch rice papers (banh trang)
Red leaf lettuce, arugula or Belgian endive washed and dried
1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced
3 ounces rice vermicelli, placed in boiling water 4-5 minutes, rinsed, drained and chilled in ice water (you can also use thin, flat rice noodles, cooked according to the directions on their package)
1 carrot cut into long, thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into long, thin strips
½ cup fresh cilantro (or basil) leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup julienne scallions
Additional mint and cilantro (or basil) sprigs for garnish
Serve with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and/or Spicy Peanut Sauce
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan along with the bay leaves, lemon slices and salt. Add the shrimp and cover the pan. Turn off the heat and let the shrimp sit in the water 5-8 minutes until done. Immediately drain and put them in ice water. Peel, devein and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise.
Drain the rice vermicelli. Prepare the vegetables and herbs and lay them out on a platter or cutting board along with the noodles, mango and shrimp. Fill a large mixing bowl with hot-to-the-touch water. Keep some back-up water simmering on the stove to add to the bowl when the temperature of the water in the bowl becomes lukewarm.
Choose an open area on the counter to work. Arrange the filling ingredients around you and include a plate for the finished rolls.
Working with one 12-inch rice paper at a time, dip the sheet into the water, folding it in half as it becomes pliable and soft. This may take 10-20 seconds depending upon the temperature of the water. When soft, lift the rice paper out of the water and place it on your counter with its folded edge to your left. Gently remove any wrinkles. Equally distribute the ingredients in a row across the rice paper, about 1/3 up from the bottom, so there is some of everything in each bite.
- Place 3 shrimp halves cut side up in a row
- Top with a few slices of mango
- Add a leaf of lettuce, folding it in half to fit
- A handful of vermicelli
- A few carrot strips on one side
- A few cucumber strips on the other side
- A few strips of julienne scallion on top
- A row of fresh cilantro leaves
- A row of fresh mint leaves
Note: If you are using the smaller rice papers, lay them out flat on your counter. Layer the ingredients in the same order; only keep the row about 5-inches in length. Roll the bottom rice paper over the ingredients, using your fingers to gently tighten the roll. Then fold the sides toward the center like folding a burrito. Use your fingers to press down on the ingredients as you form a tightly packed cylinder.
Place the completed rolls on a plate and cover them with a damp paper towel while you finish making the remaining rolls.
To serve: cut each roll into 2 or 4 equal pieces and place them on individual plates or on a platter. Serve Salad Rolls at room temperature with either or both dipping sauces. Garnish with additional mint and/or cilantro sprigs.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
Adapted from The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking by Mai Pham.
Slightly sweet and sour, serve this dipping sauce with most Vietnamese foods.
Makes 1½ cups
1 medium clove garlic, very finely minced
1/2 Serrano chili, without seeds, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Thai green chili paste
1/4 cup fish sauce
2/3 cup hot water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice and pulp
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons grated carrots and/or chopped peanuts for garnish
Combine the chili paste, fish sauce, hot water, lime juice and pulp and honey in a small bowl. Stir in the minced garlic and chili. Alternatively, place these ingredients in a blender and blend till almost smooth.
Place the sauce in dipping bowls. Garnish it with the grated carrots and/or chopped peanuts.