When I’m busy, I rarely get the time to cook as much as I would like (as you can tell by the sparse posts as of late). This is in part because I rarely get out the shops to buy food. I end up eating a weird conglomerate of leftover ingredients from shoots and whatever else happens to be laying around. Believe me, I’ve made some pretty strange omelets-for-dinner out of junk I’ve found in the fridge.
Here’s what went down yesterday: I’m working on a magazine assignment about Asian foods, and ended up with a whole heap of rice paper and rice vermicelli. Then, on Sunday we had a pretty massive Super Bowl party, and one of our fine guests brought over some shrimp cocktail, and we had some left over. So while the thought of a shrimp omelete was appealing, I decided to push my ingredients a little farther, and decided to give spring rolls a shot. I had some carrots and some scallions, the shrimp, the rice papers and the vermicelli. All I needed to pick up was some mint and some cilantro. Everything else in the recipe was regular kitchen staples. Viola!
Wanna know a secret? SPRING ROLLS ARE SUPER EASY!!
No kidding, after many attempts over the years to make dumplings and pot stickers and wontons and ravioli, I was pretty sure that this whole spring roll adventure was going to be a nightmare. But the truth of the matter is that rice paper is WAY more resilient and easy to work with than any wheat-based wonton wrapper or pasta that I’ve worked with. Sure, it takes a few tries to get the papers hydrated without balling them up, but once you master that it is a cinch to stuff them full of ingredients and roll them up. And rice paper is self-adhesive, so once they are rolled, these little guys stay rolled.
You can put just about anything in a spring roll – pork, chicken, tofu, lettuce, cucumber, avocado… you name it. I always feel like the mint is the most important element to have in a spring roll, but you may find that you want more cilantro, or basil, or whatever.
Tip for Using Rice Paper
To hydrate rice paper, you dip each sheet into hot water for a few seconds. The secret is that you don’t need to keep them in the hot water until they are completely pliable. Most places say ten seconds, but I found that to be way too long. If you keep them in too long, the rice paper will fold in on itself with the surface tension of the water as you pull it out, and once the edges start sticking you’re done. I found that two seconds (very hot water) was perfect. When you pull them out they will still be stiff, but that stiffness helps keep the paper from sticking to itself while you transfer it to the surface you’re using to roll (I used my chopping block). By the time you have the ingredients in place, the papers have softened to the perfect pliability.
Shrimp Spring Roll Recipe
2 oz of dried rice vermicelli
8 sheets of rice paper
2 carrots, julienned
3 scallions, julienned
16 sprigs of cilantro
16 mint leaves
16 small shrimp (or 8 large spring cut in half lengthwise)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp hot water
1 tsp sriracha (or more to taste)
2 tbsp chopped peanuts
To Make The Spring Rolls
Put the dried vermicelli in a large bowl and cover with boiling water (I used an electric tea kettle). Let the noodles soften for about ten minutes, then drain, and rinse with cold water. Put the drained noodles in a bowl and cover with a damp paper towel. Put more hot water in a bowl large enough to submerge your rice paper without folding it over. Dip a rice paper sheet into the hot water for 2 seconds, then transfer to your chopping block (it will completely soften by the time you’ve added the ingredients.
Moving quickly, add a handful of noodles, some carrots, scallions, 2 springs of cilantro, 2 mint leaves and 2 shrimp on near the edge of the sheet closest to you. Fold the nearest edge of the sheet over the ingredients, then fold in the two sides. Finish by rolling everything up as tight as possible. As you roll forward over the far edge, the rice paper will adhere to itself, sealing the roll. Transfer roll to a plate covered with a damp paper towel and repeat 7 more times. Refrigerate until ready to eat, then serve with the peanut sauce.
To Make the Peanut Sauce
Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix until smooth. I wasn’t very precise with my measurements making this sauce – feel free to experiment with different proportions of ingredients.