Rice lies at the center of Vietnamese cuisine. The crop is abundantly grown throughout Vietnam, with paddies especially concentrated around the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong River Delta in the south.
Even the shape of the country has been described as a bamboo pole with a basket of rice hung at each end.
Indeed, rice is so abundant that it is made into an array of other products, including rice wine, rice vinegar, rice cakes, rice paper (banh trang), and various types of rice noodles.
Vietnamese spring rolls, or goi cuon—also known as summer rolls—are a classic Vietnamese appetizer that makes clever use of rice in several forms. The dish is made with lots of healthy vegetables, herbs, rice noodles, and protein all wrapped up in a translucent sheet of rice paper—like a portable salad roll.
My husband and I adore Vietnamese spring rolls, and are sure to order them whenever we have the chance to dine in a Vietnamese restaurant. After years of wanting to try making them at home, gathering mental notes but never putting them into practice, I finally stopped procrastinating.
The result is this recipe, in which we wrap a refreshing bundle of crisp lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli, and shrimp in sheets of rice paper, softened until springy and translucent. A peanut butter-hoisin dipping sauce serves as the perfect companion.
These healthy rolls are so light and refreshing—no matter how many you eat, you won’t feel weighed down at all.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls Recipe
Prep time: 1 hour minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes 16 rolls
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Pinch of salt
For the dipping sauce:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sambal chili paste
- 6 ounces rice vermicelli, soaked in water for 10 minutes
- 16 rice paper wrappers (banh trang)
- 1/2 head lettuce
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup bean sprouts
- 1 cup cilantro
To cook the shrimp, bring water to boil in a small pot. Add the salt and shrimp. Cook over high heat until the shrimp turn pink, about 2 minutes. Remove shrimp from pot and rinse in running water to stop the cooking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Slice each shrimp in half lengthwise and set aside.
To make the dipping sauce, in a pan, add the vegetable oil and garlic. Cook over low heat until aromatic, about 1 minute. Then add the peanut butter, hoisin sauce, and sambal chili paste, and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved shrimp cooking water and continuously stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a serving dish and set aside.
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add the pre-soaked rice vermicelli and cook over high heat until al dente, about 4 minutes. Since we pre-soaked the noodles, they should only take half of the time indicated on the package to cook. Remove noodles from the pot and rinse with running water to stop the cooking. Drain, snip into shorter pieces with a pair of kitchen shears, and set aside.
To assemble the rolls, prepare a plate of warm water. Dip a sheet of rice paper into the water until it feels soft and elastic, about 20 seconds. Then place it on a flat surface and flatten it out with your palm. Add ingredients in two horizontal layers: First, add a little bit each of the lettuce, mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, and rice vermicelli across the middle of the wrapper; then, above that layer, add 3 slices of shrimp, cut side up. Do not overfill. Fold the sides of rice paper in toward the center, then fold the bottom side up and over the fillings and roll it all the way up, tucking in the fillings as you go. Make the parcel tight and firm, but be careful not to tear the wrapper. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers and fillings.
Serve with the dipping sauce.