I'm obsessed with Vietnamese food. I mean, really obsessed. I was fairly devastated when my family's favorite Vietnamese cafe closed in Arlington (it got turned into a CVS, right down the street from where my other favorite got turned into a Crate & Barrel--ahh, gentrification).
Luckily for me, Linn and I live just a few blocks from Nicolette Avenue in Minneapolis, fondly known as Eat Street, known to me as The Street Where I Plan To Try The Pho At Every One Of The Many Many Vietnamese Restaurants.
What's that, you say? "But Lina, you make such good pho yourself!" Why thank you! But it's not quite the same as ordering at a restaurant and, five minutes later, receiving a huge, steamy bowl of noodles, veggies, meat, and broth.
What is the same to make at home, I have discovered, is summer rolls. Summer rolls are my favorite precursor to pho when we eat out. In case you're not familiar, summer rolls are traditionally some combination of protein, usually shrimp and/or pork, veggies, and herbs--essentially spring rolls with fresher ingredients and not fried. They're filling, healthy, delicious, and insanely easy to make at home.
My favorite thing about summer rolls, though, is putting them together. I really love food that you have to assemble at the table. Basically, I like to play with my food. Don't lie--you know you do, too!
In case you want a recipe more specific than "Put fillings in rice paper, roll, dip in sauce," here you go!
Rice paper (comes in packages of hard sheets--check an Asian grocery store if you can't find it at your regular store)
My favorite fillings:
Chopped napa cabbage
Fresh Thai basil, either chopped or whole leaves
Mung bean sprouts
Other possible fillings:
Thin noodles, like vermicelli
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2-3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1-2 TBS fresh ginger, grated minced
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes (depends on how wimpy you are about spice--I'm wimpy)
I've seen recipes like this with honey in them, but I've never used it
Start by mixing all the ingredients for the dipping sauce together. Simple as that.
For the rolls: I like to put each filling ingredient in a little bowl and lay them all out on the table. You'll also need a bowl or pan big enough for the rice paper to sit flat in. Put 1-2 inches of water in this bowl. You'll also need an empty dinner plate to roll the summer rolls.
Dip a sheet of rice paper in the water, swish around for a few seconds, lift it out, and let drain for a few seconds. Put the rice paper flat on your plate. It will still be stiff, but will be soft by the time you load it up with fillings!
Place your fillings in the center of the rice paper. Don't overload it or it will be difficult to roll. You'll have to experiment!
Rolling these is like rolling a burrito. Bring one side of the rice paper up and start rolling around the fillings. Then fold in the sides. Continue rolling and you're done! The rice paper will be sticky, so it should all hold together nicely!
If you need some help rolling them, this video is helpful. Actually, you could probably just watch the video and skip this post entirely....