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how to make vietnamese fresh spring rolls

The beauty of these spring rolls is that you can you just about any ingredients you like. Substitute the shrimp with fried tofu for a vegetarian version; use snow peas and crisp bean sprouts instead of the carrots and cucumbers.

12 rice paper rounds (banh trang)
3 oz. rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, till soft
24 medium shrimp, unpeeled
1/2 small head green leaf, red leaf or romaine lettuce (about 10-12 leaves)
2 carrots
1 large cucumber
1/4 cup of any or all of the following fresh herbs: thai basil, mint, cilantro (I like to use mostly basil, with a smattering of mint in the mix, but use whatever suits your taste)
3 stalks scallions

serves 4 as light main dish, 12 as appetizer

1 Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the unshelled shrimp till pink and opaque, around two to three minutes or so. Fish out the shrimp but keep the water boiling; add the rice noodles and cook for a minute or so. Drain and rinse in cool water.

2 Peel and slice the shrimp in half lengthwise.

3 Peel apart the lettuce leaves and slice into thin strips. Peel and julienne the carrots and cucumber; mince up the herbs and scallions.

4 Youíll need a large bowl or pan, big enough to accommodate the rice paper round. Fill with warm water, and soak one wrapper for around a minute or so, until itís soft and pliable.

5 Lay the wrapper on a plate or other flat surface. Youíll be placing your ingredients in the bottom half of the wrapper Ė if this is your first time making spring rolls, itís a good idea to start with smaller quantities. 

Begin with a small handful of lettuce in the bottom third of the wrapper, and add an approximately equal amount of rice noodle. Top with a neat row of cucumbers and another neat row of carrots. Lay a row of shrimp close to the middle of the wrapper, pink side down. Sprinkle with some of the herb mixture.

6 Fold up the bottom, then the two sides; continue rolling up, keeping the wrapper firmly around the ingredients to get a good roll, but being careful not to tug too tightly so as to avoid tearing the wrapper. Place the roll seam side down.

7 Continue making the rolls. Unfortunately, the rolls donít keep well, so serve them straight away*, with plenty of dipping sauce. If youíre serving them as an appetizer, you can cut the rolls in half using a sharp knife.

*If you absolutely must make them ahead of time, place them in an airtight container lined with damp towel and store at cool room temperature, not in the fridge. These will keep for an hour or two.

hoisin-chili dipping sauce
Like any salad, Vietnamese spring rolls need a dressing to bring out the fresh flavors of the ingredients. This spicy-sweet sauce makes the perfect dipping sauce to accompany fresh spring rolls.

1 shallot or 1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tsps. Asian red chili paste (I use sambal oelek, but any chili paste will do)
2 Tbsp. chopped peanuts for garnish

Stir-fry the minced garlic or shallot for a minute or two, until the garlic is softened. Add the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar and water, and bring to a boil. Add chili paste to taste (about 2 tsps. generally does it for me). Remove from heat, pour in dipping bowl(s), and garnish with chopped peanut.

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