Three years ago I ordered fresh veggie spring rolls (also called summer rolls) at Granville Island Farmer’s Market in British Columbia and my life was forever changed. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but really – they rocked my world. How can something as simple as fresh spring rolls taste so good? It’s just some raw veggies and mung bean vermicelli noodles wrapped in rice paper. If you’ve followed my log for a while you probably know that I have a thing for raw food. While these salad rolls aren’t entirely raw, they truly are my kind of food – fresh, filling, and packed with flavor.
Another component is the delicious dipping sauce. Typically, spring rolls come with a vinegar-based sauces, but sorry, no. I just like peanut butter too much to pass up the opportunity to make peanut butter-based sauce. The dipping sauce really is the showstopper of this recipe. It’s good! I mean, really good. If you’re sensitive to peanuts, you can sub the peanut butter for other nut/seed butter. Can this get any better?
While this recipe is pretty simple, there are a few things that can go wrong. If you’ve never worked with rice paper, it’s not as daunting as it looks. Here are my tips and tricks for perfect spring rolls.
Tips for Perfect Fresh Spring Rolls
Choose the right size of rice paper – rice paper comes in various shapes and sizes and so do spring rolls. The most widely available rice paper comes in an 8 1/2-inch circle. It’s the easiest to manipulate, and most recipes use that size. Smaller circles and triangles are more difficult to work with; larger circles are meant for long rolls that are usually cut up into smaller pieces. Though rice paper thickness varies as well, the difference isn’t very significant.
Watch for ingredients – avoid super thin all-tapioca starch paper. It lacks flavor, tears easily and becomes limp quickly. Rice paper should only contain rice, water, and salt. That’s it.
Create mis-en-place – you’ll need to work quickly so have all the ingredients for spring rolls ready. This includes washed and julienned vegetables, chopped lettuce and herbs, and cooked vermicelli. If you prefer less filling spring rolls, you can use more vegetables instead of the noodles. The noodles are essentially just a filler to add body to the spring rolls. So as long as you use something else in their place, you’ll be fine.
Have warm water handy – the water temperature depends on the type and thickness of the rice paper. The thicker the rice paper, the warmer the water needs to be.
Dip, don’t soak – rice paper is delicate and only needs a quick dip in water to soften and become pliable. Do not soak the rice paper for too long because it will stick and tear, making the rolling impossible. I usually fill a wide shallow bowl with warm water and dip the rice paper for about 3-5 seconds. The rice paper should come out still slightly firm because it will continue to absorb water as you lay the filling ingredients on top of it. After dipping, put the rice paper on a damp towel or a wet cutting board (if you put the softened rice paper on a dry surface, it will stick).
Start laying ingredients at top 1/3 of rice paper – if you’re using circle rice paper, start laying ingredients at top 1/3 to have enough room for rolling. The more rotations of rice paper you have, the thicker and stronger the roll becomes.
Wrap like a burrito – lay noodles or lettuce on the rice paper first to avoid any sharp veggies to tear the soft rice paper. Then add all the other ingredients. Just be careful not to over-stuff the roll or it might burst. When you’re ready to roll, bring the top edge up and over the filling, then fold in the two side flaps, and then roll the entire thing up. Keep tucking all the ingredients together as you roll. You want to end up with a tight and straight spring roll.
Use plastic cling wrap – wrap each finished roll in plastic cling wrap to prevent the roll from drying out. Make sure you wrap each roll individually so they don’t stick together. If they stick, the rice paper will tear when you try to separate them. You can also wrap the rolls in a moistened paper towel , but just keep in mind that as soon as your paper towel dries out, it will stick to the rolls.
Don’t store them for too long – spring rolls are best fresh. The longer they sit on the counter (or in the fridge), the more the rice paper hardens and the less pliable it becomes.
Practice Makes Perfect
So go buy some rice paper and practice. Don’t worry if you mess up. A roll that tears or falls apart is still edible ;).
If you’ve never had summer rolls, try them. They are delicious, especially when served with peanut sauce.