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Rice paper roll-ups, a signature Vietnamese dish

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    These meatball-filled summer rolls take on the flavors of a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, served with a traditional nuoc cham dipping sauce.

Summer rolls, also known as fresh spring rolls, are a signature dish of Vietnam. Unlike their fried first cousins, which arrive at the table crispy brown, summer rolls are almost transparent, offering a tantalizing glimpse of the flavors to come. They can be stuffed with all manner of fresh herbs, julienned vegetables, cooked rice vermicelli and virtually any protein. Adding to their appeal is the fact they take minutes to prepare, and can be served either cool or at room temperature.

No doubt you’ve seen banh trang wrappers with their distinctive crisscross pattern, created when the cooked rice sheets are dried on bamboo racks, on store shelves. Unlike wonton wrappers, which are made with flour and egg and come out of the package ready to rock and roll, rice papers take some work — you have to soak the delicate papers in water just so before you can use them.

The wrappers can be daunting to first-time users. The trick is to soften the wrappers in warm water just until they’re pliable and tacky, but not so wet that the edges start to stick together and you end up with a lump of goo — it should be slightly firm and not so soft that it folds in on itself.

It also helps to rotate the sheets as you moisten them, and to shake off the excess water before you lay the rounds on a hard surface to fill and roll.

Strive for balance in your fillings, in texture and flavor. If you add a crunchy or chewy component, make sure there also is a tender item to play against it; same with sweet, spicy, salty and tangy flavors. If you pile on the lettuce and cucumber, for instance, add some tofu or poached shrimp, along with green onion, cilantro and chili.

Be careful not to overstuff the rolls with ingredients or the wrappers could burst. Plus, they won’t look as pretty.

Start at the top third of the paper closest to you, and add less filling on the wrappers than you think you need. Gently pull away the edge of the wrapper from the work surface and roll over the filling while using your fingers to gather and tuck the ingredients in. The tighter the roll, the neater the final product.

Go for an array of dipping sauces, too. The classic is nuoc cham, a spicy mix of fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, sugar, chili and garlic. But you’ll also want to try your hand at peanut and chili-lime sauces.

Shrimp Summer Rolls

“The Vietnamese Market Cookbook” by Van Tran and Anh Vu (Running Press, 2014)

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 10 cleaned and peeled large shrimp
  • 10 sheets rice paper
  • 3-1/2 ounces rice vermicelli noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • >> Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped Thai chili
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In large saucepan over medium-high, bring coconut milk to simmer. Add lemongrass and shrimp; cook 2 to 3 minutes, until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Discard lemongrass, drain shrimp and let cool at room temperature.

To assemble rolls: Fill a wide bowl with warm water. Submerge rice papers in water for a couple of seconds, then lift out. Place rice papers on towel-lined cutting board in single layer. Place pinch of noodles in center of 1 sheet. Add a lettuce leaf, then a pinch of shredded carrot and a stick each of cucumber and pineapple. Roll rice paper over once.

Cut shrimp in half lengthwise. Line 2 halves along the length of paper; roll again. Repeat until you are out of paper and filling. Makes 10 rolls.

To make sauce: In medium bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Add lime juice and garlic; stir well. Gradually stir in fish sauce, just enough to suit your taste. Add chili and pepper. Serve with rolls.

Rice Paper Banh Mi With Pork Meatballs

  • 1/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh basil, mint, cilantro
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 10 rice papers
  • 3 to 4 cucumbers, julienned
  • Sliced jalapenos (optional)
  • Handful mixed herbs
  • >> Pickled vegetables:
  • 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 (3-ounce) carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 (3-ounce) daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • >> Sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1- 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 -1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into small, thin matchsticks

To make sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let cool slightly, then stir in fish sauce, lime juice, chili, garlic and carrots. Refrigerate until ready to use, at least 30 minutes, and up to 3 days.

To make pickled vegetables: In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in carrot and daikon; let cook 1 minute. Let cool, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to serve; will keep up to 3 days.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with canola oil.

Make meatballs by stirring together breadcrumbs, egg yolk and herbs, then adding pork. Form into balls of 1 heaping teaspoon each. Bake on baking sheet until cooked through, about 10 minutes. (Meatballs may also be pan-fried in oil.)

To assemble: Fill a round cake pan with warm water. Place 1 rice paper round into the water, turning it gently until softened. Remove sheet from the water and lay it on a plate. Arrange a few of the meatballs in a horizontal line on the wrapper, about 1 inch from the edge nearest you and 1/2 inch from each side.

Top with drained pickled veggies, cucumber and jalapenos (if using), and a sprinkle of herb leaves. Lift edge of rice paper nearest you and fold over filling, then roll over once. Fold in sides and continue to roll into a tight cylinder. Repeat with remaining rice paper and filling. Cut each roll in half at a diagonal and serve with dipping sauce. Makes 10 rolls.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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