How to cook spring rolls

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My now-husband asked me out for spring rolls and beer for our first date. I vividly remember walking into the nearby Thai restaurant to meet him. Our waitress had to come back three times to get our order, since we could not be bothered to look at the menu.

We were too busy connecting over our love for our dogs (we each have one), coming from families of three kids (I’m the oldest; he’s the youngest), our shared love of food and travel, a million other little things…

He finally ordered us a double batch of his favorite spring rolls. I was too nervous and full from a day of recipe testing to eat much. The waitress kicked us out because the restaurant was closing. I came home and danced around in the living room with Cookie. He asked me out again.

A couple of months later, I confessed that I didn’t share his level of appreciation for those spring rolls. “Too much noodles, not enough veggies. The carrots taste like chlorine. The peanut sauce could be more bold.” He dared me to come up with something better, and I finally have.

These are the fresh, veggie-packed spring rolls I want to order at Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I can’t say they’re 100 percent authentic, but they’re pretty close.

Of course, I came up with an irresistible peanut dipping sauce to go with them. Invite some friends over and make it a spring roll party! Ready for the recipe?

My now-husband asked me out for spring rolls and beer for our first date. I vividly remember walking into the nearby Thai restaurant to meet him. Our waitress had to come back three times to get our order, since we could not be bothered to look at the menu.

We were too busy connecting over our love for our dogs (we each have one), coming from families of three kids (I’m the oldest; he’s the youngest), our shared love of food and travel, a million other little things…

He finally ordered us a double batch of his favorite spring rolls. I was too nervous and full from a day of recipe testing to eat much. The waitress kicked us out because the restaurant was closing. I came home and danced around in the living room with Cookie. He asked me out again.

A couple of months later, I confessed that I didn’t share his level of appreciation for those spring rolls. “Too much noodles, not enough veggies. The carrots taste like chlorine. The peanut sauce could be more bold.” He dared me to come up with something better, and I finally have.

These are the fresh, veggie-packed spring rolls I want to order at Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I can’t say they’re 100 percent authentic, but they’re pretty close.

Of course, I came up with an irresistible peanut dipping sauce to go with them. Invite some friends over and make it a spring roll party! Ready for the recipe?

Fresh Spring Roll Ingredients

These spring rolls are refreshing, colorful and fun to make. I left out tofu (you really can’t pack enough into the rolls to make it worthwhile) and shrimp, since I don’t eat shrimp.

These filling ingredients are flexible. You can use more carrot instead of cucumber, or extra cabbage in place of the lettuce. Here’s my favorite filling combination:

  • Thin rice noodles
  • Butter lettuce
  • Red cabbage (or green cabbage)
  • Carrot
  • Cucumber
  • Jalapeño (skip if you’re very sensitive to spice)
  • Green onion, cilantro and mint
  • You’ll need basic pantry ingredients to make the peanut sauce: peanut butter, rice vinegar, tamari or soy sauce, honey or maple syrup, toasted sesame oil and fresh garlic.

How to Wrap Spring Rolls

Spring rolls can seem intimidating, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly, I promise. If you have folded a burrito before, you can definitely make spring rolls! Don’t stress if your spring rolls aren’t totally perfect. A few tips:

1) Make the base

Start by placing a few pieces of lettuce about one-third from the bottom of the circular wrapper. The width of your fillings will determine the width of the spring roll. You want to leave a couple inches open on the two sides for wrapping purposes.

2) Pile on the ingredients

Then, add the remaining ingredients. The exact order doesn’t matter much. Just pile them on top, making sure to take up the proper width. It’s ok if the fillings spill upward. I try to leave the top one-third of the wrapper open for wrapping.

3) Roll the filling

Gently pull the bottom of the wrapper up and over the lower portion of the filling. Try to keep the fillings compact as you roll upwards, just until the fillings are enveloped.

4) Envelope the sides and roll it up

Pull each side over to enclose the filling. Continue wrapping upward until your spring roll is fully wrapped!

Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

These Vietnamese spring rolls are fresh, not fried! They’re the perfect party appetizer or light meal. The peanut sauce sends them over the top. Recipe yields 8 spring rolls.

NGREDIENTS

Spring Rolls

  • 2 ounces rice vermicelli or maifun brown rice noodles*
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup torn butter lettuce, ribs removed
  • 1 cup very thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or sliced into strips with a julienne peeler
  • 2 Persian (mini) cucumbers or 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced or sliced into strips with a julienne peeler
  • 2 medium jalapeños, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 8 sheets rice paper (spring roll wrappers)

Peanut Sauce

  • ⅓ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water, as needed

INSTRUCTIONS

  • To make the spring rolls: Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the noodles just until al dente, according to package directions. Drain, rinse them under cool water, and return them to the pot. Off the heat, toss the noodles with the sesame oil and salt, and set aside.
  • Fill a shallow pan (a pie pan or 9″ round cake pan works great) with an inch of water. Fold a lint-free tea towel in half and place it next to the dish. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach. Combine the green onion, cilantro and mint in a small bowl, and stir.
  • Place one rice paper in the water and let it rest for about 20 seconds, give or take. You’ll learn to go by feel here—wait until the sheet is pliable but not super floppy. Carefully lay it flat on the towel.
  • Leaving about 1 inch of open rice paper around the edges, cover the lower third of the paper with a few pieces of butter lettuce, followed by a small handful of rice noodles, some cabbage, and a few strips of carrot, cucumber and jalapeño. Sprinkle generously with the herb mix.
  • Fold the lower edge up over the fillings, rolling upward just until the filling is compactly enclosed. Fold over the short sides like you would to make a burrito. Lastly, roll it up. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  • To make the peanut sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, rice vinegar, tamari, honey, sesame oil, and garlic. Whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons water, as needed to make a super creamy but dip-able sauce.
  • Serve the spring rolls with peanut sauce on the side. You can serve them whole, or sliced in half on the diagonal with a sharp chef’s knife.

NOTES

*NOODLE NOTE: I always opt for whole grains when I can, so I used Annie Chun’s brand of maifun brown rice noodles. I found them with the Asian ingredients at Whole Foods.

MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Be sure to use certified gluten free noodles and tamari (not soy sauce, which typically contains gluten).

MAKE IT VEGAN: Use maple syrup instead of honey.

MAKE IT PEANUT FREE: Substitute almond butter (if not avoiding nuts altogether) or sunflower seed butter for the peanut butter.

PREPARE IN ADVANCE: You can definitely mix together the peanut sauce in advance. You can also prepare the veggies several hours or up to 1 day in advance, and store them in an air-tight container (they will lose freshness with time). The spring roll wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so spring rolls are best assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for a couple of hours, store them under a lightly damp, lint-free tea towel at room temperature (the skin tends to harden in the refrigerator).

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