Fresh spring rolls are one of my favourite warm weather dinners. I like that they can be as simple or snazzy as one desires, and usually start with a base formula of thin, cooked rice noodles, lettuce, julienne vegetables, fresh herbs and a possibly even a protein. They make an excellent interactive meal for the kids to assist with, not unlike make-your-own pizzas or tacos, and with a little bit of advance prep, you can walk in the door and have this dinner on the table within 20 minutes.
I like to chop all the veggies the night before, and cook the chicken or shrimp ahead of time. Better yet, a store-bought rotisserie chicken works well for these. If I need to make a peanut sauce for dipping, I do that in advance too, but store-bought sweet Thai chili sauce and/or soy sauce both make a mighty fine replacement for something homemade.
When I get to the kitchen I haul my prepped food out of the fridge, cook the noodles and prepare the water for the rice paper rolls. After that it’s just a matter of stuffing and rolling to get a good dinner on the table. For best success when making these, here are few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way:
- As I mentioned above, mise-en-place is very important when it comes to make fresh spring rolls. Gather your ingredients – washed, prepped and cooked – before rolling.
- I like to incorporate something crunchy (carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts) and something fresh (lettuce and fresh herbs) in every roll. Everything else is optional, but I think noodles are nice, as is a cooked protein.
- Rice paper comes in various sizes. They can be bite-sized, or larger like a burrito. Select the size that works best for you. Some people like to use two layers of rice paper to ensure they don’t break open.
- Dip the rice paper in warm water to soften it, but don’t leave them in too long. You want them to have a little toughness left to them as they’ll continue to absorb any water on their surface while you make the rolls. I like to pour warm water into a pie plate or two (depending on how many people are making the rolls) so I have an area that’s large enough to soak the rice paper properly and quickly.
- Eat spring rolls as soon as you make them, if possible. It’s great to make this an interactive meal. If you need to prep them in advance, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 6 hours, unless they have meat in them. In that case, they should be store in the refrigerator. Don’t keep them in the fridge for longer than 4 hours, as any longer that that the rolls may harden and crack.
- When making the rice paper rolls ahead of time, do one at time and wrap in plastic wrap before beginning the next roll. Some surfaces are more absorbent than others and if they are left on the counter too long they may stick.
My two-year-old loves these too, but I usually only put cucumber, noodles and chicken in them for him, so they are very soft. If you think your child may not be fond of the rolls, simply deconstruct and place the components they will like separately on the plate with a little sauce for dipping.
- 2 ounces thin rice vermicelli
- 8 rice wrappers
- 2 leaves lettuce, chopped
- 1 cup sliced, cooked chicken breast or thighs or 8 large cooked shrimp - peeled, deveined
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 8 fresh mint leaves
- 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
- ½ English cucumber, julienned
- Optional: peanut sauce, sweet Thai chili sauce and/or soy sauce, for serving
Prep and Cook
- 1Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain well and cool.
- 2Fill a pie plate or two with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the water for a few seconds to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place some lettuce, chicken or shrimp, a small handful of noodles, fresh basil and mint, and a few carrot and cucumber pieces, leaving about two inches uncovered on each side.
- 3Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- 4Serve rolled spring rolls with peanut, sweet Thai chili and/or soy sauces.
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