I can't even begin to explain how much I love Vietnamese food. We've eaten our way through Vietnam a few times and the food over there just never gets old. Pretty much every meal starts out with either fresh or fried spring rolls with a limey/fish saucy nuoc cham sauce. As delicious as the fried ones are, the fresh ones are so much cleaner and lighter. This recipe is great with the two different homemade dipping sauces. The surprise hit of the night was the homemade peanut sauce that was so good that we just started eating it on its own. Definitely give these rolls a try and experiment with different fillings.
4 ounces thin rice vermicelli
16 raw medium shrimp, shelled and de-veined (optional)
2 large carrots, shredded
2 teaspoons sugar
16 rounds of rice paper (banh trang), each 8 1/2 inches in diameter
8 large red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves, thick stem ends removed and cut in half
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup mint leaves, washed and drained
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed and drained
NUOC CHAM DIPPING SAUCE
2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 small chili pepper, sliced
1 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
PREPARE NUOC CHAM:
Combine garlic, sugar, lime juice, water, vinegar, and fish sauce. Stir to blend. Add chili rounds (to taste). Keep at room temperature for ½ hour before serving.
PREPARE PEANUT SAUCE:
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic, chili and tomato paste and fry about 30 seconds until the garlic is golden brown. Add the water, sugar, peanut butter and hoisin sauce and whisk to dissolve. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve at room temperature.
PREPARE SPRING ROLLS:
Combine the carrot with the sugar and let stand for 10 minutes to soften.
In a medium saucepan, bring several cups of water to boil. Add vermicelli and cook until just softened, 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Boil the shrimp for 3 minutes, then refresh in cold water. Cut lengthwise in half, then set aside.
Lay out the spring roll ingredients before beginning to assemble the rolls.
Fill a shallow 9 or 10-inch cake or pie pan with very warm water. Working with 2 sheets of rice paper at a time, immerse the sheets and quickly remove. Spread out flat on a dry towel. The rice paper will become pliable within seconds (too long and they become soggy and tear when rolling).
Lay one piece of lettuce over the bottom of the rice paper. Add 1 tablespoon of noodles, 1 tablespoon carrot, bean sprouts and several mint leaves. Roll the paper halfway. Fold both sides of the paper over the filling. Lay 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, along the crease. Place several cilantro leaves above the shrimp. Keep rolling the paper into a cylinder to seal. (I put all the filling in the center of the rice paper and rolled it like a tight burrito. I thought this was easier and it worked well.) Place the rolls, seam side down, on a plate and cover with a damp towel so they will stay moist. Slice each roll in half on a bias.
Serve rolls with the dipping sauces, preferably in individual dipping bowls. The rolls are dipped into the sauce and eaten out of hand.