A few twists to the traditional Vietnamese spring roll recipe add even more crisp to the crunch.
GROWING UP IN Saigon, Ngoan Nguyen learned how to make spring rolls from her mother, Tao. Chocked full of lettuce and herbs, prawns or pork, spring rolls are commonly eaten as appetizers in Vietnam. A spring roll is not cooked: it’s a fresh garden in gossamer rice paper. Today, living in Seattle, Ngoan wants to pass on the spring roll technique to her children.
When the Nguyen family opened Tamarind Tree restaurant in Seattle in 2004, Ngoan made some twists to the traditional spring roll recipe. She leaves generous amounts of lettuce sticking out of both ends and serves the rolls cut-side down so they appear like miniature trees. And she added what might be the crown jewel of Tamarind Tree’s spring rolls — a long and thin fried egg roll tube that provides a surprising and satisfying crunch.
With some advance preparation, these rolls are quick and fun to assemble with the whole family.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Gỏi cuốn
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Makes 8 rolls
8 8-inch square egg roll sheets (wheat wrappers, often found in the frozen section)
Vegetable oil for frying
8 22-centimeter (approximately 8½-inch) round rice paper sheets
8 16-centimeter (approximately 6½-inch) round rice paper sheets
Large bowl of hot water
16 medium prawns, cooked, peeled, deveined and cut in half
1 package dried vermicelli rice noodles, prepared according to package directions
Thai basil, 32 leaves
Mint, 32 leaves
Purple shiso, 16 leaves
Vietnamese, Chinese or garlic chives (available at Asian markets) and cilantro (optional)
Green leaf lettuce, 16 large leaves
Peanut dipping sauce, homemade or store-bought (locally made Four Sisters spring roll sauce recommended)
1. Make the signature crispy egg roll tubes for the spring rolls. If using frozen egg roll sheets, allow them to come to room temperature. Roll each egg roll sheet as tightly as possible and deep fry at 350 degrees (or fry in a skillet on medium-high heat in an inch of vegetable oil) until golden brown. Set aside.
2. Gather all of your ingredients. Wash and dry lettuce and herbs.
3. To make the rolls, layer a small round rice paper sheet on top of a large round rice paper sheet, roughly lining up the circles at the bottom sides (closest to you). This extra sheet makes the large wrapper less likely to tear.
4. Holding the layered sheets together, quickly dip them in a large bowl of hot water to soften all sides, about two to three seconds. Place the rounds, still layered, on a work surface in front of you.
5. Begin to build the roll, placing ingredients on top of each other on the bottom third of the wrapper. First place 4 shrimp halves in a row, cut-side up, spreading them out to the ends of the wrapper. Add about ¼ cup cooked vermicelli on top of the shrimp. On top of the noodles, place 3 or 4 leaves each of basil and mint, 2 shiso leaves and 1 fried egg roll tube. Add chives and cilantro, if using. Top with 2 leaves of lettuce, spreading them out to hang over the sides of the wrapper by an inch or two.
6. Gently pull up the bottom edge of the wrapper and wrap it firmly over the filling. Roll away from you gently to enclose the filling completely. Do not fold in the ends of the wrapper.
7. Repeat with the other 7 rolls.
8. Cut the spring rolls in half and set them on a serving dish cut-side down, with the lettuce sticking up. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.