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Love in the new year, and learning to make Vietnamese spring rolls

Making Vietnamese spring rolls at home is easier than you might think. With a little practice rice paper, shrimp, pork shoulder, and veggies roll right up and become a delicious snack or side.

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While traveling in Vietnam, I learned two other methods of softening the rice paper: one is to wipe it with a wet, non-terry towel until pliable, and the second, use a spray bottle. The rest is easy. Well, the rolling does takes some practice but you’ll eventually get the hang of it. The following recipe/how-to is based on what I learned at a cooking class I took at the Morning Glory Cooking School in the beautiful town of Hoi An in central Vietnam.

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Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Patricia Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens and has been published in numerous national and regional publications. Pat is also the creator of the “Asian Ingredients 101” iPhone and Android app, a glossary on-the-go that’s the perfect companion on a trip to the Asian market. Her first book, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens, will be available in paperback in September 2012.

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8 sheets rice paper wrappers, plus more in case some break (8 to10 inches across is best)

Red leaf, romaine, or butter lettuce

3 cups fresh herbs: mint, cilantro, Thai (or regular) basil, red perilla, Vietnamese mintrice paddy herb, bean sprouts (any combination of these is fine)

Carrot and daikon pickles

8 ounces small round rice noodles, cooked according to package directions (look for noodles labeled ‘bun,’ not the super thin vermicelli or bean thread noodles. If you have my cookbook, they are pictured as #1 on pg. 15)

8 small slices pork shoulder, cooked as desired (I like to use char siu, store-bought or home made)

12 large cooked shrimp, peeled and halved

12 (3-inch-length) pieces garlic chives

Dipping sauce (recipe below)*

Lay all the ingredients out on the table and let everyone make their own rolls.

Soften the rice paper using your method of choice:
 

1. Dip in a bowl of warm water for about 3-5 seconds (depending on its thickness).

2. Lay on a flat surface and wipe with a wet non-terry towel several times until pliable.

3. Fill a spray bottle with water and spray until pliable.

You want the rice paper to be just soft enough that you can fold it. You will lessen the risk of over-soaking your rice paper wrapper if you use the latter two methods but it is up to you.

Place the wrapper on a work service (a flat plate works fine) and lay a piece of lettuce on the edge closest to you. Grab a handful of herbs and place them on top of the lettuce. Place a handful of noodles on top of the greens. Add some pickles. Arrange two slices of pork above the noodles, followed by 3 slices of shrimp, pink-side down.

Fold the edge closest to you over the ingredients and start rolling, ensuring the roll is snug as you go. When you are about half-way, fold both sides in and arrange three pieces of garlic chives on the right so that they jut out like palm leaves swaying in the wind. Continue rolling until you have a nice tight roll.

If you tear the rice paper, don’t fret, just start over again. And even if your roll isn’t perfect, so what, it’ll still taste good!

Serve with dipping sauce.

*Dipping sauce (Nước mắm chấm)
Makes: 4 servings

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 Thai red chilies, or to taste, sliced

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 large lime)

2 tablespoons warm water

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Related post on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Pranee’s Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry

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