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Dorothy Dean presents: Wrapping up summer with fresh Vietnamese spring rolls

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 1, 2020

By Audrey Alfaro For The Spokesman-Review

Summer is coming to an end, and I’m literally wrapping it up with one of my favorite seasonal recipes aptly named summer rolls.

Also known as fresh spring rolls or salad rolls, these Vietnamese rice paper bundles are packed with crisp veggies, bright herbs, shrimp and noodles. They’re wonderfully fresh and light and extra tasty when dipped in peanut sauce.

Summer rolls might seem intimidating to make, but preparation is king, and once you get a feel for the wrappers, you’ll be on a roll (see what I did there).

The wrappers (called bánh tráng in Vietnamese) are made of rice paper and packaged in circular sheaths that are crisp and dry. They are soaked in warm water just before rolling to slightly soften them.

Seconds is all it takes, as they’re gossamer thin and delicate, so you’ll want them still a bit firm, yet pliable (and they’ll continue to soften after they’re rolled).

After all the ingredients are prepped, set up your work station, assembly-line style, around the surface you’re using for rolling. A damp towel or a plastic cutting board works well for this (the wrappers tend to stick on wood, so avoid that).

After a quick soak, the wrapper is layered with the ingredients. The bottom is folded over the filling, followed by the sides, then rolled up like a burrito. Simple enough, eh?!

Served with a delicious peanut sauce, they’re great as a healthy and light meal or as a refreshing and impressive appetizer.

Buying pre-cooked shrimp already peeled and deveined works easiest for this recipe. However, grilled or sautéed shrimp add an awesome kick of flavor, making this perfect for leftovers.

Not into shrimp? Replace it with pork, chicken, crab or tofu. Or just go all veggie.

The options for fillings are endless. Try it with romaine, alfalfa, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, bean sprouts, mango, avocado, bacon, scallions or purple cabbage. Or smears like hummus, guac or cream cheese.

Summer rolls can dry out and turn rubbery when refrigerated. To avoid this, wrap them in a damp paper towel before tightly covering them with plastic wrap.

Summer Rolls

Adapted from chowhound.com.

3-4 ounces rice vermicelli noodles

12 sheets rice paper

18 medium cooked shrimp, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

12 leaves of butter leaf lettuce

2 carrots, julienned (about 1 cup)

2 Persian or English cucumbers, julienned (about 1 cup)

Few sprigs of Thai basil, mint and cilantro

For the peanut sauce:

¼ cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons chili paste

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Optional: crushed peanuts, for topping

Place the noodles in a medium heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let it soak for 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Set up your ingredients assembly-line style around your work surface. I put my rice paper to my left, followed by a big shallow dish/pan (big enough to fit the width of the rice paper) of warm water, then the shrimp, lettuce, noodles and plate of carrots, cucumbers and the fresh herbs.

I also have a platter ready for the rolled rolls.

Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on your work surface. Working with 1 wrapper at a time, completely submerge the wrapper until it is soft and pliable, about 10 seconds. Remove the wrapper from the water and place it on the towel.

Lay 3 shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, in the center of the wrapper, leaving about 1 inch of space on each side.

Fold a lettuce leaf in half and place it just below the shrimp. Layer a scant ¼ cup of the rice noodles over the lettuce, followed by a few carrot and cucumber sticks and a couple leaves each of the basil, mint and cilantro.

Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold in the sides of the wrapper. Then roll tightly from the bottom to the top.

Place the summer roll on the platter and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients, and refresh the water in the dish or pan with water as needed.

For the peanut sauce:

Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and top with crushed peanuts, if using.

Serve the summer rolls with the peanut sauce for dipping.

Audrey Alfaro can be reached at spoonandswallow@yahoo.com.

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