Updated October 2011.
Every now and then, I realize that some people must confuse food writing with food styling. Why else would anyone, anywhere, ever think that I'd be good at making Vietnamese salad rolls? I'm a writer, not a wrapper.
Goi cuon (or nime chow, the Cambodian name that's more popular here in Rhode Island) are fresh (not deep-fried) spring rolls, typically filled with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, cucumber, shredded carrot, and sometimes shrimp or pork, enveloped in a rice paper wrapper and dipped in nuoc cham or peanut sauce. Can you imagine a more elegant way to eat a salad?
Called banh trang in Vietnamese, the translucent wrappers contain ground white rice and water, and sometimes a bit of added tapioca flour; they are pressed flat, steamed, and dried in the sun on bamboo mats, which gives them a distinctive basket-weave pattern, before being cut into circles and packaged. Available in 8-inch, 5-inch and quarter-round sizes, the wrappers are brittle, and quite thin. They do get stale, so try and buy from a market or online vendor that has a lot of turnover.
Popular in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, banh trang are practically tasteless and thus a good vessel for almost any type of filling. Grilled shredded barbeque chicken and arugula, tempura vegetables, steamed salmon with fresh herbs ....well, why not a hot dog with all the fixings?
Like me, you may create a few torpedoes before finding your salad roll groove, but remember this: if every roll comes out exactly the same size and shape, who will know that you made them by hand?
Goi cuon/nime chow (fresh Vietnamese salad rolls)
Make as few or as many as you wish. With the components cooked, shredded and chopped, and stored in the refrigerator, assembling these restaurant favorites takes only a minute. Serves 6 or more, depending on what else you serve.
1 package rice vermicelli
1 package rice paper wrappers
1 dozen cooked and cooled medium shrimp, optional 1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded cucumber (European seedless cukes work best)
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
Large handful of mint leaves
1/4 lb mung bean sprouts
Nuoc cham, for dipping
Fill a bowl with hot water. Soak the rice vermicelli for 15 minutes, until flexible. Drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the rice vermicelli, and cook for 45 seconds. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Set aside. Make sure all of your components are prepared and laid out on your work surface. Cut the cooked shrimp lengthwise through the center to make 2 flat halves. Leave mint leaves whole.
Spread a clean dish towel on the countertop in front of you. Fill a large shallow pan with hot tap water. Take one rice paper round and submerge it in the hot water for 20 seconds or until it is pliable. Transfer to the dish towel. Working quickly, take a small bit of rice vermicelli and place it in the bottom third of the round. Top that with a small amount of lettuce, carrots, cuke, bean sprouts, 2 halves of shrimp and a couple of mint leaves. Fold the bottom up over the filling. Fold the sides in, and roll to the top. Place seam side down on a plate, cover with a damp cloth, and continue until you have made as many salad rolls as you wish. They can be stored in the fridge covered with a damp cloth for up to an hour before serving. Serve with two sauces: nuoc cham and Chinese peanut dressing.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Garlic chicken spring rolls, from White on Rice Couple
Artichoke and spinach rice paper rolls with lemon rosemary baked tofu, from The Taste Space
Bulgogi wrapped in rice paper, from My Korean Kitchen
Bo bia (Vietnamese jicama, carrot, Chinese sausage, egg, and dried shrimp rolls), from gas•tron•o•my
Butternut squash spring rolls, from RecipeGirl
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