My cooking process--and I use the word “process” very loosely--is usually 2/3 research and 1/3 trial and error. The topic of this post serves as a fitting example. When I first set out to make Vietnamese summer rolls, I spent more time on Wikipedia than any other site. I realize this is a pretty egregious confession, but hear me out. I've been eating Vietnamese food since I was a young tyke, eagerly tearing into quail and shrimp on sugar cane. You'd think I'd have picked up something on how to prepare certain Vietnamese dishes simply by osmosis by then, but no dice, unfortunately. I was probably a little too focused on getting that perfect bite of Vietnamese pancake--wrapped in lettuce and dipped in Nước chấm--to pick up much of anything.
So where else to start but Wikipedia, that self-made, self-policed internet phenomenon? While using Wikipedia certainly requires further research and triple-checking of various sources, it makes for an unbelievably useful source when attempting to soak up as much information about various cultures' cuisine as possible. Vietnamese food takes you to summer rolls, which takes you to Nước chấm (one day I hope to be able to pronounce Nước chấm correctly, wish me luck). Whatever its flaws, it makes for a valuable source of information for any aspiring cook, and information about different kinds of food is fairly easily fact-checked.
With that rambling insight into my process in mind, let's talk about summer rolls. Summer rolls, also known as spring rolls and known in their native country as gỏi cuốn, are an elegantly simple creation at their core: a fresh salad wrapped inside a rice paper. What I love about Vietnamese food is that so many of the dishes incorporate fresh herbs and vegetables, and, cleverly, many of the same ingredients. The ingredients in Bún thịt nướng, and other Vietnamese rice noodle bowls, are essentially the same ones that make up summer rolls. Vietnamese pancakes, or Bánh xèo, contain many of the same ingredients, as do other dishes native to Vietnam. What's great about this, to me, is that if you have a few select ingredients on hand, you can prepare a variety of Vietnamese dishes. Summer rolls, in particular, make for a cool and refreshing summertime appetizer or light meal.
Making summer rolls is a simple process that yields quick results. In the following step-by-step pictorials, I'll walk you through the creation of Avocado and Tofu Summer Rolls, as well as Veggie Summer Rolls.
AVOCADO AND TOFU SUMMER ROLLS
You'll need to start with a package of rice paper wrappers. You can find these at any specialty grocer. Once opened, store in an airtight container. Be careful when handling these if you're a klutz like me--they're very fragile.
Fully immerse one rice paper wrapper in a bowl of warm water for 15 seconds.
Carefully remove your wrapper and gently shake off excess water. It should be dramatically softened.
Lay your rice paper wrapper on a clean, flat surface. I like to use the small bamboo mat I use for making sushi. Find a surface that suits you.
Place a small portion of cooked, cooled vermicelli in the center of your wrapper.
At this point, add a few drops of Nước chấm if you wish.
Any kind of tofu will do for these summer rolls. Use the kind that will provide the texture you like your tofu to be. Personally, I much prefer the most extra-firm of tofus.
Lay a couple thin slices of avocado on top. Resist urge to eat them instead. (Am I the only one who counts avocado among their favorite foods?)
A few small carrot sticks ensure continued good eyesight.
To complete your summer rolls, grab them from the back, and gently pull forward until your filling is tucked in...
...fold the sides in...
...and finish rolling to complete. The rice paper wrapper self-adheres, so there's no need to wet your fingers or pull too tightly when rolling. Take a break and eat this one before making Veggie Summer Rolls.
VEGGIE SUMMER ROLLS
To start, lay a couple leaves of Thai Basil on top of your prepared rice paper wrapper.
Next, add a little cooked vermicelli. To cook your vermicelli, unlike many pastas, remove your pot of boiling water to a cool surface, add vermicelli, cover, and let sit or 8-10 minutes. This makes for an especially hands-free cooking process.
Small strips of cucumber add a welcome crunch to the proceedings.
You're more than welcome to add more carrot than this to your own creations. I think I had a little bit of a brainfart when I added so few carrots.
Bean sprouts provide another contrasting texture to the summer roll, and are a criminally under-appreciated food, I think. At this point, the kitchen became inexplicably darker.
...fold in the sides...
...and roll forward once more to complete! Keep in mind these instructions are for making summer rolls, and are not to be confused with the famed "stop, drop, and roll" maneuver employed in ridding oneself of fire.
Bon appetit! Thanks for stopping by, and come back tomorrow when I'll level some serious charges against that most egregious of foods: the burrito.
And in the weeks to come, stay tuned for some very cool new features and columns. Thanks for being a part of BCC!
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