I first became addicted to summer rolls, or gòi cüon, on a trip to south-east Asia in the summer of 2009. I had finished my exams, and with a long, study-free summer ahead of me, I took off for a four-week trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with some friends. Unsurprisingly, this trip sparked my love of south-east Asian cuisine in general and has inspired a lot of my cooking and restaurant choices since. We ate beef phò for breakfast, bought countless bánh mi prepared from little motoribke/hotplate combos by the side of the road in Saigon, drank little cups of Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk to help with our hangovers and tried to pluck up the courage to try the foul-smelling, but apparently delicious, durian fruit (I still, to this day, have not sampled this delicacy). The weather was extremely hot – 46 degrees on the day we went to visit Angkor Wat – so we often wanted cold and refreshing food. Shredded mango and papaya salads are ubiquitous in this region, usually laced with a lip-numbing amount of chilli. Summer rolls are also common, and a great cool starter or snack.
Summer rolls are a very traditional Vietnamese dish, but are also widely found in Cambodia. It was in Siem Reap, in fact, that we learned to make them; on a cooking course at Le Tigre de Papier restaurant. Summer rolls consist of a filling of vermicelli noodles, vegetables – usually lettuce, finely julienned carrot and beansprouts, herbs – usually coriander, mint and chives and a protein such as pork, prawns, tofu or nuts. They are wrapped in rice paper, dampened in hot water to make it malleable. They have a similar shape to the more widely-known spring roll, but are not deep fried. Summer rolls are commonly served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, lime and chilli, although it has become common in recent years, particularly in Vietnamese restaurants outside of south-east Asia, to serve them with hoisin sauce, Sriracha or even sweet chilli sauce.
Although relatively simple to make, summer rolls require quite a bit of patience as the rice-paper wrappers can be quite fiddly. The best way to approach making summer rolls is to prep all of the ingredients in advance and lay them out in front of you so that you can take a bit from each of them for each roll. Using pre-cooked vermicelli, often found in supermarket chillers next to the pre-prepared Asian vegetables, will also save you time. The trickiest part is knowing how long to soak the rice paper rolls for: not enough time and you will have rice paper that is too stiff to roll well, too long and you will have soggy rice paper that will split when you try to use it. There is no specific timing with this and you simply have to use your judgement, although it does get easier with practice.
Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls
For the rolls:
- 12 round rice paper wrappers
- 2 little gem lettuces, tough stalks removed and leaves shredded
- 100g pre-cooked vermicelli noodles
- 50g beansprouts
- 1 large carrot, cut into fine batons
- 48 small cooked prawns
- Handful chopped coriander
- Handful chopped mint
- Handful chopped cashew nuts
For the dipping sauce:
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 birds eye chilli, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp lime juice
Prepare all of the ingredients for the rolls and set them out on boards in front of you. This will make it easier when you come to assembling them. Fill a large shallow bowl with boiling water.
To make each roll, place a rice paper wrapper into the bowl of boiling water until it has softened. Remove it and place it flat on a board or work surface. Leaving plenty of space around the edges, pile a small amount of the lettuce, noodles, bean sprouts, carrot, four of the prawns, coriander, mint and cashew nuts. Fold in the paper on the left and right of the filling, fold over the piece of the rice paper closest to you and roll away from you until the roll is complete. The moisture in the rice paper will create a seal. (YouTube has some video guides on how to roll summer rolls, so it may be worth watching these if you aren’t sure.)
To make the dipping sauce, place the garlic, chilli, ginger and sugar in a pestle and mortar and pound until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice. Pour into small pots or ramekins and serve with the summer rolls.
Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food. Makes 12 rolls.