I like spring rolls, but they really do look a little too phallic. I don’t suppose that’s helped much by the condom-like spring roll wrapper. Nonetheless, they are tasty and a whole lot of work, at least for one person who happens to be a novice wrapper. With all the shredding, chopping, blanching, assembling, and cleaning, this took me about 90 minutes, maybe more.
This recipe makes about 12 large spring rolls. We ate two to three each and called it dinner, but they work well as appetizers.
For spring rolls:
36 medium size shrimp (raw, deveined, peeled, tail removed)
This can easily be made vegetarian. You can leave out the shrimp and double up on the veggies, or you can marinate strips of tofu in gluten-free soy, garlic, and lemongrass. Or even marinate peeled eggplant strips in that mixture, then roast in oven for about 15 minutes or until soft.
Rice noodles, about 5 oz
1-2 large carrots, shredded
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded (unless it’s an unwaxed English cucumber) and either Spiralized, shredded, or matchsticked
About 24 thin asparagus with tough ends trimmed off (if you prefer you can use julienned bell peppers in any color)
Lemongrass, about 10 long leaves or about 1/4 cup of the root
If you don’t have lemongrass handy or if you don’t have access to it, you can substitute 2 lemongrass-ginger or similarly flavored tea bags. This is for the poaching liquid for shrimp, asparagus, rice noodles, and possibly even for wrappers. It’s not for sauce or soup, so the flavors are meant to be imparted into other foods, not consumed directly.
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
10-12 spring roll rice-flour wrappers
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (skip this and double up on soy if making vegetarian)
2 tablespoons (approx) rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
2 tablespoon Thai basil (fresh), chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro (fresh), chopped
1 tablespoon mint (fresh), chopped
Ice bath (for shrimp then for asparagus)
Bring chicken or vegetable broth, lemongrass, bay leaves, and garlic to a low simmer. If using unsalted broth, you may wish to add a teaspoon of salt. Let simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors. Scoop out lemongrass and bay leaves.
Add shrimp and simmer until pink and cooked through, 5-8 minutes. Scoop out shrimp (keep the broth, you’ll need it for other stuff) and plunge them into an ice bath to stop their cooking. Remove from ice bath to drain. Mix shrimp with the juice of half a lime. Ensure ice bath is reconstituted for asparagus.
Blanch asparagus in simmering broth — just about 3 minutes. Remove asparagus (keep the broth, still), and plunge into ice bath. Remove asparagus from ice bath and pat dry.
Turn off heat on broth and drop in rice noodles. Cook 6-8 minutes until al dente. Remove rice noodles and drain. Still hold onto that broth if you can.
Toss rice noodles in a bowl with soy, fish sauce, chili-garlic sauce, juice from 1/4 lime, rice vinegar. You may find it easier to work with the noodles if you cut them into smaller pieces with kitchen shears.
Mix all those chopped herbs together in a small bowl (Thai basil, cilantro, mint).
Now it’s time to build those wraps. Is the broth liquid warm but not too hot to put your fingers in? If not, let it cool down a bit. If you are impatient, them run hot top water into a pie pan and you can move forward.
Tip — For wrapping, get a plastic board or a parchment and spray lightly with cooking oil spray. This will keep the wrapper from sticking to the work surface.
Another tip — Fill a small bowl with warm water for you to rinse your fingers in so that you can roll the thing up with fingers that are free from ingredients. Damp fingers can also help boost the stickiness and pliability of the wrapper when rolling.
Take rice wrapper and submerge in warm liquid for 10 seconds. It should still be a little stiff when you take it out, but it’ll soften as you work with it. Place 3 shrimp in middle of wrapper, then take two asparagus and lay one on each side of the shrimp. If asparagus are as long as or longer than the line of shrimp, break the asparagus stalks in half and layer so that they are slightly shorter than the row of shrimp. Layer carrots, then cucumber, then a sprinkle of herbs, then rice noodles on top of the shrimp. This is like building a burrito — use enough to taste and see, but not so much that you can’t fold it up without everything squirting out the sides.
Fold top and bottom toward each other (they should touch or at least almost touch). Gently fold one side over the filling, tucking in filling as you go, and roll across while pulling the other side over. Cup the underside with your hand to ensure wrapper is sticking together.
Place shrimp side up/folded side down on parchment. If it looks like seafood and vegetables stuffed into a loose condom, you’ve done pretty good. If it looks like seafood and vegetables stuffed into a tight, fitted condom, you’ve done even better.
Repeat until all are rolled. Cover with a damp kitchen towel until ready to serve. Cut in half on the diagonal (less phallic that way), serve at room temperature with the dipping sauce of your choice.
For the sauce:
A lot of different kinds of sauces work with this. Spicy mustard (thin out regular mustard with soy then blend in grated horseradish root and chili-garlic paste), peanut sauce, a simple soy and green onion sauce. Below is what I used and it was pretty tasty.
1 medium mostly green tomato
1 small peach or other sweet fruit, pit/seeds and peel removed
2 tablespoons (approx) soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mixed herbs (Thai basil, mint, cilantro — I used whatever I had left after making the spring rolls)
1 – 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
Juice from 1/4 lime
Blend all ingredients thoroughly in food processor, let stand for 30 minutes or so. Add salt if needed.