In the Studio Today... The Art of Spring Rolls

May 17-May 18th, 2010

More, Minty Fresh Spring Rolls!, originally uploaded by cproppe.
I don't know why, but the day before my 42nd Birthday, I had this intense desire to make my own Vietnamese style spring rolls, with rice paper wraps. I have devoured fresh spring rolls for over a decade in the Bay Area... My first and favorites having been from "Le Soliel" Vietnamese Restaurant on Clement Street near Arguello. I used to go with old friends for dinner, and then walk down to "The Toy Boat" for ice cream dessert. Those were great times, and wonderful memories. Since then, I have had a variety of fresh spring rolls from Thai Restaurants, The Good Earth in Fairfax, and Comforts in San Anselmo. Although good, none of these ever really gave me the original joy and amazing combination of fresh flavors that I first experienced with the Vietnamese rolls from "Le Soliel". There are many different types of Spring Rolls, and wikipedia does a decent job explaining all the different types, from fried to fresh, and with different types of fillings and sauces from different countries.

Perhaps the timely and true reason for my sudden desire to create Vietnamese style Spring Rolls, was the bursting abundance of fresh, healthy mint in our yard after more than our share of rain this Spring. The Vietnamese rolls always had lots of fresh, whole mint leaves, and they served extra, large sprigs of mint alongside almost all the dishes at Le Soliel. My 5th attempt at the rolls this week was the best, because I finally perfected the sauce, and added the rice vermicilli noodles. My ingredients were as follows:

• Spring Roll Skins (made in Viet Nam, sold dry in circular package at Andronico's, San Anselmo)
• Sunflower Sprouts(or other fresh, crunchy sprouts)
• Shredded Carrots (I peeled long strips with a peeler)
Wildwood Sprouted Tofu (Teriyaki style)
• Maifun Rice Vermicilli Noodles (Dry in package; cook for 2 minutes in boiling water, then run under cold water to cool)
• Green Onions (Scallions, cut in long, thin strips)
• Fresh Mint Leaves
• 1 orange
• "Spicy Vietnamese Sauce"*=combine the following:
• Vietnamese Chili and Garlic Sauce
• Light Sodium Soy Sauce
• Hoisin Sauce
• Fresh Lime Juice
(*Wikipedia states that the traditional, central Vietnamese sauce can be made as follows: Fish sauce, lime, garlic, sugar, small red and green peppers and water. Mince the garlic and peppers. Add the sugar into a bowl of hot water to help dissolve it quickly. Add fish sauce, lime, and the minced garlic and peppers into the sugar water.)
Ingredients for Great Spring Roll Sauce

To make the Spring Rolls:

Remove 2 dry skins from the package, and run them each under cool tap water until they are both wet on each side. (I found this much better than soaking them in a bowl of water. They really don't need to soak because they will stay wet on the parchment paper and become more and more pliable the longer they sit on the parchment, as you are putting ingredients on top). Place them each on parchment paper(I use one large piece and fold the edges around a cookie sheet to give me my working surface). Once wet, the skins will stick to almost anything, so parchment paper is your best bet to keep them from sticking like super glue to anything else.

Place sprouts, carrot strips, tofu slices, rice, mint... in the center of one of the skins. Fold bottom up, and wrap the two edges to seal the ingredients inside. Now, here's the trick... Don't worry if the skin breaks here, or if the roll isn't tightly sealed enough. Just close it up the best you can, and then pick this up and plop it down in the center of your 2nd, wet skin that's also on the parchment. Use that second skin to really wrap the roll tighly, and neatly. When you are done, you will not even be able to tell there are 2 skins rolled around it. The skins are so thin and translucent, that the 2nd skin adheres to the first one and like magic, it really tightens up and pulls the whole thing together... Almost like "Spanks"... I guess. : )

My favorite sauces are from "Le Soliel" on Clement in SF, and the spicy sauce that comes with the vegetarian pot stickers at Schechuan Chef aka"Rebecca's" in Fairfax, CA. I think I have managed to create a sauce, above, that is very close to these. Some people like to use a Thai Peanut Sauce on these, but I don't like the combination with the mint. I appreciate the spicy, "kick" the traditional Vietnamese sauces have, with the hot peppers and garlic. This recipe does not use fish sauce, so it is a vegetarian version, for the purists. Oh, and btw, the orange is just to slice and put on the plate for decoration, and I squeeze some into the sauce before I spoon sauce into the rolls. 1-2 rolls and I am super full, and I am pretty sure the calories are user friendly. : )

More, Stunning Spring Rolls, originally uploaded by cproppe.