Saturday, April 27, 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Goi Cuon: Vietnamese Salad Rolls Demystified

You've probably either had these lovely delicacies or at least seen them—translucent-skinned salad roll-ups with shrimp, sprouts, and who-knows-what-else, served at Vietnamese restaurants. They look too cool for words and have a subtlety that is jazzed up by dipping them into some kind of mystery Vietnamese dipping sauce.
Do not be afraid—you can make these bad boys at home. My four-year-old made one herself (with only a little help from the grown-ups). My suggestion is to array the fillings of choice on a platter, have a big bowl of warm water for dipping the rice-paper wrappers in, and maybe a couple of choices of dipping sauces. So fun for guests to pile their own toppings on the rice paper (look for rice paper wrappers [Bahn Trang] at Asian stores or buy online), roll up, and dip. I'm all about participatory eating: Shabu-shabu, Peking Duck, Fondue, Make-your-own-tacos—you name it. If you help create it, somehow, food tastes even better.

So here's a quick-and-dirty how-to for building a Gui Cuon, Vietnamese Salad Rolls (or Spring Rolls) meal:

Potential Filling Ingredients
Choose the ones you like or have handy, but at least have cucumbers, sprouts, and noodles.
  • Fried tofu strips
  • Cilantro
  • Thai basil
  • Mint leaves
  • Shiso leaves
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Carrots, julienned
  • Cucumber, julienned
  • Rice noodles or bean thread noodles (I prefer bean thread because you are already eating rice with the rice paper wrappers), soaked in hot water until soft for 10 to 15 minutes and then drained
  • Sirloin strips, marinated in lemongrass/garlic/fish sauce/sugar marinade, and grilled
  • Shrimp, deveined, butterflied, cooked
Dipping Sauces