I love Vietnamese spring rolls because they’re easy, healthy, and fun to make. This no-cook recipe is perfect for days when it’s too hot to cook. The trick is learning how to fold the spring rolls to create a neat, beautiful package. Let’s learn how to master this technique.
My friend Nhi invited me to the Tết Festival in Southern California with her family in 2011.
She donned a traditional Vietnamese aquamarine silk dress with chiffon sleeves and a tall, regal collar. Her dress was decorated with fluffy golden clouds.
After the festival, Nhi invited me to dinner with her family where we made Vietnamese spring rolls. I had only eaten them at restaurants before and didn’t realize how easy they are to make at home.
Nhi taught me how to roll it by dipping the rice paper in water and assembling the fillings inside. First the leafy salad. Then the herbs, followed by the grilled salmon.
I watched her roll together a tight package that she dunked into the dipping sauce.
In my first attempt, I tore the paper-thin skin, making the salad and herbs burst out. By my third and fourth roll, I was becoming an expert. And you will too.
It’s no coincidence that they’re also called summer rolls. We’ve been eating a lot of them because it’s too hot in our apartment without AC to cook in the summer.
NOTE: Spring rolls are terrific for dinner parties because you can lay out the ingredients and have your guests prepare their own rolls, like a buffet or a taco bar.
Let’s dive in to learn how to make spring rolls.
What kind of rice paper to use?
You can purchase a package of rice paper from the Asian grocery store. They come in different shapes and sizes including square and circles. Some conventional grocery stores like Safeway stock them in the Asian food aisle.
My preferred brand is the Three Ladies Brand because it is reliable. What I’m looking for in rice paper is the following:
- It doesn’t tear easily when folding
- It shouldn’t stick together in the packaging
- It should be thick enough to hold the food together but not so thick that you feel like you’re mostly eating rice paper.
- It should soften quickly when it touches hot water.
- It should be sticky so the edges fold together and stay put
You can probably find that with another brand too but I stick with Three Ladies.
My favorite is this Three Ladies 22cm round rice paper. You may find the square shape easier to fold than the circle. It could take some experimentation to find your preferred rice paper.
How to store the rice paper
The number one mistake is to allow the rice paper to get wet.
It will curl and become unusable. Avoid storing the rice paper somewhere near water like your sink. Don’t use wet fingers to grab the next sheet of rice paper. Take out 3-5 sheets with dry hands when you set up your mise en place.
If you live in a humid environment, your rice paper can get wet just by being in contact with the air. Store the rice paper in a resealable plastic bag that keeps it dry.
The second biggest mistake is putting heavy objects on the rice paper or putting it in a precarious position where it can fall. Why? If you accidentally crush the rice paper or crack it the fractures become holes when you fold it. This results in food falling out of the rice paper.
Store the rice paper flat in your pantry on a stable shelf. I’ve made all these mistakes and broken entire stacks of rice paper.
TIP: If you find your rice paper is cracked, my best solution is to double layer. You can also double layer if you significantly tear your rice paper when folding. Your rice paper to filling ratio won’t be ideal but it makes rolling easier because the second layer fills in the cracks.
You can fill the rolls with any fillings you like, making any variation you can imagine. Summer rolls (a.k.a. spring rolls) are a fun way to eat leafy greens with shrimp, pork, or tofu.
Here are filling ideas based on Vietnamese restaurants and my favorite ways to eat the rolls.
- Vegetables: Veggies make the dish. Think about taste, texture, and colors.
- Cucumbers: They add a refreshing crunch
- Bean sprouts: These add a nice texture
- Spinach: Baby spinach works best because it doesn’t have thick stems
- Lettuce: I use curly lettuce, butter lettuce, or romaine. It adds bulk and sweetness
- Spring mix: This can get puffy so you want to push the leaves down before rolling
- Carrots: Crunchy, sweet, and colorful
- Celery: If you’re into celery 😀
- Herbs: These bring flavor and aromas to the rolls
- Chives: This is common at Vietnamese restaurants. Cut the leaf down to 4 inch/10 cm pieces.
- Cilantro: I love putting in cilantro leaves. I try to pluck each leaf but if I’m lazy, I leave the stems in too.
- Mint: Very typical in restaurant spring rolls but raw mint isn’t my thing.
- Thai basil: A few leaves goes a long way. When we can’t find Thai basil, I substitute with Italian basil. It’s still good but different.
- Green onion: Because green onion is pungent, I like to cut it into slices rather than thirds. Up to you how you want to cut it.
- Tofu: Extra-firm tofu is best. I love it with five-spice tofu because it’s flavorful, dry, and super firm. I tried rolls with extra-firm silken tofu last night and they held up. Super-firm block tofu works too. Just make sure you have a lot of dipping space if your tofu is plain because it’ll be bland.
- Salmon: Smoked salmon is a beauty in spring rolls. Nhi’s family prepared baked salmon for the Lunar New Year’s dinner, and that was a special treat too.
- Shrimp: I use wild-caught shrimp because it’s friendlier to the environment and Alex thinks it tastes better. If raw, boil the shrimp until it is pink and no longer. Avoid overcooking it. Remember to remove the tails if still attached.
- Imitation crab meat: I like the “crab sticks”. I cut them in half and roll them with lettuce. I like to eat this with a thousand island-style dipping sauce.
- Chicken: You can slice chicken breast or thigh meat into strips. The chicken can be grilled, baked, or poached. Pan-fried chicken probably works too.
- Pork: Use thinly sliced pork chop, pork shoulder, or pork tenderloin. Slice against the grain. You could probably use pork belly or even bacon.
- Beef: Sliced flank steak would work well.
- Mushrooms: Thick mushrooms like cooked portobello and king trumpet has a meaty texture and works well. Make sure you dry it as much as possible before adding to the spring roll.
- Noodles (optional): You can add boiled rice noodles. You can buy round, medium-thick rice noodles from the Asian grocery store. If raw, boil them for 60 seconds to cook them. Drain well and cut into smaller pieces.
NOTE: How much should you slice the ingredients? It’s a balance. You want a roll falling apart because the ingredients are chopped into tiny morsels. You also don’t want everything whole because you’ll pull half of the ingredients out when you take a bite.
TIP: My rule-of-thumb is to keep the pieces chopped to bite size, about the size of a shrimp. If the herbs are overpowering, then I like to chop them smaller.
How to fold spring rolls
I learned the trick was to start small. Don’t overstuff your spring roll if you’re not used to folding summer rolls. Start with a few tiny rolls and practice until you become an expert.
Tips for success
Here are other tips to help you create a tight spring roll.
- Water temperature: I like to use the hottest water I can handle without scalding myself. Very cold water means you have to wait several minutes for the rice paper to soften before you can roll.
- Mise en place: The trick to a fun experience is setting out all the fillings on plates and bowls around your work space. Then have at least 2 big clean plates nearby. One plate will be your workspace where you fold the rolls. The other plate will be where you store the rolls for serving. If you’re making this into a dinner party, then you can just keep one plate for rolling as you can roll and eat immediately.
- Water: As the water gets colder, you can throw it out and replace with warm water.
- For the prettiest rolls: I like to put the vegetables first, especially leafy ones like lettuce which form the base. Then I put the herbs. I top the protein last so it shows up the best once I finish rolling.
Nhi’s Spring Rolls + Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce
- Chopping Board
- Baking pan
- Mixing Bowl
- 6 oz. (170 g) Rice Paper, About half a stack of rice paper
- 1 lb. (455 g) Shrimp, Deveined and shelled
- 1 head (1 head) Lettuce, Washed and dried
- 2 blocks (2 blocks) Tofu, Extra firm and 5-spice marinated.
- 6 sprigs (6 sprigs) Thai Basil, substitute with Italian basil if you don't have Thai basil
- 6 sprigs (6 sprigs) cilantro, To taste
- 3 sprigs (3 sprigs) Mint, To taste
- 1 cup (225 g) Rice Noodles, Optional
- Gather the ingredients.
- Prepare the ingredients by washing and drying thoroughly. Lightly poach the shrimp if it's raw. Blanch the tofu (if you have a habit of blanching tofu) and cut the tofu into strips. Chop long herbs like chives or green onions into 4 inch/10 cm pieces.
- Boil tap water in a kettle. Pour some cold water into a baking pan. Then pour some boiling water into the baking pan to mix it with the cold water. Add enough water that it will submerge a layer of rice paper but not so much that the hot water overflows. Set up your "mise en place" (organized plates) and dipping sauce while you wait for the water to cool in the baking pan.
- Mix the peanut butter and hoisin sauce. Use a garlic press to press the garlic or mince it with your knife. Add the garlic directly to the peanut butter and hoisin mix.
- Add sriracha if you want the dipping sauce to be spicy. Stir the sauce to mix evenly. Add warm water to thin out the sauce and make it easier to mix. Add salt to taste.
Making spring rolls
- Dip a sheet of rice paper into the baking pan with warm water. Wet the rice paper on both sides. Transfer the rice paper on to a large plate. This plate will be your working area.
- Assemble a spring roll by setting a layer of lettuce or other leafy greens on the rice paper towards one edge.
- Put your herbs, (if using) noodles, and shrimp on top of the lettuce. Remember not to overfill it or else you'll tear the rice paper when you roll it.
- Roll the side of the rice paper that is closer to the ingredients over the ingredients lengthwise.
- Push the shorter edges of the rice paper to meet each other and try to stick the edges on top of the edge that was previously folded lengthwise.
- Roll the cylinder until there is no more rice paper left. If you're struggling to follow these written instructions, check out this illustrated guide on how to fold the spring roll.
- Layer the lettuce, herbs and tofu on top of the rice paper.
- Roll one side of the rice paper over the tofu and greens. Keep rolling until a tight cylinder forms. You may end up rolling until the rice paper is almost gone but leave a small edge for the final fold lengthwise.
- Bring the two shorter opposite edges together. They won't touch but try to make them even.
- Roll from the long edge until there is no more rice paper left to roll. This should close the spring roll.
- Enjoy your spring rolls with peanut butter dipping sauce!
Can you make them in advance?
Have you ever bought sushi rolls or spring rolls at the grocery store?
If so, you may know that even after a few hours, these rolls don’t taste fresh. The rice paper wrapper gets cold and stiff.
While you can make spring rolls in advance, don’t expect them to be as tasty as when they’re fresh. I would recommend you avoid making them ahead if possible. You can prepare all the ingredients in advance but wrap them before you eat them.
If you have leftover rolls, you can store the rolls in the fridge in a container with the lid on or with plastic wrap to avoid drying out the wrapper. You can zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds or to eat them cold.
WARNING: Summer rolls don’t freeze, so eat them fresh or refrigerated.