Friends of mine recently hosted a game night, and before we dove into a rousing round of “fish bowl,” everyone enjoyed DIY summer rolls. For many, it was the first time building their own rolls and it made for a fun, interactive experience.
Fresh rolls, which look a lot like uncooked spring rolls, are stuffed with veggies, herbs, and a protein, then wrapped burrito-style and served with a dipping sauce. They’re the ultimate in customizable DIY fare. While there are innumerable authentic recipes that originate from almost every Asian cuisine, there’s also no wrong way to wrap one to your own taste.
Thailand, Vietnam, China, and many other countries all have their own version of the “fresh” or “summer roll,” as they’re often called in the U.S. What they all have in common is the sticky rice paper wrapper that remains uncooked. From there, the variations are endless. Shrimp and tofu are most common for the protein element, although some include cooked pork. Crunchy vegetables, raw or blanched, and a variety of herbs add contrast in texture and flavor.
Add any ingredients.
This simple recipe is a great starting place for a DIY experience. In addition to the basics included here, you can add other traditional ingredients such as cooked shrimp, softened bean-thread noodles, and basil.
For a twist on the crunchy vegetables, you can swap cabbage for the lettuce, radishes for the carrots, or add other veggies to suit your tastes.
Then there’s the dipping sauce.
The dipping sauce could be anything from a creamy peanut sauce to a slick sweet-and-sour chili sauce. My favorite fresh rolls are served with a savory peanut sauce. I love the way it clings thickly to the soft rice paper, so that’s what I’ve included here. You can also add a dash of chili sauce or minced garlic for an extra kick. The fish sauce in this version helps to balance out the sweetness of the hoisin and peanut butter, but to make a truly vegetarian version you can eliminate it and add a bit more lime juice. Feel free to explore other sauces to complement your favorite fillings.
Setup is key
Set out a large shallow pie or tart pan filled with room temperature water. Guests soak their rice paper wrappers for just 15 to 20 seconds then let the water drip off, transfer to a plate, and fill as desired. Put a variety of individual ingredients out so that diners can fill their own rolls. You may want to circulate a few bowls of sauce since it’ll be accessed frequently.
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup warm water, plus extra as needed
- 16 rice-paper rounds, plus extra in case they tear (aka: galettes de riz)
- 12 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/4- by 1/2-inch sticks 3 inches long
- 2 cups shredded bibb lettuce
- 2 carrots, cut into thin matchsticks (or shredded)
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts (blanched if desired)
- 1/2 cup mint leaves
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
- 1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts
The Valencia peanut butter at Trader Joe's is particularly good for sauces due to its loose consistency. You can find rice paper wrappers at most large grocery stores in the Asian aisle, as well as at Whole Foods and Russo's.
- Combine peanut butter, hoisin sauce, lime juice, soy sauce and fish sauce in a medium bowl. Whisk in warm water until desired consistency is reached.
- Set out all remaining ingredients, along with shallow bowl of room-temperature water for guests to assemble rolls.
- DIY: Soak rice paper rounds in room-temperature water for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove before wrapper is completely softened as it will continue to soften as you fill it. Let water drip off, then lay on plate.
- Lay mint leaves along top half of wrapper then top with tofu (or desired protein). Place lettuce, carrot, sprouts, cilantro leaves, and chopped peanuts on lower half of wrapper. Fold bottom of wrapper over veggies, then fold in sides. Continue to roll wrapper over tofu until sealed. Serve immediately with sauce.