Spring rolls are one of our favorite appetizers at Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. Even if we buy them at the take-out sushi counter at Whole Foods, they’re still $6 for two vegetarian rolls.
So why don’t we make them at home?
Yesterday, a lazy Sunday, we held a Spring Roll Brunch in our home, along with wine pairings.
You can create a do-it-yourself spring roll buffet, but given the crowd, we enlisted one dexterous friend to help us with the wrap-and-roll.
That said, they are easy to make and have a very high prep time:delicious factor.
So first: What’s a spring roll?
Identifying spring rolls can be confusing, and here’s why:
While some countries, including China, make fried spring rolls, Thailand and Vietnam use the oncooked wrapper.
The term “spring roll” is not synonymous with “egg roll,” which is always fried. An egg roll has a heavier pastry wrapper that can be sliced into sections; a fried spring roll is very fragile and can shatter like phyllo.
Vietnamese spring and summer rolls are like eating a fresh salad roll, more complex in flavor (thanks to the fresh herbs) than fried Chinese spring rolls. They are served with a spicy dipping sauce known as nuoc cham, of which there are many variations.
The ingredients show through the translucent wrapper and create lovely eye appeal. You can roll anything in the soft rice flour wrappers—the stiff rice wrapper becomes soft after dipping in water. You can find the rice flour wrappers at Asian markets or the Asian products section of a good supermarket.
Vietnamese spring rolls generally contain seafood such as cooked shrimp, accompanied by any combination of rice sticks, carrot, cucumber, daikon, shiitake mushrooms and fresh, leafy herbs: basil, cilantro and mint. Iceberg lettuce or green cabbage can be added for crunch.
We also like adding toasted chopped peanuts (salty or honey-roasted) to half the batch, to our rolls.
How did spring rolls get their name?
Originally, they were special snacks served to visitors with tea at the Chinese New Year, which is the beginning of lunar spring.
Both spring rolls and egg rolls date back to ancient China, and both are traditionally served with hot Chinese mustard or a dipping sauce.