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Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Imagine your kitchen without the oven. What would you make?

That's the question I've been consistently racking my brain with since I moved to Hong Kong four months ago. As I've written about before, most Hong Kong apartments do not have ovens, only electric stovetops. It makes sense -- Hong Kongers love to eat out and the thought of turning on an oven in this heat seems masochistic. In need of some new sans-oven recipes, I turned to my good friend, chef and restauranteur Laurie Cancellieri for ideas.

"Make summer rolls," she said without missing a beat. She then pulled out rice paper and vermicelli noodles from her pantry and showed me how to roll. Since then, I've been making and ordering Vietnamese summer rolls all over the 852. But it wasn't until I went to the restaurant Chôm Chôm that I saw just how versatile this dish can be and realized I wanted to dive in deeper.

This is Chôm Chôm's Shrimp Rice Paper Roll, featuring vermicelli noodles, mango, avocado and mint. Photo courtesy of Chôm Chôm.

This is Chôm Chôm's Shrimp Rice Paper Roll, featuring vermicelli noodles, mango, avocado and mint. Photo courtesy of Chôm Chôm.

Chôm Chôm chef Matt Boloten serves up incredible summer rolls night after night, so naturally I asked him to teach me how it's done.

While the restaurant offers creative options like the ones featured in the photos above, Boloten started off our lesson with ingredients that're a lot simpler for a summer roll newbie like me: vegetables. 

While you can use just about any type of vegetable you want, Boloten says there are two key parts to the interior of a summer roll: 

1. Lettuce -- this provides a protective layer and crunch. 

2. Vermicelli noodles -- arguably the best part. 

Without further ado, here's the recipe Chef Boloten taught me. My husband and I spent a day recreating the dish at home, and created this little how-to video below. (Make sure the volume is on -- my husband casually picked up his guitar, wrote a song and basically scored the video in a few minutes like it wasn't the most impressive thing in the world.) 

Here's what you'll need: 

  • 1 sheet of rice paper -- you can find a package in the Asian foods aisle of your grocery store. They come in two sizes. I use the small size in the video above, but if you can find the big ones, use that.  
  • cooked vermicelli noodles -- also available in your grocery store's Asian foods aisle. 
  • 1 romaine lettuce leaf divided into a few pieces
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp peanuts, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices of avocado
  • carrot, julienned 
  • red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • bean sprouts
  • A mixture of fresh Thai basil, mint and coriander leaves
  • sriracha
  • kewpie mayo

Step 1: Wash and dry your ingredients

Start with the vermicelli noodles. Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 4-5 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water. Don't overcook the noodles. Put aside to cool and dry.

Next, place the chopped shallots, garlic and peanuts into a skillet and fry in olive oil until the mixture is golden brown and crispy. Make sure your flame is not too high or you'll burn the garlic to a crisp. Remove from skillet to let cool down to room temperature.

Now, wash the herb leaves and pat dry. Next, julienne the carrots (here's a great Martha Stewart tutorial). Thinly slice the cabbage. Rinse the bean sprouts and set aside. Slice the avocado last so it does not brown. 

Make sure all your ingredients are dry and at room temperature. You want the interior of the roll dry so you the rice paper does not rip. 

Step 2: Soften the rice paper

You actually need very little water to soften the rice paper. You want to get the rice paper wet without completely soaking it through. The easiest way to go about it is to put room-temperature water in a shallow bowl, and just barely submerge the rice paper in the water. Use a kitchen towel to remove the excess water.

Place the rice paper on a clean surface. Boloten recommends using a stainless steel surface like a cookie sheet so the rice paper does not stick. A cutting board also works. 

Step 3: Start layering

Place the lettuce one-third of the way up the rice paper sheet. The lettuce serves as your protective barrier, so you're going to layer the ingredients directly on top of the lettuce. 

Next, spread the vermicelli noodles across the lettuce. 

Add a thin layer of sriracha, followed by a thin layer of kewpie mayo. 

Next, add the fried shallot, garlic and peanut mixture. Make sure it sticks to the sriracha and kewpie mayo layer so it does not go all over. 

Add the herbs, followed by the bean sprouts, carrots and cabbage slices. 

Top the mini-mountain you're creating with the avocado slices. 

Step 4: Roll it up!

Place your hands at the bottom of the rice paper. Pick up the bottom edge of the sheet. In one swift motion, roll the bottom of the sheet over the mountain of vegetables. Tuck the ingredients back together (you want the roll to be tight), and continue rolling and tucking until you reach the top. If there are any vegetables sticking off the sides of the roll, trim and remove.

Step 5: Slice and serve

If you're using the small-sized rice paper, cut the roll in half, and each side in half again.

If you're using the large-sized rice paper sheet, you'll want to cut the roll in half once, then in thirds (like you're cutting a sushi roll into six pieces). 

Serve along side your favorite peanut sauce or fish sauce and enjoy!

Many thanks to Chef Matt Boloten and the great team at Chôm Chôm for the photos, tutorial and recipe.

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