I tried this recipe when I went to interview Michelle Kieklak of Fayetteville, mama of two daughters, for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Food section. She had made them for me to taste and photograph. The rolls really are delicious, light and pretty — perfect for summer entertaining.
One-half pound thin dried rice noodles or angel hair pasta
12 round rice paper sheets, about eight inches in diameter
10 Bibb, Boston or other tender lettuce leaves, cut crosswise into one-inch strips (about two cups loosely packed)
One-half cup fresh mint leaves
One-half cup fresh cilantro leaves
5 green onions, trimmed, cut into three-inch lengths, and then cut lengthwise into thin strips
12 medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 cucumber, julienned
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the rice noodles and remove from the heat. Let stand eight to 10 minutes, gently lifting and stirring the noodles now and then as they soften to keep them separate and to cook them evenly. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain well, and set aside. You should have about two cups of noodles.
Arrange all the ingredients in separate dishes around a large cutting board or tray set before you. Have a large platter ready to hold the finished rolls, and fill a large skillet or shallow bowl with hot water.
To make each roll, slide one sheet of rice paper into the pan of water and press gently to submerge it for about 15 seconds. Remove it carefully, draining the water, and place it before you on a cutting board.
On the bottom third of the sheet, line up the following ingredients in a horizontal row: a small tangle of noodles (about one-quarter cup), some lettuce strips, some mint leaves, some cilantro leaves and cucumber. Sprinkle green onion slivers on top.
Lift the wrapper edge nearest to you and roll it up and over the filling, tucking it in under them about halfway along the wrapper and compressing everything gently into a cylindrical shape. When you’ve completely enclosed the filling in one good turn, place two shrimp halves, pink side down, on the rice sheet just above the seam to close it, wetting it with a little splash of water if it has dried out too much to seal itself closed. Set the roll aside on the platter to dry, seam side down. Continue to fill and roll up the rice paper sheets until you have made eight to 10 rolls. Set aside.
To serve, present the rolls whole, or cut them in half crosswise — straight or on the diagonal. Or trim away the ends and cut into bite-sized lengths. Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
One-half teaspoon chili-garlic sauce or finely chopped fresh hot red chilies or one teaspoon dried red chili flakes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine the garlic, sugar and chili-garlic sauce in a bowl of a mortar and mash to a paste. (Or combine them on your cutting board and mash to a coarse paste with a fork and the back of a spoon.) Scrape the paste into a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, water and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to small serving bowls for dipping. Or transfer to a jar, cover, and refrigerate for up to one week.
Makes about one-half cup.
Recipe adapted from Quick & Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott