Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thai Summer Rolls

I’ve recently become enamored with Thai food. Living here in the boonies there is limited opportunity to sample authentic Thai fare. When I travel on vacation I usually focus on the regional specialties of the area, but I’ve never been to Thailand. When business travel takes me to a city with Thai restaurants I’ve enjoyed Thai food immensely but it wasn’t until I cooked it myself that I really became a fan.

A friend of mine, a major chili head, loves Thai food. For his birthday I invited him and his wife over for a Thai dinner. Never having cooked Thai food before, I did a lot of research in preparation. I read cookbooks, articles, blogs, and reviewed many recipes. From this I developed what I thought was the perfect simple Thai dinner menu for a newbie Thai cook like me.

  • Thai Summer Rolls with Shrimp
  • Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce

  • Thai Grilled Chicken
  • Spicy Peanut Sauce
  • Jasmine Rice
  • Thai Cabbage Salad

  • Coconut Ice Cream with fresh mangoes

  • With dinner I served an Alsatian Riesling (Trimbach is my current favorite) which complemented the food perfectly and really stood up to the spicy flavors of the meal.

    Dinner was an excellent success! Especially impressive were the summer rolls with shrimp. They were so much better than the ones I’ve had in restaurants. Perhaps that is because most restaurants prepare them so far in advance they get soggy or chewy, or maybe they skimp on the more expensive ingredients. My homemade version was wonderful, and so refreshing and satisfying on a hot summer day.

    For those of you who may not know, a Thai summer roll is the Asian spring roll’s fresh cousin; not fried. Layers of fresh raw vegetables, fragrant herbs, and other ingredients are rolled in a softened rice paper wrapper and served with a flavorful dipping sauce.

    My summer rolls looked and tasted spectacular! The colors of the coral shrimp and the dark green herbs peered through the translucent rice wrapper. The fresh flavors of mint, basil, and coriander tingled the taste buds while the dipping sauce added layers of sweet, tangy, and hot flavors to the mix.

    My recipe here is a compilation of what I thought were the best components of the recipes I came across in my research. It may look long, but I like to give lots of details when sharing recipes. These details are especially important if you have never worked with rice paper wrappers before.

    Thai Summer Rolls with Shrimp
    (adapted from 4 different recipes)
    8 servings

    Although very labor intensive, your efforts will be appreciated. Be sure to have all components of the dish ready and laid out in order before you start the rolling process. Some components may be prepared in advance, as noted in the recipe. A salad spinner makes quick work of washing and drying all the fresh herbs.

    12 large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per lb)
    ½ onion
    1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

    3 ounces rice vermicelli (fine cellophane noodles or bean threads)
    3 tablespoons rice vinegar
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    8 rice paper wrappers for spring rolls (8.5 inch diameter) plus a few spares
    4 large Boston lettuce leaves, washed well and spun dry; Cut out and discard ribs, halving each leaf
    40 fresh cilantro leaves washed well and spun dry
    24 fresh mint leaves washed well and spun dry
    24 fresh Thai basil leaves, washed well and spun dry
    1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled, cored, and julienned
    3 scallions, cut into 3-inch-long julienne strips
    1/2 cup shredded carrot (1 large carrot)

    Prepare Shrimp

    Peel shrimp, reserving shells. Place shells in a 2 quart saucepan, half filled with water. Toss in a teaspoon of black peppercorns, some salt, and half a sliced onion. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes, to make a flavorful broth.

    Add shrimp and cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Strain the cooking liquid to remove shells, onions, etc and return the cooking water to a boil to be used to cook the noodles.

    Drain shrimp and pat dry. Cut each shrimp in half lengthwise, deveining if necessary. Shrimp may be prepared a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

    Prepare the noodles

    Stir together vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until sugar is dissolved.
    Add noodles to boiling shrimp liquid and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes.

    Drain in a strainer, then rinse under cold running water and drain very well.With scissors, cut into the noodles several times. Stir noodles around and cut again. Repeat a few times. This will put the noodles into more manageable lengths.

    Add the noodles to the vinegar mixture and toss to coat. If all the mixture is not absorbed by the time you use it, drain the noodles well in the strainer. Too much liquid in the noodles will make the rolls soggy.

    May be prepared several hours in advance.

    Rice Paper Rolls

    Put a double thickness of paper towel on a work surface and fill a shallow baking pan, large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers, with warm water. Check rice paper rounds and use only those that have no holes.

    Soak 1 round in warm water until just pliable, 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then carefully transfer to paper towels.Place another paper towel on top to blot excess water and remove.

    Fill and roll the wrapper as described below, then repeat the process for each roll. You can use the same work surface paper towels for the entire process, but will probably change the blotting paper towel once.

    Filling and Rolling

    On the bottom 1/3 of the softened wrapper, place a lettuce leaf half. Top with some shredded carrot. Place a clump of noodles on top, distributing evenly, but leaving a 1 inch border on the sides. Top with some cucumber and scallions. Top that pile of ingredients with 3 cilantro leaves, 3 mint leaves and 2 basil leaves.

    Just above this stack of ingredients, on the rice paper wrapper lay three split shrimp halves in a line, cut side up, all in the same orientation. This is important because the shrimp will be visible through the transparent wrapper when the rolls are served, and this will look very attractive. Just above the shrimp place two nicely shaped cilantro leaves on the rice paper wrapper, dark green side down.

    Roll the wrapper from the bottom tightly over the ingredients. When it is halfway rolled, fold in the sides and continue rolling tightly.

    If any tears develop while rolling just continue rolling it up. Then soak and blot another rice wrapper and place the torn roll on it and roll the second wrapper tightly around it.

    Place completed rolls in a flat baking pan lined with a dampened paper towel (wet the towel and wring it out). Top with another dampened paper towel. It is very important to keep them moist.

    Repeat the above to make all 8 rolls. Cover pan of summer rolls with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least ½ hour. They are best served the same day.


    Shortly before serving, remove pan of rolls from the refrigerator, but keep them covered, until they are approaching room temperature. Slice each roll diagonally in half. Arrange on serving dish with your choice of dipping sauces.

    Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce

    From Gourmet Magazine April 1996

    Just these few simple ingredients create a complex combination of flavors. Note that this is not the sauce that is shown in the picture here. One of several sauces I served, this one seemed most complementary with the Summer Rolls.

    1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried hot red pepper flakes (preferably Thai)

    In a small saucepan bring vinegar to a boil. Stir in sugar and simmer 5 minutes. With a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with back of a spoon pound or mash garlic to a paste with salt. Add red pepper flakes and combine well. Stir garlic paste into vinegar and cool.

    Sauce keeps, sealed in a jar and chilled, 5 days.

    Serve sauce at room temperature in individual condiment bowls for dipping.

    Yield: about 1/2 cup.

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