Rice Paper Wrappers Are Handy To Prep Quick Meals
Whenever I don’t feel like going to the market and preparing a meal from scratch, I usually use what’s in my fridge and pantry to make a simple stir-fry or pasta dish. A great light alternative is making rice paper rolls with fresh salad greens, shredded vegetables, herbs and roasted meat or tofu from the night before. Whether called rice paper or spring roll wrappers, banh trang are dried gossamer sheets of rice flour batter that are an indispensable pantry ingredient.
Varying in shapes and sizes, these rice paper wrappers are dried semi-translucent sheets typically made of rice flour, tapioca flour (for texture), water and salt. Used predominantly in Vietnamese cooking to wrap grilled meats and herbs, fresh rice papers are made from steaming thin circles of rice paper batter on bamboo screens. Once the wrappers take form, they are carefully transferred on to bamboo mats until dried and then stacked for easy storage. Dried rice sheets keep for quite a long time and are more typically used due to convenience.
When working with dried rice paper, reconstitute them by submerging them individually in warm water until pliable and wrapping your ingredients of choice. I usually serve my rice paper rolls soon after wrapping for freshness and maintaining texture. Refrigerating the rolls tends to make the rice paper hard, so it’s best to cover the rolls with plastic wrap until right before serving. Another tasty option is to deep-fry the rolls until crisp and serve them as an appetizer or serve along with a bowl of Vietnamese noodles.
Banh trang are versatile wrappers and are the perfect vehicle for fresh ingredients. I love that they can be made in a cinch and are beautiful when served with a piquant dipping sauce. Below is one of my favorite recipes for Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls – enjoy!
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls (Makes 6 servings)
6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined6 red leaf or butter lettuce leaves, stems removed
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced into 1/8 by 2 inch long matchsticks
2 oz cellophane noodles, reconstituted in hot water for 15 minutes
1/2 cup bean sprouts
6 sprigs mint
6 sprigs cilantro
1 pack (8 inch) rice paper wrappers, dried, round
Peanut dipping sauce*
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh ground peanut butter
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chili sauce
Nuoc Cham dipping sauce*
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 serrano chili, seeded and thinly sliced
Put all the ingredients for the peanut sauce in a blender and puree until smooth, transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
To make the Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, using a mortar and pestle, or a mini-food processor, grind the garlic and sugar into a paste. Transfer into a bowl and whisk in the fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar and ¼ cup water. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a small serving bowl and add the chili. Set aside until ready to serve.
Bring a sauce pan of water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce to a simmer and poach the prawns until they turn opaque, 2 minutes. Drain the shrimp and let cool. Slice the shrimp laterally across to form 2 identical halves.
To assemble the rolls, lay a damp clean dish towel on a flat surface and fill a large bowl with hot water. Dip one rice paper circle at a time to reconstitute, 5 to 6 seconds. Do not over soak or it will fall apart. Gently place the rice circle on the towel and lay a lettuce leaf on the bottom half of the circle. At the base of the lettuce, place 1 teaspoon each of carrots, cucumber and several strands of noodles and bean sprouts. Be careful not to over stuff the rolls. Gently roll the rice paper half way up into a tight cylinder. Lay 2 shrimp halves, orange side out, and several mint and cilantro leaves on the rounded edge of the roll. Tuck in the edges and continue to roll the rice paper. Moisten the edge of the roll with water to seal. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap or a damp towel and keep at room temperature for several hours until ready to serve. To serve, slice the rolls in half on the bias and serve with Nuoc Cham or peanut sauce.
*Cooks Note: The peanut sauce and Nuoc Cham can be made in advance and kept refrigerated up to 4 days.
Makes 6 servings.