We gorged on these on a family holiday to Vietnam 8 years ago; I simply adore them! They are a fiddle to make but, once you have acquired the knack, it is an impressive addition to any dinner party, either as a starter, a nibble or a side dish. There are many different recipes, and you can have easily make a vegetarian version by omitting the prawns and pork, but I prefer to have all the main ingredients. Pork and prawns are a common combo in Vietnamese and Thai cooking.
As with all food preparation for Vietnamese cooking, it is essential to have everything nicely chopped and laid out in the order that you will be using them.It is particularly important to have a nice flat surface – not a board – but a work surface – to use to make the rolls, and not to allow it to get too wet or the rolls become slippy and collapse! This is Felicity Cloake’s recipe, which I have altered slightly.
Vietnamese summer rolls
150g pork belly, rind removed (optional)
8 large raw, peeled prawns (optional)
1 stalk of lemongrass, crushed
1 block of rice vermicelli
handful of bean sprouts (optional- can make the the rolls a bit fat)
4 sprigs of mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
4 sprigs of coriander, finely chopped
4 sprigs Thai basil or ordinary basil leaves, finely chopped
2 Chinese or ordinary chives, cut into 10cm lengths
1 carrot, peeled and grated
¼ cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
1 romaine lettuce, ½ shredded
4 tbsp salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
8 rice paper wrappers
For the dipping sauce:
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bird’s eye chilli, finely sliced
Put the pork belly in a pan and cover with water. Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until cooked through. Allow to cool, then slice thinly.
Bring a small pan of water, with the lemongrass and 1 tbsp salt added, to the boil. Add the prawns, turn down the heat and poach for two minutes until pink. Drain and cut in half.
Put the noodles in a large bowl and pour over boiling water. Add ½ tsp salt, leave for about four minutes until al dente, then rinse well in cold water and drain thoroughly.
Set out all the ingredients within easy reach of your work surface. Half fill a bowl big enough to fit the wrappers in with warm water, and then dunk one in and keep patting until it’s pliable, but not completely soft. Lay flat on the chopping board. I always put the next wrapper in as I take the one I’m working on out.
Arrange two crossed chives, horizontally, towards the bottom edge of the wrapper. Top with as many prawn halves as fit – normally two to three – in a horizontal line, and top these with a line of herb leaves. Add a pinch of carrot and a few cucumber sticks, some of the sliced pork, then a small clump of rice vermicelli. Finish with some shredded lettuce, bean sprouts (if using) and a line of crushed peanuts. It is important only to put the tiniest amount of each ingredient in the wrapper, otherwise it will explode when you try and fold it up.
Bring the top edge of the wrapper tightly up over the filling, and then fold the sides in over it. Continue to roll up tightly and place on a plate, join-side down. Cover rolls with lettuce leaves to keep them fresh.
Once all the rolls are made, make the sauce. Whisk the sugar into the lime juice to dissolve, then add the remaining ingredients. Adjust to taste if necessary.