This is what my Mum packed for me when I went on a long car journey…
Yes, even I will admit, Asian-Mother-Syndrome does have its benefits. So here I’ll show you, step by step how to make perfect fresh rolls. This is all about technique. And of course you can adapt the ingredients. These are vegetarian, or vegan in fact, but you could add sliced boiled prawns, roast duck, pork belly….
Mixed leaves – try lettuce, celery leaves, coriander, mint, dill, and sprouts
Edible flowers if you have them
100 g rice noodles
For the dipping sauce:
2 dessert spoons tamarind – you can buy this dry and seedless in packets
1/2 cup raw sugar – you won’t use all of this
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp cornstarch
If you’ve never tried tamarind sauce you don’t know what you’re missing. This is far superior to the ubiquitous sweet Thai chilli sauce that is usually served with spring rolls. Tamarind fruit when eaten fresh is so healthy, full of nutrients, and totally addictive, with it’s gorgeous soft texture and sweet tangy flavour. In dried form it is an essential ingredient in our kitchen. A packet of this will keep for weeks in the fridge.
To prepare the sauce, place a large cube (about two dessertspoonsful) of tamarind in half a cup of hot water, kneading with your hand until the water has thickened with the pulp, and discard the remaining fibres. Transfer into a small saucepan.
Add half a tsp of salt at first, then add half of the sugar, and a pinch of chilli, and bring to a boil. After a minute, lower the heat and taste. It should be a balance of sweet, sour and salty. Reserve the rest of the sugar for this part, you may need to add more according to your taste as dried tamarind is surprisingly sour.
When you are happy with the taste, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch in a tablespoon of cold water to mix and dissolve.
Stir into the sauce until it thickens, and remove from the heat. Place into a small bowl. Just before serving add ground peanuts to top the sauce, and coriander if desired.
For the rolls, start by shredding the lettuce leaves, and adding them to a mixing bowl. Add the shredded carrot, roughly chopped herbs, and whole sprouts, mixing well.
Cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet, strain, and set aside.
Prepare a bowl of cold water – yes, cold water is the key here, not lukewarm, or anything else. You may see recipes telling you otherwise, but I’m telling you, you don’t want to cook the rice paper, as it needs to be still very stiff during the assembly. The moisture from the filling will continue to soak through and soften the paper once they are made. If you start with soft rice paper it will become unmanageable, breakable and sticky, and won’t contain the filling, and you won’t be able to roll them tightly enough, which makes them awkward to eat. We actually use a large flat saucepan lid for this as it works quite well.
Place a clean tea towel over a chopping board. This will absorb excess water. Now take your first piece of rice paper and immerse it in the cold water, turning it as you go to make sure it’s been thoroughly soused. Remember not to go overboard with this, it only needs to be wet, and still hard.
Lay it on the towel, and take a small handful of the shredded leaves, placing them in the middle of the paper. Take an even smaller bundle of noodles, about a dessertspoonful, and place that evenly across the leaves. Layer a spoonful of ground peanuts on top, or to the side where it will be easily rolled up.
If you are using extra leaves or petals for decoration, place them on the far side. Once wrapped they will show on top.
To roll, take the end closest to you and fold it over the filling. Now pull the filling in towards you while tucking the paper under it. You will feel the paper softening already so you need to be quick. Now tighten it as much as you can, then fold in each side. Pull everything in tightly as you make a final roll to seal all the filling inside.
Place them onto a serving dish, and keep going until you run out of filling! One bowl of leaves, carrot and herbs, plus the noodles, makes about 12 rolls. You can slice them in half, or eat them whole, dipped in the spicy tamarind and peanut sauce.
My packed lunch! It’s nice to feel like a kid again.