During halftime of last weekend’s delicious LSU-Auburn game (sorry, Auburn friends!), my friend Sara and I headed into the kitchen to work on appetizers while our combined six kids and two husbands headed outside. It was beastly hot, so much so that organizers a few miles away at Tiger Stadium had made special arrangements for extra water — and paramedics. Even here in the comfort of our air-conditioned house, something cool and refreshing was in order. We set out the ingredients to make Gulf shrimp spring rolls.
My husband John, riding high after a great first half, grilled fresh large-count shrimp on skewers seasoned with just a little salt, pepper and olive oil, while Sara and I set up an assembly line of softened rice noodles, shredded carrots, thinly sliced radishes and cucumbers and lots of fresh mint and basil from our garden. We also had a water bath nearby for soaking the hard round sheets of rice paper so they’d became pliable enough for rolling. Some years back, we here in Baton Rouge discovered our love for Vietnamese food through a smattering of mom-and-pop eateries largely at the east end of town. And while I love venturing to them, you’d be surprised at how easy and satisfying it is to make your own version of Vietnamese at home.
Spring rolls, in particular, are so much fun to make with friends. Your piles of ingredients should include:
• A large pan of water for softening spring roll wrappers
• A large cutting board where you can lay the softened wrapper flat
• A pile of softened rice noodles (Cook according to package, but taste first. If they don’t taste soft enough leave in the hot water a little longer. They should be spongy, not stringy.)
• Cooked shrimp, pork or chicken
• Other ingredients that add flavor and texture like cucumbers, radishes, shredded carrots, lettuce and fresh mint, basil and cilantro.
Sara and I took turns, each of us taking a softened wrapper and gently adding small amounts of ingredients in a row on the lower third of the sheet. Then we gently rolled each wrapper from the bottom up, while also folding in the outside flaps. Softened wrappers are naturally adhesive, and once you make a few rolls, you’ll see how easy it is. The trick is not to overfill the roll, or to put anything wet inside, either of which will cause the sheet to rip.
A few of ours didn’t look so hot, but who cares? They all tasted great. We served them with peanut sauce and a traditional dipping sauce of fresh lime juice, fish sauce, water, chili flakes and garlic. If you don’t feel like making a homemade sauce, there are plenty of tasty sauces on the market, including peanut, hoisin and sweet chili.