How to Make Restaurant-Quality Spring Rolls at Home (Learn From a Pro)

Create your own spring rolls with whatever ingredients you like using these expert tips from cookbook author Andrea Nguyen.

When ordering from your local Vietnamese restaurant, you'll likely see spring rolls on the menu. With soft and chewy rice paper as the wrapper, the dish is usually stuffed with a protein (think shrimp, pork, or tofu) along with fresh or pickled vegetables and herbs. Creating a global cuisine from something as delicate as a rice paper wrap may seem intimidating to tackle from your home kitchen, but the process is actually pretty easy. "Vietnamese food is have-it-your-way food," says cookbook author Andrea Nguyen. "At the table, diners get to doctor the dish with different sauces, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs to make it their own. The cuisine doesn't stand still."

In her most recent book, Vietnamese Food Any Day, Nguyen deliberately eschewed Asian cookware like woks and bamboo steamers in order to develop recipes that a home cook could make without any special equipment. "It turned out to be surprisingly liberating," she says. "I don't have to cook exactly the way my mother cooked." She also stuck to readily available ingredients. "Mainstream supermarkets are so well stocked now with Asian ingredients," Nguyen says, "that anyone can find what they need without going to a specialty market." Once you master how to make rice paper rolls, you're limited only by your creativity. "Almost anything can go into a roll as long as it's soft and thin," says Andrea Nguyen. Here's how to roll spring rolls like a pro.

Step 1: Dip Your Rice Paper

Fill a shallow dish or large deep skillet with water that's a little hotter than bath temperature (about 110ºF). Slide half the rice paper into very warm water, then rotate it through your fingers until paper is completely wet.

"Whenever I show people how to use rice paper, there's always this aha moment when they realize how easy it is," Nguyen says. "Don't soak the rice paper or leave it in the water; it may fall apart."

Step 2: Build It

Place the wet rice paper on a flat surface. Wait about 1 minute before layering ingredients; the paper should be tacky like a sticky note. Start with a few leaves of greens (we've used fresh mint and baby lettuce here); follow those with an egg-size mound of cooked rice noodles, then thinly sliced pickled or fresh vegetables.

Rice Noodle Tip: While working on her book, Nguyen had a revelation. Gluten-free rice-based spaghetti in the supermarket was a version of the rice noodles found at Asian markets. "I actually like them better." So feel free to swap gluten-free spaghetti for rice noodles.

Step 3: Start to Roll

Bring up the bottom edge of paper to cover filling. Then roll away from you once.

Step 4: The Finish

Place your protein next to the rolled edge. (Adding proteins like shrimp last allow them to be visible on top of the wrapped roll for a pretty presentation.) Fold in both sides of paper. Roll to enclose filling.

Shrimp and Mango Rice Paper Rolls
For these pretty rolls, Andrea Nguyen layers baby lettuce, fresh mint, rice noodles, cucumber, mango, and shrimp. Blaine Moats

Nguyen's Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce is a classic accompaniment to rice paper rolls and lettuce wraps. Sort of like a Vietnamese version of a vinaigrette, the sauce is a refreshing mix of salty (fish sauce), sweet (sugar), spicy (chiles), and sour (lime juice and rice vinegar) ingredients. You'll be able to find most of these ethnic ingredients (chile-garlic sauce, lemongrass paste, and fish sauce) in the Asian aisle of your grocery store or at your local Asian market.

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