Vietnamese Shrimp-and-Herb Summer Rolls

spring rolls

My taste buds have never been so excited as when I'm eating Vietnamese food. I clearly remember my first taste of bánh mì—the baguette sandwich filled with pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and cilantro—so many year ago. I was struck by the sandwich's refreshing flavor. Since then I've made many Vietnamese recipes. The reason why I love the cuisine so much is because of its wide use of herbs. They bring so much flavor to dishes, but the most flavor comes when they are used fresh.

This Vietnamese recipe features basil, mint, and chives—all add a burst of flavor to every bite. Unlike fried spring rolls or egg rolls, these fresh summer rolls, also known as spring rolls or salad rolls, contain lettuce and herbs along with rice vermicelli and cooked shrimp. The rolls make a great cold party appetizer. Their fresh taste is the perfect way to celebrate the season, which begins today.

Summer rolls are wrapped in rice paper, which becomes translucent when dipped in water. The vermicelli noodles in the filling are also made of rice. Make this recipe with shrimp, but you can also substitute cooked chicken or pork. Serve the rolls with a creamy and spicy cashew dipping sauce and the traditional dipping sauce, nước chấm, which has a tangy flavor.

Vietnamese Shrimp-and-Herb Summer Rolls

for the shrimp:
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
6 sprigs parsley

for the spring rolls:
4 ounces rice vermicelli
12 8-inch spring roll wrappers
1 bunch basil, leaves only
1 bunch mint, leaves only
1 bunch chives
1 heart butter lettuce, leaves separated
Cashew Dipping Sauce, recipe follows
Nuoc Cham, recipe follows

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Flavor with salt, peppercorns, coriander, and parsley. Add the shrimp, bring back to the boil, cover, and let stand off from heat for about 5 to 8 minutes until shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Remove shrimp to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking process. Slice each shrimp lengthwise.

Soak the rice vermicelli in a bowl of hot water until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain.

To make the spring rolls, set up a station with a tray lined with a damp kitchen towel and fill a shallow dish with hot water. One at a time, soak each spring roll wrapper in the hot water until pliable, about 20 seconds. Carefully remove the wrapper to the kitchen towel and blot off excess water with a paper towel. Place a few basil and mint leaves in the lower third. Top with a lettuce leaf and fill with a bit of noodles. Place 3 to 4 shrimp halves in the middle of the wrapper. Begin tightly rolling up the spring roll and once you get to the shrimp, fold up the ends and add a few chive stems down the center. Continue rolling until the roll is tightly closed. Repeat until all the rolls are complete. While working, keep the finished rolls covered with a damp towel. Serve with cashew dipping sauce and nuoc cham. Yield: 12 rolls; about 6 servings.
Cashew Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup cashew butter
2 tablespoons miso paste
1/3 cup hot water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1-inch piece)
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

Combine the cashew butter, miso paste, and hot water in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, and chile flakes. Stir to combine. Top with chopped cashews before serving. Cashew sauce can be made ahead of time and chilled. Yield: 2 cups.
Nuoc Cham

6 tablespoons fish sauce
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

Stir together fish sauce, water, lime juice, and honey until honey is dissolved. Add garlic and chile flakes; stir to combine. Nuoc cham can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.