Jan has gone to three conferences in the last week, a dean’s conference, the Southwestern Anthropological Association conference and a Google conference. As a result, her eating habits have been completely disrupted. Google especially fed her some very strange things, but one of the things she liked was a Vietnamese summer roll with lamb, instead of the usual shrimp or pork.
You can make summer rolls as a vegetarian dish, but I usually make them with shrimp and/or thin slices of Chinese barbecued pork. The idea of using lamb intrigued me. Could I make a summer roll with tender, flavorful slices of lamb like I can picture in my head?
In Vietnamese these rolls are called Gỏi cuốn (salad rolls). While they may properly be called either spring or summer rolls, they are more frequently referred to as “summer rolls” in America. This is most likely so they will not be confused with the more familiar (to Americans) Chinese fried spring rolls.
In restaurants this dish is usually listed as an appetizer, but I like to make them big and as a main course dinner salad. These are always popular in my house as a more interesting way to eat a salad. While chopping everything up and throwing it in a bowl may be easier on the cook, it does get boring.
Once you have all of the ingredients prepped and laid to hand, kids may like to pitch in. It can be a lot fun soaking, filling and rolling the rice paper wrappers up. This is good a dish to start children on because, while this part of the process can take some time, it does not involve any sharp knives or heat.
I like to use the thin rice vermicelli (Bánh hỏi). They are easier to chew in a summer roll than the thicker and straighter rice sticks that some recipes recommend. A package usually contains 7 pads (portions) of dried noodles, each of which are slightly less than 2 ounces.
Karl’s Vietnamese Summer Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
8 oz. lamb shoulder chop
1 Tbs. oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces rice vermicelli (2 portions)
8 (12 inch) round rice paper wrappers
3 large green onions, separate uses
1 Persian cucumber
½+ cup mung bean sprouts
½+ cup mint leaves
½+ cup Thai basil leaves
½+ cup cilantro
1 Season the lamb and fry it in a hot skillet for 3 minutes on each sides. Wrap in foil and let rest until cool.
2. Soften the rice vermicelli in warm water or in Karl’s Lemongrass Clear Soup. Drain and set aside.
3. Cut the green tops off of the spring onions. Leave these whole, do not cut them up any further. When you are assembling the salad rolls you will take one or two leaves of onion and lay them flat across the direction you will be rolling. Reserve the white parts for the soup or slice them on a steep diagonal and use them like the green parts.
4. Wash the cucumber, trim the ends and cut it on the bias into long ovals. Set aside.
5. Rinse the bean sprouts, mint leaves, Thai basil leaves, and cilantro and separate them into individual leaves or small sprigs. Arrange each ingredient in a separate pile on a large plate and set aside.
6. Slice the meat into thin strips across the grain.
7. Prepare a wide shallow bowl or pan that is roomy enough dip most of the rice paper wrapper into without breaking. Partially fill it with warm, not hot, water.
8. Use a large dinner plate as a surface for rolling the summer rolls, and have a plate or tray handy to receive the finished rolls in a single layer.
Note: You do not want to stack the finished rolls or have them touching, because they will stick to each other.
9. Arrange the ingredients, plates and bowl around your work surface so that everything is within easy reach. A wide counter or table will do.
Note: This is the time to call any younger kids to assist.
10. Take one rice paper wrapper and dip the edge into the bowl of warm water. Start to rotate it as it softens until it is completely soft (10 to 15 seconds).
11. Lay the rice sheet on the rolling plate, so that the edge nearest you is just over the lip of the plate.
Tip: You do not want it too far over the lip or it will curl under and stick to the bottom of the plate. That would be bad, because it makes it harder to start to roll if it is stuck.
12. Lay 1/8 of the vermicelli in a loose sausage about a third of the way across the plate.
13. Lay 1-2 slices of cucumber on the noodles.
14. Take a bit of each of the vegetables and add them to the low long stack.
15. Take the wrapper edge closest to you and fold it over the stack to start the roll. Try to squeeze the rolls as tight as possible without ripping the rice paper.
16. Lay 1-2 onion leaves and some of the lamb along the leading edge of the roll.
17. Fold the outer edges of the rice paper in toward the center and role the vegetable sausage over the lamb and onion.
18. Continue rolling until you have a tight cylinder about 8 inches long and 1½ inches thick.
19. Lay this roll on a clean plate and repeat from step 10 until you have used up your ingredients. This should make seven or eight rolls, depending on how generous you are with each ingredient.
20. Serve with Karl’s Peanut Sauce on the side.
21. Any remaining rolls may be individually wrapped in wax paper to be eaten the next day.