I absolutely love fresh spring rolls; you know the ones wrapped in sticky rice paper concealing a treasure trove of sweet fresh vegetables that you dip in a spicy sweet chili sauce? The kind you try to savor and instead end up gobbling and wishing you had a second order? The kind that you never make at home and only order when you're out at restaurants?
Wait? What was that last one?
I meant to say, the kind you can easily recreate at home with a few key ingredients?
Yeah... those. I love those.
When I lived in Charlotte I cooked my own faux Asian cuisine nearly daily. Inexpensive ingredients like carrots, onions, and cabbage are transformed into a feast when cooked with just a bit of garlic, ginger, and sesame oil. Sometimes I would splurge and add a piece of salmon but most nights me and the jasmine rice shared dinner with just vegetables. Lately I've had a huge craving for my favorite dishes such as Thai style coconut curry, fresh Cambodian style salads, and of course - Vietnamese style spring rolls.
If you've never shopped for ingredients like rice paper wrappers or ponzu you might think they're hard to find. The truth is all the ingredients used here are available in many supermarket chains, even in suburban areas, and are definitely available in Asian specialty markets. It may be a challenge to find a couple ingredients in very rural areas but you can, if absolutely necessary, use powdered ginger in place of fresh or skip the rice paper wrapper and make this as a salad instead using the dipping sauce as your dressing.
The two tricks to making homemade spring rolls taste like you ordered them at your favorite restaurant is using a variety of flavorful vegetables and fresh whole herbs in the rolls as well as the spicy, sweet sauce flavored with ginger, chili, and honey. You can use whatever vegetables you like such as water chestnuts, steamed and chopped broccoli, mushrooms, etc. I like using sweet vegetables like peppers and carrots to help balance the heat in the sauce. This recipe makes approximately 6-7 spring rolls, depending on how full you stuff them, which is enough for two people to have a light supper or as an appetizer for 4-6 people.
Vietnamese Inspired Spring Rolls
2 small chicken breasts, cut into thin strips, marinated (see below), and cooked
1 cup Napa cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot, julienne
1 red pepper, julienne
1 large scallion, cut on the bias
1/2 cup sprouts
12 fresh mint leaves
6 rice paper wrappers
1.5 tablespoons ponzu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced (about 1 large clove)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated or minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed
sriracha sauce, to taste
marinate chicken strips for at least one hour or up to 6 hours before cooking. To cook heat a frying pan or wok on medium-high heat. Add the chicken and marinade and cook until chicken is fully cooked and marinade is reduced by half; about 10-12 minutes.
To assemble the rolls soften the rice paper wrappers in tepid water. I like to do one at a time so they don't stick together. Lay flat on a cutting board or plate and fill the bottom quarter with your desired ingredients. Be careful not to over stuff each roll. A little goes a long way!
To roll: pull the bottom "tab" up over the ingredients and roll, tucking everything in tight. Flip up the sides to seal the ends and then finish rolling all the way up. If you've ever rolled a burrito - roll these the same way.
Honey Chili Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons ponzu
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce
pinch red pepper flakes
Whisk together all ingredients and set aside for up to one hour before serving. The heat will intensify the longer the sauce sits. Serve rolls either whole or cut in half with the sauce on the side.