Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Vietnamese Salad Rolls (Woo HOO on ME!)


OK. They may not look like much to you, but these are my very first Vietnamese Salad Rolls, one of my favorite eats in the whole world.

And I am giving myself a BIG WOOO HOO for doing them.

You all think I am much braver and more experimental than I really am. I have loved these for probably 15 years, but on my own I could never figure out how to make them, and I really didn’t want to try. I told myself I couldn’t get all the ingredients, anyway.

“Oh yes!” said my French friend, mistress of the kitchen, nothing she couldn’t do, and she invited us for dinner and the first course was Vietnamese Salad Rolls, made in her own kitchen. “They have the rice wrappers at all the Phillipino stores in Kuwait.”

Who knew? My French friend knew ALL these little secrets.

She carefully explained how to make them, but my mind shut down when she said “There is one part that is a little tricky – the rice wrapper has to soak for ONE SECOND in a pan of hot water, but only one second!” To me, that sounded very scary and daunting.

Then she gave me two packages of the wrappers.

I took them out now and then and read the instructions and put them back in the cupboard. I even shipped them from Kuwait to Doha with me. I read detailed instructions on the internet. I printed some out.

Yesterday, I found more wrappers at the MegaMart and bought two packages and now, with plenty of back up and with an unanticipated energy and hopefulness, I thought “why not give it a try tonight?”

The secret to making these is to have everything ready in advance – a bowl of cooked shrimp, sliced in half down the spine (so both halves look like a shrimp), a bowl of basil leaves, a bowl of mint leaves, a bowl of chopped parsley, a bowl of thinly sliced lettuce, a bowl of julienned carrots, a package of the rice wrappers, the cooked vermicelli in a strainer (it stays flexible because these go together fairly fast) and a flat round pan of hot water to soften the rice wrappers.

Once you have the ingredients assembled, the assembly – which for some reason was the part that daunted me – goes fairly easily and rapidly. If you soak the thin, brittle wrapper for exactly one and a half seconds, and lay it on a cutting board, it becomes very flexible and exactly the right texture. I started 3 inches from the top with the shrimp, then lay the rest of the ingredients in a row vertically, but almost on top of each other. Then I pulled the bottom up over the ingredients and tucked it in – not too tightly, but very snugly, folded in the sides, then wrapped the top over the already-rolled up section, and wow – a salad roll!

Vietnamese Salad Rolls

• 2 ounces rice vermicelli
• 8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
• 8 large cooked shrimp – peeled, deveined and cut in half
• 1 1/3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
• 2 leaves lettuce, chopped
• 4 teaspoons fish sauce
• 1/4 cup water
• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
• 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
• 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts

1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.

2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

3. In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce.

4. In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.

5. Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.

• The fish sauce, rice vermicelli, chili garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and rice wrappers can be found at Asian food markets.

These are so fresh-tasting and light, perfect for a hot summer evening, perfect for a special Ramadan breaking-the-fast appetizer. Once the rolls are made, seal them on a plate under a couple layers of saran-type wrap to keep the wrappers from drying out. You can make them a couple hours in advance and wrap them good and store them in the refrigerator; they keep well for a couple hours. Don’t make more than you can eat the same day; they don’t keep well overnight.

The recipe above uses a different sauce than we use. The Vietnamese in France use this sauce, which is more of a vinaigrette, but the Vietnamese in Seattle and in St. Petersburg, Florida, use a peanut sauce:

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 Tbs Thai sweet chili sauce (sometimes called chili pepper sauce for chicken) it is that thick, sticky sweet orange-y red sauce with pepper flakes in it)
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tsp finely chopped ginger
1 Tbs tahina

Cook one minute in microwave and stir until all the peanut butter is dissolved. Then add liquid – can be water or orange juice or pomegranate juice or chicken broth or sake (!) to thin to a thick salad dressing consistency.

AdventureMan was so amazed and delighted when he came home and saw I had been able to make these all by myself! I am so amazed and delighted that I can do it! Wooo HOOOOOOO! We didn’t eat them as an appetizer; we like them so much, we ate them as the main course, with some finger-food veggies – snow peas and carrots – as side dishes.

August 13, 2009 - Posted by | Adventure, Cooking, Doha, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Recipes, Shopping


  1. I thought they looked very yummie!
    before I read ”Ok they might not look like much”
    Don’t put yourself down! There are always enough people around you who are happy to that for you!
    To me they look mouthwatering! Mmmmmmmm!

    Comment by Aafke | August 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. LLOOLL, Aafke, you can come visit me any ole time!

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 13, 2009 | Reply

  3. Wow! I just read a recipe for these a couple of days ago and thought about trying them–you have given me courage. This is a favorite light lunch for me!

    Comment by momcat | August 13, 2009 | Reply

  4. Oh, Momcat, I just love those! But you have that great Vietnamese restaurant – have you been back? O, YUMMMMMMMMM!

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 13, 2009 | Reply

  5. I did not know these rice sheets were available in Kuwait! Looks like I need to visit a Filipino supermarket this weekend. 🙂
    btw how was the peanut sauce? it kinda looks similar to the one you get with chicken satay.

    Comment by Mathai | August 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. Yum…call me the next time you make them; I’d like to serve an apprenticeship with you 🙂

    Comment by grammy | August 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. My friend would buy them in Fehaheel, Mathai, in the markets way back off Gulf Road, closer to “restaurant street” or Mecca Street. There are like 40 to a package. 🙂 The peanut sauce is similar to satay, but more vinegar tang, and more heat and sweeter.

    Grammy – Gladly!

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. Sadly, no. I keep wanting to go on Sunday and they are closed. I usually end up eating essentially the same thing in Thai restaurants but they are not quite as good as the ones we had.

    Comment by momcat | August 14, 2009 | Reply

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