Q. How do you eat a huge salad with one hand?
A. You use a rice paper wrapper!
In a former life of mine in the hospitality industry, one of the most popular lunchtime offerings we had was an imported spring vegetable roll. They were huge and chock full of sprouts and julienned vegetables. They were fresh and refreshing, they were crisp inside and ever slightly so chewy on the outside, and if any food could be a celebrity-grade health foodie, this one would probably rate a Gwynneth Paltrow on the scale. Looking back, I always thought it was kind of ironic that we always had them catered in, despite having a full kitchen, because they are super easy to make. All you need is rice paper wrappers and a knife!
The rice paper wrapper is a fundamental staple in Vietnamese cooking. Spring rolls are often full of crisp vegetables and herbs. Summer rolls typically have pork or shrimp, noodles, and vegetables. But the reality is, you can use them however your heart desires!
They're cheap, they're gluten-free, really easy to work with, and hold their shape on their own. You can use them to make fast and healthy meals or beautiful finger appetizers. You can even do as they do in the east: set out plates of fillings, and allow your friends and family to dip and roll their own over a slow, conversational meal.
All good stuff, no heavy bread. Perfect for the season!
In most metropolitan areas, they're actually pretty common, if somewhat tucked away. I find them either on the shelf in the ethnic food aisles. Sometimes they're sitting near the sushi.
While you're likely to find them if you look, you might have only one choice in shape and thickness. I've seen round ones online, but the ones I've got are square. They're also fairly thick. Shape makes no big difference, but if you find that your rice paper is very thin, you may have to treat it a little more carefully.
Some rice paper, I hear, requires hot water. But I haven't encountered them. For the rest, fill a baking dish or bowl large enough to hold the wrapper with a little water. Simply immerse the sheet gently--they're pretty fragile when dry!--give it a few seconds, and remove. Leave it sitting on a plate or cutting board until it's pliable and slightly sticky.
Then... treat it like an Asian Fajita station! Fill it however you like. There's no wrong way to do this. Fold up either both ends or just one, and roll it up. No toothpicks required.
If you tear it, no harm done! Stick the edges of the torn area together and continue wrapping. Nobody will notice at the end.
If you're pre-preparing rolls for a crowd, clean your counter off, dip the papers, and line them up on the counter to work on. By the time you finish dipping, the first one will have softened enough to work with. If you've got all the filling ingredients set out, you can prep them in a little assembly line.
Serve them with salad dressing, peanut sauce, sweet and sour sauce - whatever you feel like. The wrappers have almost no flavour to them at all, so you can focus on pairing with the fillings.
Better yet, if you're making for a crowd, make multiple dipping sauces so that people can pick and choose!
Spinach Salad (shown above): 2 cups raw spinach, 1 sliced strawberry, a few slices of red onion, served with a honey balsamic dipping sauce.
Rainbow wraps (at top): sliced cherry tomatoes, yellow pepper, carrot sticks, spinach or lettuce, and red cabbage with a salad dressing dipping sauce.
BLT wraps: Lettuce, tomato, and 1 strip of bacon, served with a Ranch dipping sauce or a drizzle of peppery mayo on the inside.