I am not a sushi person. Besides not eating seafood, I'm not a huge fan of nori or the sugary rice. And those weirdly coloured bean-curd wraps just weird me out. But rice paper rolls are something else. In summer or just in general, they're a great lightweight meal - lunch, dinner, whatever. Full of fresh veg, a smattering of protein, and a handful of noodles. No oven required.
But few shops actually sell them and they are a bit fiddly to make. And entirely messy. And a complete pain if you lack bench space.
Or so I thought.
When a Roll'd open at our local shopping centre and I devoured my weight in tofu rolls (and the odd banh mi), I was determined to figure out the secret of rolling your own at home: a quest, if you will, for the perfect rice paper roll. I've had a few goes now and I'm ready to deliver on a few of the secrets I've uncovered.
Secret no 1. Go easy on the water. One of the most fiddly parts of making a rice paper roll is managing the rice paper without tearing it or folding it over on itself in weird ways. The professionals, it seems, only give the rice paper the barest of dunks in water: a few seconds and then a swipe at the excess water. Pull them out while they're still crunchy as they keep softening while you work them on a bench.
The same thing applies to the rice noodles. I like to use day-old or leftover noodles that have had a chance to dry out and get a little sticky. Fresh cooked and they're likely to still hold a lot of water that can dilute the flavours of your rice paper roll.
Secret no 2. Scatter the rice paper with a good strong and aromatic herb. Thai basil or Vietnamese mint are fantastic (although the regular varieties are also good). These give a complex flavour through the mouth and nose without resorting to artificial sauces or flavourings.
Secret no 3. Use a combination of veggie cuts. Don't grate all the veg; don't slice it all into sticks. Go for a variety of long, short, fine, fat-wedged, etc.
Secret no 4. Extra crunch is a must. You're not only layering flavours but textures. If you're using tofu, fry that sucker up. Scatter some toasted sesame seeds amongst the herbs. The noodles give enough softness to the rolls.
Secret no 5. The best crunch and my new must-have are fried onions/shallots. These babies give it that extra push towards authenticity, or store-boughtedness that I sometimes search for. I buy mine at the local Chinese grocer rather than making my own.
There is no secret to the actual rolling part itself. Just fold in the sides and go. Don't be afraid of fat or stumpy rolls: they taste just the same. I'm going for perfection in realms outside the aesthetic here.
I love these as they are or will make up a little dipping sauce of soy, sweet chilli and lime juice. A little sweet soy or hoisin also works in a pinch.
Have you ever watched a professional at work and then tried to replicate it at home? How'd it work for you? These are delicious - give them a try.