Cold Dinners, Take Three: Vietnamese Fresh Rolls

Fresh rolls

Sigh. At least they look pretty.

I love fresh rolls. Whenever I go to an Asian restaurant I eagerly scan the menu and order them as often as possible. And, after a suggestion from Elpis and Justice, they seemed like a natural project for July’s cooking project (recipes that won’t heat up your kitchen).

At least, it seemed like a perfect fit before I actually ate them.

Whenever I’ve had fresh rolls before, I’ve enjoyed the synergy between the crisp greens, soft noodles, sweet shrimp, and savory dipping sauce. And the recipe I ended up choosing seemed to promise the same culinary experience –  vegetables, rice noodles, and shrimp wrapped up in soft rice paper wrapper. I altered the recipe slightly – using pre-cooked shrimp and soaking the noodles in hot water I heated up in the microwave, to make the recipe truly no-cook.

But there was something horribly off about these spring rolls. Some of this was my fault – I used too much cilantro, which I always end up doing because I can only buy cilantro in huge bunches that I always feel pressured to use up before it goes bad. Consequently, the spring rolls were heavy on the cilantro and had a soapy, unpleasant flavor.

But the other problem, which was entirely out my control, was the rice paper wrappers. The wrappers had a strange, chemical flavor and acrid smell that was incredibly off-putting. I don’t know if there was something wrong with the wrappers, or if there’s something horribly wrong with DC’s tap water – or a combination of the two. But whatever it was, I ended up throwing most of the fresh rolls away.

So it’s strike two for no-cook meals. July can’t end soon enough.

Given my issues with these spring rolls, I’m not even going to try to put together a recipe for you. But if you would like to try where I have failed, you can find the recipe I used here. Epicurious also has a recipe for mango shrimp summer rolls that looks worth trying. If you dare.



  1. Rebecca said

    Spring rolls are one of my favorite appetizers too. I understand the cilantro dilemma. It is why I would like to grow an herb garden, but I am so good at killing herbs. But soapy? and the rice paper? what a shame. Were they a Whole Foods purchase? I’ll have to avoid.

    • moderndomestic said

      They were a Whole Foods purchase – and one made specially for the occasion.

      I wonder why you can’t buy cilantro in more modest packages. Who ever uses an entire bunch of cilantro?

  2. Kayanna said

    I’ve never had an acrid flavor from the spring roll wrappers I’ve used – even ones that were kind of old. huh. wonder what it was.

    • moderndomestic said

      I don’t know what the problem was, but it was nasty. I tasted the first one and thought there was something “off,” but it took me until the second to pinpoint what was wrong.

  3. Nonna said

    But they look so tasty!

  4. […] good was this cake? It made up for my past no-cook failures. And that’s saying a lot. When can I make this […]

  5. Val Lumby said

    Hi Modern!
    Do you read Cook’s IIlustrated? I have had a subscription since 2004, but unfortunately their recipe for Spring Rolls (January 2002) ran before I subscribed. You can, however, join online, which provides access to 16 years of magazine reicpes. Cook’s Illustrated demystifies and streamlines a wonderful array of dishes and describes in detail the process their chefs go through to arrive at their final recipe. Their failures, in particular, are enlightening.
    I just thought you might like to know!
    Keep experimenting! I find your blog very inspring!
    Val Lumby

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