By Alexandra Greeley
Suong "Sunny" Thomas, a librarian at the Arlington County Central Library, often teaches and demonstrates Vietnamese cooking. One of her most requested dishes is goi cuon, the fresh spring roll of shrimp, pork, herbs, and cooked rice vermicelli, wrapped tightly in rice paper.
Wrapping these rolls is an art form, for they should be both firm–to prevent their falling apart during eating–and beautiful. Part of their appeal is seeing the orange-pink shrimp under a layer of rice paper.
For best results, divide the papers into stacks of six sheets, and wet each sheet individually. Working with six sheets allows enough time for for the water to soak into the rice paper and soften it. The traditional way to moisten these sheets is with your fingers; the practiced cook will know how much water to use to avoid soaking.
This recipe makes 12 pieces, which you may serve as appetizers, allotting two or more per person. If you wish to serve them as a casual dinner entree, says Thomas, turn this into a do-it-yourself meal and ask guests to make and wrap their own goi cuon. As an entree–and depending on your guests' appetites–you may need to increase the size of this recipe. For neater eating, slice each piece into two or more sections.
1/2 pound medium shrimp (30-35 count per pound), cooked until pink, then shelled and cooled
1/2 pound boneless pork loin or boneless chops, sauteed
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
12 sheets eight-inch-round rice-paper wrappers (banh trang)
1/4 pound bean sprouts, rinsed and blanched
6 or 7 leaves of Boston lettuce, rinsed and pulled apart into small pieces
1/2 cup mint leaves, rinsed
1/2 cup fresh Vietnamese herbs, such as sweet (purple) basil or vap ca (fish-smelling herb), rinsed
4 ounces rice vermicelli, cooked and cooled
24 stems Chinese chives, trimmed to 8 inches
2 tablespoons peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 or 3 fresh red chilies
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
chopped peanuts for garnish
1. To make the rolls, slice the shrimp in half lengthwise and set aside. Julienne the pork and set aside.
2. Combine all ingredients for the dipping sauce, except the chopped peanuts, in a blender and puree. Put in a small serving dish, sprinkle with peanuts, and set aside.
3. Separate the sheets of rice paper and dampen each by dipping in warm water or wetting with your fingers. Wipe off the excess by hand and stack the sheets one atop another, separating them with paper towels so they don't stick together.
4. Place a sheet of rice paper on a flat surface. You will be making each roll in layers so that each group of ingredients is wrapped in a separate fold of the rice paper. Place a piece of lettuce, a few herbs and sprouts, and small portion of noodles near the top third of the circle and fold the edge once over the filling, rolling it tightly. Fold one end in over the filing and then fold the second end over the filling.
5. In the next layer, place a few pieces of pork on the paper and fold again. For the final layer, place the shrimp halves in a straight line, one behind the other, then the egg, on the paper and make the final fold, continuing to roll until the package is closed tightly. Decorate by inserting two chive stems partway into each roll.