An increasingly popular item in Vietnamese restaurants outside of SE Asia are the soft shrimp salad rolls called gỏi cuốn, normally served with a sweet Nuoc Leo peanut sauce or sometimes mắm nêm anchovy sauce (however the latter is seldom seen in the west). On the menus in some of these restaurants, gỏi cuốn is translated into English as “spring roll”, however, gỏi cuốn literally translates from Vietnamese as “mixed salad roll”. These salad rolls are in fact easily distinguished from actual spring rolls or Chả Giò.
Although typically served as an appetizer in North American and some European Vietnamese restaurants, these rolls are most often eaten as a snack in Vietnam. Unlike the even more popular Chả Giò crispy spring rolls, which are usually stuffed with ground pork, shrimp, cabbage, & vermicelli noodles before being deep-fried; Gỏi Cuốn salad rolls are never fried and will be served either cold or more commonly at room temperature and are soft in texture.
Salad rolls are extremely popular with the Vietnamese, especially among students from secondary school through collage. Gỏi Cuốn are meant to be eaten by hand and dipped into the sauce of choice, typically using quite a bit of sauce per bite. Usually sold per piece in Vietnam, the price for each can vary from roughly the equivalent of 10 cents to 40 cents US, although the cost may be much more in high class restaurants. While not overly pricey, like most meals in SE Asia they are never as inexpensive when served in the west.
Since the late 198o’s, Gỏi Cuốn have become an increasingly popular menu item in many places around the world. Often referred to as Vietnamese spring rolls (in Australia), crystal rolls or soft rolls (in the United States) or fresh shrimp rolls in some Vietnamese restaurants in Canada, the proper name “Salad Roll” is becoming more commonly used as time goes by. They are now a regular part of meals served at most Vietnamese restaurants, and while the ingredients have certainly changed somewhat in order to better suit Western palates the basics are still more or less the same as the original. It’s these fresh ingredients which create the flavor that make Gỏi Cuốn the favorite that it is.
This recipe is the same basic version of Gỏi Cuốn you’re likely to find served at your local Vietnamese restaurant or Phở noodle shop, I’ve also included a recipe for both the popular “westernized” version of nuoc leo peanut sauce that is most often served with them(this sauce is most likely what you’ve tried) as well as an authentic version which contains liver.
Makes 8 rolls
- 2 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 8 sheets (8 ½-inch round) rice paper
- 4 leaves of green lettuce, halved (thick centers removed)
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts, thoroughly rinsed and drained
- ½ cup mint leaves
- 8 cooked medium shrimp, tails removed, de-veined and halved
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
For Nuoc Leo (Vietnamese Peanut Sauce):
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon hot chile paste
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- 1 fresh Thai red chile, seeded and thinly sliced
To prepare the rice paper wrappers, you’ll need a large bowl of warm water, 2 slightly damp cloths and a dry towel.
- Soak vermicelli in warm water for 15 minutes and drain.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add vermicelli and cook for 2 minutes, making sure to separate noodles as they cook. Strain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain well before using.
- In small bowl combine carrot and sugar, let stand 10 minutes, rinse and set aside
- Working with one sheet of rice paper at a time. (Keep remaining sheets covered with a damp cloth to prevent curling.) Immerse each sheet in warm water, quickly remove and place on dry towel. It will soften within seconds.
- Lay one piece of lettuce on the bottom third of each softened wrapper. Onto the lettuce place 1 tablespoon of vermicelli, 1 tablespoon each of shredded carrot and bean sprouts and a few mint leaves.
- Roll wrapper halfway, and then fold left and right sides over the filling. Lay 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, along the edge of the cylinder and place several cilantro leaves along the shrimp. Finish rolling into a cylinder. Place finished rolls on a plate and cover with a slightly damp cloth to keep moist as you assemble the remaining rolls.
These rolls can be prepared in advance, covered with a damp cloth and refrigerated for several hours prior to serving
For Nuoc Leo:
- In small saucepan, warm oil over medium heat.
- Saute garlic until golden brown, add chile paste and tomato paste. Mix and cook for 1 minute.
- Add broth, sugar, peanut butter and hoisin to pan, whisk until smooth and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Serve at room temperature. Just prior to serving, sprinkle with chopped peanuts and sliced chiles.
Authentic Vietnamese Nuoc Leo Sauce
- 1 Clove garlic, sliced
- 1 tbsp Vegetable oil
- 1 Piece of pork liver (about the size of a teaspoon), minced
- 1 tbsp Ground pork
- 1 tsp Tomato paste
- ¼ cup Tuong (fermented Soybean paste)
- ½ cup Water
- 1 ½ tsp Peanut butter
- 1 tbsp Granulated sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp Sesame seeds
- 10 Roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- Thin strips of hot pepper (for garnish)
- Using medium heat, saute the garlic in the oil until soft.
- Add the liver and pork, reducing the heat to low and stiring in the tomato paste and tuong.
- Stir in the water and peanut butter.
- Raise the heat back to medium, add the sugar and boil for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
- Toast sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until browned.
- Add the sesame seeds and chopped peanuts to the sauce.
- When serving garnish with thin strips of hot pepper.