Full of refreshing vegetables, herbs and noodles, summer rolls are the perfect warm-weather snack. Here, the co-founder of Rosa’s Thai Cafe, explains how to make them to restaurant standard at home.
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A staple of Vietnamese cuisine, these cooling snacks are a mix of shredded herbs and salad, crunchy raw vegetables and delicate vermicelli noodles all wrapped up in a delicate, thin rice covering. They also require little to no cooking – unlike the deep-fried variety.
“My friend lives in east Thailand, which has a big Vietnamese community who have brought a lot of their cultural food with them,” says Saiphin. “I still use the same ingredients my friend first introduced to me, but to give them a Thai twist I combine the summer rolls with my signature tamarind dipping sauce.”
Saiphin, who was taught to cook by her mother and is constantly in the kitchen developing new dishes, recommends modifying the summer roll recipe as soon as you’re comfortable with it, adding mixed leaves or pork and prawn – as is traditional in Vietnam.
Here, Saiphin shares her guide for making restaurant-quality summer rolls at home, as well as a recipe for her signature tamarind sauce to dip them in. Dreamy.
Classic summer roll recipe
Ingredients (serves two)
- 4 rice paper sheets (spring roll wrappers) with a diameter of 16cm (available online or from Asian supermarkets)
- 1 pot of sweet chilli dipping sauce, to serve
For the filling
- 140g dried rice vermicelli
- 250g iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 100g carrot, shredded
- 30g mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 30g fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 30g sweet Thai basil (or Italian basil), roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of peanut sauce (per roll)
1) Start by cooking the vermicelli for the filling. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. While that’s on the go, soak the vermicelli in a bowl of warm water for 15 minutes, then drain. Once the water hits a rolling boil, carefully drop the vermicelli into the pan and cook for one to two minutes. Then drain and leave to cool to room temperature.
2) To make the rolls, fill a large shallow bowl with warm water. Take a sheet of rice paper and dip it into the water for three to five seconds, until translucent. Then place it on a clean work surface.
3) Put a quarter of the lettuce in the centre of the paper in a mound, followed by a quarter of the carrot, mint, coriander, basil and vermicelli.
4) Roll it up, by folding the side of the wrapper closest to you over the filling, ensuring it is tucked in neatly and tightly over the filling. Next, fold the right side of the wrapper toward the centre, pulling it taut across the filling, and press down the edges of the wrapper to seal. Repeat with the left side. Now roll up the filling in the wrapper, pushing the roll away from you, to create a log-shaped parcel.
5) Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.
Saiphin’s tips for making perfect summer rolls
Soak the rice sheets right
The rice sheets used to make summer rolls are extremely delicate, so it’s important to soak them correctly to stop them from disintegrating or becoming too sticky.
“Make sure you soak the sheets in warm water,” says Saiphin. “If you use cold water it takes longer for it to absorb into the sheet and risks making it too soft and hard to handle. You should only need to leave the paper rolls in the warm water for around five seconds.”
Handle the rice sheets with care
Saiphin advises dipping your hands in water and making sure they are moist to help you form the summer roll: “If you have dry hands, the roll will become sticky and harder to work with.”
It’s also best to roll up the rice paper as swiftly as possible. “If you leave it too long, it will get sticky and unmanageable, so roll it very quickly,” says Saiphin.
Experiment with filling flavours
Saiphin recommends utilising herbs to really make your summer rolls come to life: “Herbs like mint, coriander and Thai basil will all help give your summer rolls flavour.”
Siaphin’s recipe is vegan-friendly with peanuts as a protein sauce in the wrap. Traditionally, however, fresh rolls in Vietnam are made with shredded pork or prawns and you can easily modify the filling.
Choose the right sauce
“If you want to give your summer rolls a really punchy flavour you must make a very good dipping sauce,” says Saiphin, who chooses specific flavours for her dipping sauces to give her summer roll recipe a Thai twist.
Thai-style dipping sauces that complement summer rolls nicely include sweet chilli and peanut sauce. Saphin’s favourite is tamarind sauce. “My home town in Thailand, Phetchabun, is really famous for its tamarinds,” she says. “So, tamarind sauce is my signature.”
“You need to make sure a dipping sauce is sweet, sour and a little bit salty,” says Saiphin. “Why is Rosa’s tamarind sauce so special? Because we add crushed pickled garlic, which gives it that extra taste.”
Saiphin’s recipe for tamarind sauce:
- 100ml tamarind paste
- 250ml warm water
- 4 tablespoons demerara sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 50ml light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fried onion
Put the tamarind paste, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then add chilli powder, soy sauces and fried onion to the saucepan, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Wait until the sauce bubbles then take off the heat.
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Saiphin Moore, co-founder of Rosa’s Thai Cafe
Saiphin, along with her husband Alex, co-founded Rosa’s Thai Cafe in 2008; a much-loved and respected London-based Thai food restaurant, which now has multiple locations across the city.
In 2016 Saiphin and Alex co-founded a new restaurant business concept called the Lao Cafe, which opened its first location in London’s Covent Garden in 2016. Saiphin’s Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Cookbook has sold over 20,000 copies worldwide.
Images: Courtesy Rosa’s Thai Cafe and Eduard Paul Schiopu