Packed with refreshing, crunchy vegetables, aromatic herbs and delicate noodles, Vietnamese-style summer rolls are exactly what we want to eat when the temperature rises – and they’re perfect for easy entertaining.
When it’s warm outside, we don’t want to spend too much time sweating in front of the oven. Instead, we want fresh, cooling recipes that are packed with vibrant, punchy flavours – which is where summer rolls come in.
Also known as salad rolls or gỏi cuốn, this iconic Vietnamese dish consists of crunchy raw vegetables, cold glass or vermicelli noodles and meat, seafood or tofu (although adding extra protein isn’t mandatory). These fillings are then sprinkled with fragrant green herbs, wrapped up in stretchy-soft rice paper, and dipped into a rich umami sauce – cue taste explosion.
Bite-sized enough to act as a starter, summer rolls are also filling enough to serve as a main course (the only difference is how many you choose to eat). Not only that, the process of making them is so enjoyable that ‘summer roll parties’ – where guests build their own noodle parcels, using fillings laid out for them by the host – are very much a thing.
Want to give summer rolls a try? Below, we have three recipes to see you through the warm weather and inspire you to host your own summer roll party. Start with Saigon-born, Hackney-based food writer and supper club host Uyen Luu’s recipe for authentic Vietnamese salad rolls, which includes detailed instructions on how to ensure they don’t fall apart in your hands.
Luu recommends prepping two different fillings (one featuring poached pork belly and prawns; the other, a mixture of baked salmon, avocado and beetroot) and two different sauces (one nutty and creamy, one garlicky and spicy), for a pleasingly flexible dinner that sates all possible cravings.
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Not eating meat or seafood? Try Kwoklyn Wan’s vegan summer rolls, packed with red pepper, carrot, cucumber, spring onions, lettuce and Thai basil, and served with a thoroughly addictive sweet-salty-spicy peanut sauce.
Finally, if you love duck pancakes, you’ll adore New Zealand chef Annabel Langbein’s recipe for duck and red cabbage spring rolls. Despite their name, these are much more like Vietnamese summer rolls than deep-fried Chinese spring rolls, with crisp-yet-tender duck breasts wrapped up in rice paper and dunked into a hoisin and mayo dip. Roll up, roll up…
Uyen Luu’s fresh salad rolls with pork, prawns and salmon (gỏi cuốn)
Uyen says: “The ability to roll one of these is a life skill, learned from childhood. Translated as salad rolls, they are the talking point of many parties and get-togethers, where guests are presented with an array of fresh leaves and herbs, accompanied with a variety of fillings: from Saigon’s speciality of poached pork and prawns to baked fish. You can be as inventive or as simple as you wish.
“For summer roll parties, get people making their own rolls. Teaching everyone how to roll them breaks the ice, it is great fun and adds to your street cred! You can create some of these recipes, bring them to the table with an abundance of fresh herbs and leaves, make plenty of sauces, noodles and supply a host of rice paper. Instant party!”
For the rolls:
- 200g poached free-range pork belly, skin removed, thinly sliced
- 165g cooked prawns, shelled and de-veined
- 80g vermicelli noodles
- 12 coriander stems and leaves, roughly chopped
- 18 mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 sprigs cockscomb mint (optional)
- 18 perilla (shiso) leaves (optional)
- 6 garlic chives (optional)
- 6 lettuce leaves
- 6 x 22m rice paper sheets
For the hoisin, garlic and chilli dipping sauce:
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- ½ tbsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- ½ tbsp chilli sauce
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp peanuts, crushed or blended
For baked salmon, avocado and beetroot:
- 2 salmon fillets, baked with 3 tbsp teriyaki sauce for 12 minutes at 200°C
- 1 yellow beetroot, sliced into 1 cm rings, baked for 20 minutes at 200°C
- 1 avocado sliced lengthways
- 3 dill sprigs, finely chopped
- 12 coriander stems and leaves
For the nut butter dipping sauce:
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp cashew, almond or peanut butter
- 2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp water
To rehydrate the vermicelli noodles, bring a pot of water to the boil, cook the noodles for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, leave in the pot for 5–10 minutes, rinse in a colander until the starch water runs clear, cover and drain.
To prepare the sauces, heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic or shallots until lightly browned.
Add everything else except the nuts and bring to a gentle boil. Pour the sauce into dipping bowls and sprinkle crushed nuts on top.
Next, prepare the fillings for the rolls. Wash and spin or air dry the leaves, cook and slice your ingredients.
Once all the ingredients are ready, make sure they are dry (to keep the paper from breaking later on). Place them on your work surface in separate containers ready to make the rolls.
Pour some cold tap water into a tray deep and wide enough to hold the rice paper. Dip the paper into the tray for one second then place onto a chopping board.
Imagine if the round paper is a face (and you are standing on the left side of the opposite image). At the bottom centre of the paper, where the mouth would be, line up your main ingredients, then the herbs, noodles and lettuce.
Fold the two sides in – where the ears would be – then fold up the bottom flap – the chin – to cover the ingredients. It should look like you are making an envelope. Then, as tightly as possible, starting from the bottom, roll and push down as you go along until you have reached the end of the rice paper.
Keep the rolls in an airtight container at room temperature and serve within 2–3 hours, depending on the weather (or the indoor heating or air conditioning). If seafood, for example, you should serve and eat them straight away.
Adapted from Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food To Cook At Home by Uyen Luu (£22, Hardie Grant), out now
Kwoklyn Wan’s vegan summer rolls
Kwoklyn says: “Searching for that perfect sharing dish? Look no further. I’ve served this Pan-Asian dish many times and it’s always been a huge success; the conversation flows, fingers get sticky and the sounds of contented murmurs as your guests tuck into their own creations is sublime.”
For the filling:
- 2 nests of glass noodles
- 10 rice paper rounds, 22cm in diameter
- ½ red pepper, thinly sliced into strips
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced into strips
- ⅓ cucumber, de-seeded and thinly sliced into strips
- 3 spring onions, halved and thinly sliced into strips
- 1 round lettuce, thinly sliced into strips
- ¼ cup Thai basil leaves (or use regular basil), thinly sliced into strips
For the peanut sauce:
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- ½ tbsp oil (vegetable, groundnut or coconut)
- 3 tbsp finely diced onion
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp muscovado sugar (or use maple syrup, agave syrup or brown rice syrup)
- 3 tbsp water
Put the glass noodles into a large bowl, pour over boiling water and leave to soak for 3–5 minutes. Once the noodles are soft, drain and set to one side.
Now make the sauce. Place a wok over a medium-low heat; ensure it is completely dry by wiping with kitchen paper before you start.
Add the sesame seeds and slowly toast for 2–3 minutes, or until they have turned golden brown. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
Add the oil to the wok and fry the onion, garlic and chilli flakes over a medium heat until softened, then add the remaining sauce ingredients, including the toasted sesame seeds. Mix well and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
To assemble the rolls, soak a rice paper round in warm water for 20–30 seconds, or until soft and pliable. Shake off the excess water and lay flat on a clean work surface or large plate. Arrange your desired fillings in a line in the bottom third of the rice paper round and drizzle with peanut sauce.
Fold the bottom third of the rice paper over the filling, then fold the loose side edges over the top before continuing to roll until you have a tightly wrapped parcel of deliciousness.
To enjoy this as a sharing dish, place all of the prepared ingredients in the centre of the table and invite your guests to dip and roll their own, filling with their personal choice of vegetables and sauce.
From The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook: Over 70 Vegan And Vegetarian Takeaway Classics by Kwoklyn Wan (£15, Quadrille), out now
Annabel Langbein’s duck and red cabbage spring rolls
Annabel says: “Regardless of how you plan to serve duck breasts, this is the best way I know to cook them to that perfect medium-rare tenderness.”
- 4 duck breasts
- salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 telegraph cucumber
- ¼ red cabbage
- 4 spring onions
- 1 avocado
- 12 round 22cm rice paper wrappers
- 30g chopped roasted cashew nuts or peanuts
- 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
- 36 mint leaves
For the dipping sauce:
- 230g mayonnaise
- 75g hoisin sauce
Score duck skin deeply with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern and season both sides.
Preheat a heavy-based frying pan and cook duck skin-side down over a medium heat until fat has rendered out, skin is crispy and the edges of the duck breast are just starting to change colour (10–12 minutes). Keep an eye on it and reduce heat if skin is becoming too brown.
Turn duck over, turn off heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes (the heat of the fat will be enough to finish cooking). Drain on paper towels. When cool, slice thinly.
While duck is cooling, prepare spring rolls. Halve cucumber lengthwise, scrape out and discard seeds, then cut into 12 batons about 10cm in length.
Shred cabbage and thinly slice spring onions.
Slice avocado in half, then cut each half into 6 wedges.
Fill a large, shallow bowl with hot water. Wet a clean tea towel, squeeze out and spread on bench.
Dunk a rice paper wrapper into the water for a couple of seconds, remove at once, shake off excess water and place on the damp tea towel. It will soften to a pliable texture.
Sprinkle each rice paper wrapper with a few nuts and sesame seeds, 3 mint leaves, a cucumber baton, slices of duck, spring onion and an avocado wedge.
Fold in sides of rice paper, then roll up tightly from the bottom edge to enclose the filling.
To make dipping sauce, combine mayonnaise and hoisin sauce in a small serving bowl. Thin with a little water if needed.
Cut each roll crosswise into thirds or halves, and serve with dipping sauce on the side.
From Bella: My Life In Food by Annabel Langbein (£20, Murdoch Books), out 8 July 2021
Photography: William Meppem; © Uyen Luu; © Sam Folan