Since papaya is rarely overly sweet, it can be successfully incorporated in savoury foods. In these lovely Asian-inspired rice rolls, the papaya beautifully offsets the prawns, herbs and leaves.
These rolls can be made with a number of ingredients other than those suggested in this recipe, allowing one to be quite creative. The rolls are often made with prawns of which the tail part of the carapace has been left on; the rolls are then folded in such a way that the tail part with the inedible hard part sticks out. What is of utmost importance is that they are served on the same day they are made. They do not like hanging around, as the rice wraps continue softening to the point where they start sticking to each other and become fairly unmanageable. Once they are made, keep them on a serving tray in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, until service.
Called Gỏi cuốn, most people consider these fresh versions of Chinese deep-fried springrolls. They are however not made from the same dough as traditional spring rolls, and neither are they deep-fried, which makes them super healthy. In Western contexts they are sometimes also called summer rolls, Vietnamese rolls or cold rolls. Aside from pho and banh mi, gỏi cuốn is one of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes.
Although beginners may find it challenging to work with the rice wraps, just keep on trying. It is best to use hot water to rehydrate the wraps, which allows them to soften quickly. Place one into the water and using a wooden spatula, move it around until it only just starts to soften. One does not want them to become completely soaked, as they then become very difficult to fish out of the water. If you take them out of the water as soon as they become slightly pliable, there should be enough residual water left around them to allow them to soften further on the cutting board where you assemble your rolls. This allows one a little bit of extra time to work with them before they become totally soft and unmanageable.
On the other hand, of course your rice wrapper needs to have softened sufficiently so that it can be rolled, so the wrap should have no more brittleness left in it. Traditionally the prawn is placed last, after one has rolled up some of the other ingredients. As these are papaya and prawn rolls, the papaya should also be added in after one has given the rest of the ingredients a roll, so that the papaya and prawn has only one layer of wrap over it which will allow them to be visible through the wrap. There are some recipes that suggest that one should use one of the larger lettuces, such as cos, to wrap all the other herbs and leaves before wrapping in the rice wrap. Doing this makes it much easier to roll up the wrap.
One may also employ quite a bit of artistic license when making your dipping sauce. Some recipes add some unsweetened peanut butter, while others include Hoisin sauce or soy. What is of crucial importance is that there is a good balance of flavours; the sauce should be acidic, from lime juice and/or rice vinegar, slightly sweet from the palm sugar, slightly spicy from the garlic, fresh ginger and chilli, and slightly salty from the fish sauce. Play around and tweak it this way or that to suit your own personal taste.
The rolls are easier to eat if they are cut in half. It is therefore important to roll them up tightly, so that the filling does not spill out. Another advantage of cutting them in half is that one can see the pretty ingredients that you filled your roll with. Most importantly, however, is that the cut side will soak up a little more of the dipping sauce, which is important as none of the ingredients inside the roll are seasoned.
Ingredients enough for 14 Spring Rolls
14 rice wraps
14 medium-sized prawns, cooked and shells removed
1 medium papaya, peeled and cut into 10 – 12cm strips
80 g Asian style rice noodles (cellophane noodles) or thin Asian egg noodles, cooked and cooled
2 courgettes, cut into thin julienne sticks (one can of course add other vegetables, such as bean sprouts, blanched mange tout peas, etc.)
A selection of lettuce leaves, such as cos, frisée, or other bitter lettuce leaves
A selection of herbs such as Thai basil, broad leaf parsley, fresh coriander, fresh mint, or chives
For the dipping sauce:
80 ml fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons (10 ml) palm sugar
2 red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, made into a fine paste
20 g whole fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 teaspoons (10 ml) dark rice vinegar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fish sauce
A small handful fresh mint, finely sliced
To make the dipping sauce, mix all the ingredients for the sauce together and adjust the seasoning and other flavours. On its own the sauce may seem fairly strong but remember that only a small amount will stick to the rolls when they are dipped into the sauce. The sauce should therefore have enough flavour to ensure that the rolls are tasty.
Lay one rice wrap at a time into the hot water. As soon as it softens slightly, remove and smooth out on a cutting board. Add a bundle of lettuce/herb mix, some courgette julienne, some of the glass or Asian noodles. Roll up firmly, and once the roll has turned a full circle, add the prawn and papaya slice. Fold in the sides and finish rolling up the roll.
Cut in half and serve with the dipping sauce.