This weekend, I’ve been all about salad rolls. Maybe because I spent last weekend in Vancouver and had vegan salad rolls from Three Jewels Vegetarian Restaurant which kicked off some serious cravings!
The thing about vegan Vietnamese salad rolls is that they are super easy to make and you can really use whatever fillings you have on hand. A few years ago, I posted this Vietnamese-inspired Spicy Peanut Salad Roll recipe.
I’m not sure why I haven’t posted more of them since. Maybe because I usually improvise them based on what I have to use up in the fridge; no two rolls are ever the same!
But these are the basic must-have ingredients for vegan Vietnamese salad rolls (aka summer rolls) IMO:
- Rice Wrapper – Buy these in the Asian/Ethnic aisle of your local supermarket or Asian grocery store
- Crunchy stuff – Bean sprouts, garlic pickled carrots, cucumbers, or your fave crunchy vegetables
- Savory stuff – regular salad rolls usually feature shrimp or other meat but I love using faux shrimp or whatever savories I have on hand. The idea is to have this ingredient be the accent of salty, umami flavour.
- Rice Vermicelli – This helps bulk up the roll. It’s a traditional ingredient and I find it’s just not as satisfying without. You might get away with using shirataki noodles or sprouts instead though.
- Wrapper helpers – This is optional but I like to add what I call “wrapper helpers.” This would be thin sliced cucumbers, pliable collard leaves or lettuce. Placed just on top of the rice wrapper before adding the fillings, they help you roll a tighter salad roll without breaking the rice wrapper.
- Dip – No salad roll is complete without a side of delicious dipping sauce! The norm is peanut sauce but I like to change it up every time. Try a creamy cashew dressing or miso gravy!
To make salad rolls, I like to chop up all my ingredients first. Then I use two plates. One filled with hot water to soften the rice wrapper, and another one to use when wrapping up the roll. To prepare the rice wrapper, just dip it into the water so that the water coats both sides of the wrapper. Then lift up, letting excess water drip off, and place onto the second plate. It will still seem stiff but it will soften as you work.
But OH NOES! What if you’re clumsy like me and constantly break the dry wrappers before you even get them wet. No problem, just soften the pieces and layer the edges on top of each other. As they soften even more, they will stick together.
Then add your toppings. I like to start with a base of sliced cucumber or lettuce just placed in the middle to bottom half of the wrapper. Then, I pile on the rice vermicelli, crunchy bits, sprouts (if I have them), and savory bits. Be careful not to pile too much on or else you may not be able to roll the whole thing up. I wrap it up like a burrito: sides towards the middle, pull the bottom over the toppings and tucking in slightly underneath the fillings, then roll it up.
Even though I improvise a lot, there are certain ingredients that can give your salad roll an authentic Vietnamese-style flavour. To me, those are:
- Fresh basil
- Sweet garlic pickled vegetables
- Bean Sprouts
- Lemongrass savories
Fresh Basil is an ingredient found in a lot of Vietnamese cuisine, from basil salad to the traditional toppings on Pho noodle soup. I like to tear up one big basil leaf and add on top of the other fillings so you can see it when you wrap up the salad roll.
Sweet pickled vegetables in Vietnamese cuisine is different from regular pickles you’ll see in the grocery stores. They are super easy to make at home. Just combine a cup of room temperature water (warm is OK), a quarter cup of vinegar, a few tablespoons of sugar and a crushed garlic clove in a large jar. Add matchstick cut veggies like carrots, daikon, or cucumber, shake it up and chill in the fridge. You can use them almost right away but they are better after a few hours. I always have a jar going in my fridge. As I use up the veggies, I’ll use the liquid for other things like flavouring rice for sushi. Or, I’ll keep added veggies to the same jar for a week.
Mung bean sprouts are an ingredient that is ALWAYS in salad rolls from the Vietnamese restaurants I’ve frequented. They add this fantastic crunchiness and they are full of awesome nutrients. Yay sprouts! I love them. 😀
Lemongrass is another flavour that is highly identifiable in Vietnamese cooking. I add this to the marinade of whatever savoury I’m making, whether it is sauteed mushrooms, faux shrimp/chick’n, or whatever else strikes my fancy that day.
Have you tried Vietnamese salad rolls before? What are you favourite ingredients to use?