When the mercury does eventually rise into the 80s in Maine this summer, I will be scrambling for cool ways to get dinner on the table. Whether that table is in the dining room, on the patio, or is made from a boogie board balanced atop our L.L. Bean cooler at Popham Beach, I’ll rely on recipes that do include lots of cool local produce and but don’t require much time in front of a hot stove.

I can always reach for that bag of Vietnamese rice paper wrappers in the cupboard. These wrappers, called bánh tráng in Vietnamese, are made by spreading a paste of rice flour, tapioca, salt and water into rounds ranging from 16 to 31 centimeters, steaming and then drying them, traditionally in the hot sun. Most modern rice paper wrappers made in Vietnam for export are mechanically steamed and dried in factories.

Packaged Vietnamese spring roll wrappers. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Rice paper wrappers are sometimes available in the international aisle at mainstream American grocery stores, and you can often find them in health food markets, but they are always available in Asian groceries and on-line. Brands commonly found in the United States are Rose, Double Parrot, Three Ladies, and Four Elephants. A 12-ounce package of 50 (22-centimeter) wrappers –  the most common size – costs between $5 and $8.

These wrappers can be quickly rehydrated in warm water and used to envelope a range of thinly sliced fresh Maine vegetables and already cooked proteins you have leftover in the fridge – shredded chicken; thinly sliced grilled beef, lamb or pork; steamed shellfish; or marinated and baked tofu – to make bright, beautiful, tasty and healthy summer rolls.

Unlike spring rolls at a Thai restaurant or egg rolls from your favorite Chinese take-away, these rolls require no frying. Think of them as snuggly wrapped salads. The wrappers have a satisfying chew and the veggies a pleasing crunch; three rolls per person makes a good dinner portion.

In her book “The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian recipes Simple Enough for Tonight’s Dinner,” Hong Kong-born Jaden Hair explains that the trick of properly rehydrating rice paper wrappers so that they are pliable enough to wrap around the filling without tearing is to quickly dip them in warm (not hot) water for about two seconds per side.


“One of the biggest mistakes is soaking the rice paper in water that is too hot or soaking (them) for too long,” she writes. Hair advises that the rice paper should still be a bit stiff after dipping. “By the time you’ve piled on your ingredients, the paper will be just right for rolling.”

Some of my favorite spring roll ingredients are blanched asparagus and green beans, colorful bell peppers,  cucumber spears, julienned carrots, purple cabbage and soft herbs like basil, parsley or mint. If you’re working with the standard-size wrapper, cut everything into roughly 4-inch lengths.

I always start by laying down a 4-inch leaf of lettuce, spinach or green cabbage, as I find they provide a sort of cupped bed to help hold the other ingredients in place while rolling up the wrapper. Another good strategy is to make sure any sharpish edges (I’m looking at you, carrots and skin-on cucumbers) are well buried in the pile of ingredients so that they don’t get the opportunity to tear the wrapper. Adding softened vermicelli rice noodles can help fill the space in between the veggies. The total amount of stuffing per roll should be a generous half cup.

See how she rolls: Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige forms Vietnamese summer rolls. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As with burritos, dumplings or stuffed pasta, forming summer rolls gets infinitely easier with practice. The best description I have read of the process is one I found in “Eat Cool: Good Food for Hot Days” by Portland-based cookbook author and food stylist Vanessa Seder.

Once you’ve laid your stuffing ingredients in a neat oblong pile in the center of the rehydrated rice paper wrapper, fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling, then fold in the sides of the wrapper. Pressing down firmly, hold the folds in place and tightly roll the wrapper up from the bottom to the top. Repeat until your rice papers or your fillings have run out.

Summer rolls are best eaten within 12 hours of being made and are best stored whole, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator. They travel best whole as well, but they sure are prettier if you cut them in half before serving.


Make them even better by serving them with a spicy peanut sauce, or a traditional sweet and tangy Vietnamese fish sauce-based condiment called Nước chấm. I typically serve both with my cooling Maine-based summer rolls.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls with dipping sauces. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

The amount of water needed to keep this sauce liquid enough for dipping summer rolls will vary based on both your peanut butter brand and how long the dip sits in the bowl. Don’t be afraid to add more hot water if it does get too thick.

Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until the ingredients are fully combined. The mixture will be thick. Add hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you the dipping sauce is the consistency you like.


Maine-Adapted Nước chấm

In Vietnam, this sauce is sweetened with palm sugar. Here in Maine, I use maple syrup. With the addition of 1 tablespoon sesame oil, this dip makes a great dressing for a light cabbage slaw.

Makes 3/4 cup

1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon shredded carrot
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sambal oelek chili garlic sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small Thai chili pepper, minced

Combine all the ingredients with 1/3 cup room-temperature water. Let the sauce sit for 20 minutes before serving. You can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com.

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