Pittsburgh, where I went to school, is an underrated (and dirt cheap) food city, and it was there that I discovered the wonderful complexities of Thai food. There was the sweet luxuriousness of coconut milk, the bright bite of fresh herbs, and the heat of Thai chili peppers. I had never encountered such a spectrum of flavors in a single cuisine.
In an effort to relive my college years, I decided to try my hand at fresh spring rolls with this recipe courtesy of Eddy Thretipthuangsin, head chef at Pakpao in Dallas, TX. I admit that I was a little intimidated by the recipe and I doubted that I could create something on par with restaurant offerings—but I surprised myself.
The fresh herbs, tangy vinaigrette, and sweet-and-spicy sauce blend together perfectly. Serve these as a healthy alternative to traditional party fare this football season. Don’t be intimidated by the recipe’s length—pulling the spring rolls together is surprisingly simple. Prepare the vinaigrette and dipping sauce the night before, and you’ll spend less time in the kitchen on game day.
Recipe by Eddy Thretipthuangsin, head chef of Pakpao in Dallas, TX
What you’ll need:
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small Thai chili pepper, sliced (available at Asian grocery stores)
1 Tbsp plus 2 ½ tsp sugar
2 Tbsp chopped fresh lemongrass
2 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup canola oil
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp chili paste (available at Asian grocery stores or online)
½ cup water
2 Tbsp Sambal Oelek
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
6 oz. thin rice vermicelli
8 large red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves, cut in half, thick stem ends removed
16 rounds of rice paper, 8 ½ inches in diameter
1 cup fresh Thai Basil, chopped (available at Asian grocery stores)
1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
How to make it:
1. Make the lemongrass fish sauce vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the sliced garlic, Thai chili, 1 Tbsp sugar, lemongrass, lime or lemon juice, ¼ cup rice vinegar, and fish sauce. Slowly whisk in the canola oil. Store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using so that the flavors can marry.
2. Prepare the hoisin dipping sauce. In a separate small bowl, stir together the peanut oil, minced garlic, chili paste, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, water, ½ teaspoon sugar, Sambal Oelek, and hoisin sauce. Reserve at room temperature.
3. In a small bowl, combine the carrot with the remaining sugar and let stand for 10 minutes to soften.
4. In a medium saucepan, bring several cups of water to boil. Add vermicelli and cook until just softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. In a large bowl, toss the noodles with ¼ cup of the hoisin dipping sauce
5. Re-whisk the vinaigrette to combine. In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette. Fill a shallow 9- or 10-inch cake pan with very warm water. (Make sure all of the ingredients are within easy reach before you start assembling the rolls.) Immerse one sheet of rice paper in the warm water for about 2 seconds. Remove and lay flat on a large plate. Place one piece of lettuce in the center of the rice paper. Take a small scoop of noodles and place in a tube shape on top of the lettuce. Spread a spoonful of carrots on top of the noodles, and sprinkle with the basil, mint, and cilantro.
6. Fold up the side of the rice paper that is closest to you. Roll halfway, gently pulling the roll towards you so it is wrapped snugly. Fold the left and right sides over the filling, and continue rolling into a cylinder. Place the finished roll, seam-side down, on a large plate. Cover with a damp paper towel to keep moist.
7. Before serving, slice each roll in half on a bias. Serve with hoisin dipping sauce in individual dipping bowls.