By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Although it may not feel like it in certain parts of the country, spring is coming! Not only will that (hopefully) bring us all better weather but also fresh vegetables and crisp wines to pair them with. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to incorporate veggies into meals, so what a better idea than to welcome spring and its bounty with these spring rolls.
Also called “summer rolls,” spring rolls are a fun way to eat your veggies. I always order them whenever they are offered at a restaurant, and recently I have been making them in all sorts of ways at home. They typically are comprised of all fresh raw vegetables, but since I like to make them as a meal (rather than appetizer) I add some marinated grilled chicken for added protein. And to add flavor dimension I like to use some kind of pickled item, like pickled carrots as in the case of these rolls. The best part of making them at home is that you can mix and match what fillings you want in your rolls and experiment with new combinations.
Warning, these do require a bit of prep, so a fun way to make them is to involve your kids in the process (if they are old enough to help). Or better yet, if you’re having friends over, this is a fun way to get your guests involved in the process. Create an assembly line of sorts and assign people to the chopping, prepping, rolling, making the sauces, and popping open the wine.
You can find all the ingredients at your typical grocery store, but I recommend going to an Asian market if you live near one. The rice paper at the specialty market is a fraction of what you’re likely to pay at the general market (I paid $1.00 for a 12 ounce pack of rice paper versus $3.99 at my local grocery store).
Making the Spring Rolls
I recommend prepping everything in advance, laying it all out, and having it all ready to stuff in your rolls.
Once you are ready, dip your paper in a large bowl of warm water to soften. Only place them in the water for a few seconds! Once they feel soft enough to work with (after 5-10 seconds), place the wet paper on a plastic cutting board or ceramic plate. Plan for extra papers in the likely event that the first couple may tear (this happens!). Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be on your way to spring roll success.
Start assembling. I like to start with a piece of lettuce helping to protect the paper from ripping or being punctured. After the lettuce is in place, add the rice noodles, and layer the rest with your fillings and herbs. Then carefully start rolling your spring rolls. Start with the piece closest to you. Roll, then tuck the sides in, and then continue rolling, much like making a burrito. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Feel free to experiment with different fillings. I love to add something pickled for flavor, and the marinated chicken for more flavor and protein.
- 1 chicken breast
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- salt & pepper
- 12 round rice paper wrappers (22 cm or 25 cm size work great)
- 1 small head of lettuce (I like bibb or butter lettuce)
- 1 (8 oz) package dried rice (or “vermicelli”) noodles, cooked according to package instructions
- Marinated cooked chicken breast, sliced thinly
- 12 slices of pickled carrots (or other pickled vegetable)
- 1 small red bell pepper, julienned
- ½ small cucumber, julienned
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- Fresh herbs: mint, basil, cilantro (about one cup of these three herbs combined)
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1½ tablespoons sweet red chili sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- Place all marinade ingredients in a large plastic baggie. Add the chicken. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Warm up a large oiled skillet to medium heat. Add the chicken and cook approximately 5 minutes per side until cooked through. Set aside. (Note, you can also pound out the meat prior to marinating to quicken the process for both the flavor and cooking.)
- Fill a wide bowl with warm water. Place one piece of rice paper in the water at a time for approximately 5 seconds to soften the paper. Place the paper flat on a plastic cutting board. Place a piece of lettuce on the bottom half of the rice paper closest to you. Layer with a few strands of the cooked rice noodles, chicken slices, carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, and top with a combination of herbs (about 4-5 herb leaves).
- Carefully start rolling the paper about halfway. Then fold in the sides, and continue rolling.
- Repeat with remaining wrappers.
- Place all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl, and whisk until well combined.
- Serve spring rolls with dipping sauce.
The biggest factor to consider here is the sauce. I’m a big fan of peanut sauces with spring rolls, but the strong flavor of peanut butter can have a negative effect on the wine. So when I make them at home, I usually serve them with a fish/vinegar sauce. The flavor is still rather strong, but unless you’re soaking the spring rolls in the sauce you should be fine. Look for wines that are herbal and aromatic to mimic the fresh herbs in the rolls, and high in acidity to balance out the sauce. Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer can all work with this dish.
If you go easy on the sauce, Grüner Veltliner is a nice match for the rolls with its complimentary herbal aromas and flavors. Similarly Sauvignon Blanc is a great match for the crisp fresh vegetables and has enough flavor and strong aromatics to stand up to the sauce. Just be sure to go light on tannic or heavily oaked wines for this dish (the sauce won’t play nicely with those elements).
Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc from Chile is a great value at around $10, and has lovely grassy, citrus, and herbal flavors that balance well with both the rolls and sauce.
Other Sauvignon Blancs that work well include, Honig, Groth, and Joel Gott. You can also seek out a Grüner Veltliner, like the Weingut Fred Loimer or Weingut Laurenz V. ‘Laurenz und Sophie Singing’ Gruner Veltliner, all found on the Wine4.Me app.
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Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.