Rice (paper) is nice

Thin discs from Vietnam make delicate little rolls that are perfect for entertaining.

Vietname Rolls 311 (photo credit: Anthony Michaelo)
Vietname Rolls 311
(photo credit: Anthony Michaelo)
Whether you’re looking for a party ice breaker, non-gluten hors d’oeuvres or a clever and creative way to foster team spirit among friends and/or associates, rice paper is for you. Not the kind you write on, of course, but the wrapped rice paper discs sold in the sushi section of most supermarkets, health food stores and shops that specialize in Asian foods.
Originating in Vietnam, where it is the basis for light and fantastic stuffed spring rolls and summer rolls with different fillings, rice paper is made of white rice flour, tapioca flour and salt. It comes in two sizes – small discs (15.5 cm. diameter) and large. The small discs make delicate little rolls that are perfect for entertaining; the larger discs hold a more substantial amount of filling and can be cut in half for a first course or eaten whole for a light lunch. Tip: When buying rice paper, look for packages with unbroken pieces inside.
When you want to use them, set out a large cutting board as a work surface and fill a bowl larger in circumference than the disc you want to use with very warm (but not hot) water. Dip one disc at a time in the water and place it on the wooden work surface. Gently mop up excess liquids around it before filling.
Often when I have guests, give classes or workshops, I’ll put the ingredients for the filling in separate little bowls and give my friends, family or students the opportunity to make their own rolls. It never fails to please.
One thing to remember, however, is that if you’re making them yourself ahead of time, even if you cover them snugly with plastic wrap and chill, they can only withstand a maximum of two to three hours before the rice paper dries out and turns tough.
In Vietnam these are made with cooked shrimp instead of tofu. Another option – use shredded surimi (the imitation crab made out of pollock fish used by many sushi restaurants).
✔ 1 lettuce leaf, sliced ✔ 3 Tbsp. alfalfa sprouts ✔ 1 small cucumber, cut in thin strips ✔ 2-3 Tbsp. crushed seasoned tofu ✔ 1⁄2 carrot, grated ✔ Small amount of bean thread noodles ✔ 5 mint leaves ✔ 5 coriander leaves ✔ 2 basil leaves ✔ 3 Tbsp. crushed tofu, seasoned with silan dipping sauce ✔ 1 piece green part of scallion ✔ 1 disc rice paper To serve: Silan date syrup, seasoned with ginger and soy sauce (recipe follows) Toasted crushed peanuts (optional)
Prepare little piles of all the ingredients around a work-surface cutting board. Pre-pare the noodles by cooking 2 minutes in boiling water, draining and rinsing under cold water. Drain again.
Crush the tofu with the back of a fork and add a little silan-ginger mixture.
Dip one disc of rice paper at a time into the warm water and place on a work surface (I recommend placing it on non-terry cloth kitchen towel). Place two basil leaves face down in the middle- lower part of the disc, place a little grated carrot on top and then the rest of the ingredients. Fold in the sides and roll up from the bottom, inserting the scallion leaf just before the last roll. Sprinkle peanuts on top of roll or enclose them in the roll with the filling and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.
Silan-Ginger Sauce ✔ 1⁄2 cup silan (date honey) ✔ 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar ✔ 2 tsp. soy sauce ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. grated ginger ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. sesame oil

Salad Roll with Mango and Avocado You can also add cooked shredded chicken to this recipe.
✔ 1 package small rice paper discs ✔ Basil, mint, coriander and arugula leaves, without stems ✔ 1 package radish or broccoli sprouts✔ 1 medium avocado, ripe but firm ✔ 1 medium mango ✔ 1 package chives
Dressing ✔ 1 garlic clove, crushed ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt ✔ 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. Dijon mustard ✔ 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil ✔ Salt and pepper
Make the dressing by shaking all the ingredients together in a jar. Arrange the herbs in little piles around the work surface. Peel and slice the avocado and mango into neat slices about 2 x 5 cm. Pour a few drops of the dressing on top to prevent browning.
Prepare a bowl with warm water and dip in one disc at a time. Place 4 each of mint and coriander leaves, a couple of basil leaves and a leaf or two of arugula. Place a slice each of avocado and mango on top and then a good pinch of the sprouts (do not fill the papers with too much stuffing or they will rip when folding). Sprinkle with a little of the dressing.
Roll up as in the previous recipe but instead of adding a spring onion, tie each finished roll with a chive.