Spring Rolls Deconstructed – Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut DressingShrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

If you like spring rolls, then you will love this salad. All of the goodness stuffed into a rice paper wrapped Thai or Vietnamese roll – rice noodles, shrimp, crisp veggies, fresh herbs, and chiles – is jumbled together in a big bowl of salad. The result? You might be tempted to call it a deconstructed spring roll, with all of the great flavor minus the labor of actually making a roll. Once all of the ingredients are prepped, it’s quick to assemble for a light and healthy dinner. The dressing is the magic touch that pulls this colorful dish together. It has all of the ingredients you’ll find in an Asian dipping sauce and then some: ginger, garlic, Sriracha, lime, and peanut butter. The trick is to blitz all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor (including the lime sections!) to form a thick and potent sauce. In fact, you might want to make extra dressing to keep on hand – it makes a great dipping sauce for cruditées or tossed with cooked Asian noodles.

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

1/2 cup canola oil
1 lime, peel and pith removed, quartered
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons coarsely grated peeled ginger with juices
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 teaspoons runny honey

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 ounces rice noodles, cooked per manufacturer’s instructions, room temperature
3 scallions, ends trimmed, white and green parts sliced on the diagonal
1 large carrot, cut in matchsticks
1/2 English cucumber, seeded, cut in matchsticks
2 cups coarsely chopped Napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup fresh coriander sprigs, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

1. Place all of the dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp in one layer, sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, and lightly season with salt. Cook until the shrimp are pink on both sides and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate.
3. Place the rice noodles, scallions, carrot, cucumber, cabbage, bean sprouts, snap peas, jalapeño, mint, and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and half of the dressing and toss to combine.
4. Divide the salad among plates. Scatter the peanuts over the salads and garnish with additional mint and cilantro. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

Spring Rolls in Copenhagen

Spring Rolls in Copenhagen


Rule of thumb: When traveling to far flung destinations, eat as the locals do.

This has merit for several reasons.  First – and clearly stating the obvious – if you are in France, for goodness’ sake, eat French.  This is, after all, where you will find the authentic real deal.  Second, when far off the beaten path (for instance, the garden route along the south coast of South Africa circa mid-90’s) steer clear of restaurant establishments that offer such delicacies as Authentic Tex-Mex! or Authentic Japanese Sushi! Same principal yet the inverse: this is far from authentic and far from the real deal.  And, if you do find yourself far from home, hungry and homesick for a taste of your favorite neighborhood cuisine and succumb to the temptation, beware that, most likely, you will be supremely disappointed.

This raises an interesting challenge of living abroad.  Some of the wonderful aspects of the expatriate lifestyle are living in another culture, tasting the local food, celebrating the different traditions.  For all the experiences and pleasures, however, there can be moments when you simply crave the ribs from Redbones, the tacos from Olé Grill or the dim sum from China Pearl – your old favorite haunts, thousands of miles away and sadly ignorant of your self-imposed exile.  As an American growing up in Boston, I had the privilege of instant access to delicious, authentic ethnic cuisines.  When I moved to Europe in the early 90’s, the prospect of finding fresh sushi or authentic Mexican food in Geneva or Copenhagen was daunting and disappointing.  I quickly learned that the best way to get the results I craved was to make it myself (there has been a steep learning curve.)

Here is a recipe for Rice Paper Spring Rolls that I learned to make to satisfy my craving for fresh, light, Asian-inspired food.  I included in it in a menu for one of my cooking classes in Copenhagen, and it was a hit, partly because it was different. Remember that the key to a good roll is to have a balance of sweet, savory, heat and salt in the ingredients and to combine a variety of textures for a satisfying bite.  Be sure to prepare all the ingredients in advance, so that when you are ready to assemble the rolls, everything is in place.

Spring Rolls

Rice Paper Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Chili Peanut Sauce
Makes 8

3 oz. vermicelli rice noodles
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 (eight inch) rice paper rounds
4 Boston lettuce leaves, ribs removed, halved
1 cup shredded carrot
1 bunch coriander leaves, about 1 cup
1 bunch mint leaves, about 1 cup
1 english cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut in matchsticks
4 scallions, cut length-wise in julienne strips
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, cut in julienne
15 medium cooked shrimp, peeled, halved horizontally

Chili Peanut Sauce for dipping

Place noodles in a wide bowl.  Pour hot water over to cover. Let stand 15 minutes.  Drain well in a colander.  Toss with rice vinegar, sugar and salt.
While the noodles are soaking, prepare all of the ingredients, so that the spring rolls are ready to assemble.
Pour warm water into a shallow pan.  Immerse one rice paper round in water until pliable, about 30 seconds.  Remove and spread on a plastic cutting board.  Blot dry with a towel.
Arrange a lettuce leaf half over the bottom half of the rice paper round, taking care to leave a 1″ border along the edge.
Top lettuce with 1/4 cup rice noodles, arranging them horizontally over.
Top noodles with a line of shredded carrot, coriander and mint leaves, cucumber, scallions and chile.
Fold bottom of rice paper over filling and begin to roll up tightly.  At halfway point arrange 3 shrimp halves horizontally over the crease, then fold in the ends and continue rolling.
Transfer roll, seam-side down to a plate and cover with damp towel.  Repeat with remaining rolls.  (Adjust ingredient amounts to taste and to ensure the roll is plump and full, while still allowing it to be folded in and sealed.)
Spring rolls can be made 4 hours in advance.  Cover with damp paper towels and plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serve with Chili Peanut Sauce.

Chili Peanut Sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sweet chili sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients.  Set aside.  Can be made one day in advance.

Tip: If you have left over filling ingredients and sauce, try tossing them together in a bowl for a light Asian Rice Noodle Salad with Chili Peanut Dressing.  It works!