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Fresh Spring Rolls with Hoisin-Peanut Dip (Goi Cuon)

When making these marvelous spring rolls, don't skimp on the aromatic herbs. The dipping sauce, called nuoc leo, uses hoisin sauce, a popular Chinese condiment.

Ingredients:

For the dipping sauce:

  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. chili paste or hot bean paste
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

For the spring rolls:

  • 1/4 lb. dried rice vermicelli, soaked in warm
      water for 15 minutes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 lb. boneless pork loin, in one piece
  • 12 large shrimp
  • 12 dried round rice papers, each 8 inches in
      diameter
  • 12 large, soft red-leaf lettuce leaves, stiff ribs
      removed
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely julienned and tossed
      with 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup finely julienned jicama
  • Leaves from 1 small bunch fresh mint
  • 12 fresh dill sprigs
  • 12 fresh cilantro sprigs

Directions:

To make the dipping sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. When it is hot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Add the hoisin sauce, fish sauce, sugar and chili paste, stir well and simmer for 15 seconds. Stir in the chicken broth; the mixture should have a thick, creamy consistency. Add the peanuts and let cool. Divide among small bowls or saucers.

To make the filling, bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Drain the rice noodles and add to the boiling water. Boil until just tender, about 2 minutes. Pour the noodles into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Drain well and set aside, tossing the noodles occasionally to keep them from sticking together.

In a saucepan, over high heat, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the fish sauce, sugar, pepper and pork and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently until the pork is firm and no longer pink, about 20 minutes. Remove the pork from the broth and let cool. Cut into thin strips 3/4 inch wide by 2 inches long.

Bring a saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and boil until they turn bright orange-pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, let cool, then peel, devein and cut in half lengthwise. Set aside.

To assemble the spring rolls, lay 1 rice paper round on a flat surface. Lay another paper next to but not touching it. If space permits, lay out as many as 4 papers without touching. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the papers with warm water and let stand for at least 30 seconds until they are softened and feel like wet tissue. While working on one, cover the others with a damp kitchen towel. Arrange 1 lettuce leaf on the lower third of the round. Put about 2 Tbs. of the rice noodles, a few strips of pork, some of the carrot, jicama, a few mint leaves and 1 dill sprig on the lettuce. Fold the lower edge over the filling, half covering it and forming a log. Fold in the sides to enclose the ends. Put 2 pieces of shrimp with 1 cilantro sprig across the log. Continue rolling the paper over the shrimp to seal the roll. Moisten the ends with water to seal the seam. Set the roll on a tray lined with plastic wrap. Cover with a damp kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Arrange the rolls, whole or cut into thirds, on a serving tray. Distribute the dipping bowls among the diners. To eat, dip the rolls into the sauce and eat out of hand.
Makes 12 rolls; serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Southeast Asia, by Joyce Jue (Time-Life Books, 2000).