In A Produce Rut?

Try Vietnamese Salad Rolls

It’s National Nutrition Month® and the theme is  “Shape Up Your Plate.”

 It’s one thing to be familiar with the ChooseMyPlate graphic telling us to fill half of our plates with produce – it’s another thing to carry out the recommendation and enjoy it.  

That’s where we need to get creative in the kitchen and perhaps, take a trip.  I propose Southeast Asia for Vietnamese Salad Rolls.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

What this recipe has going for it:

  • It’s a social recipe – best made with another person or two to share the adventure of softening the rice paper wrappers and rolling them burrito-style with noodles and other fresh goodies.  They are best filled and eaten within a few hours– so make it a party. You can do the assembly or put out platters of fillings and let each diner roll their own. 


  • It’s kid-friendly.  The rice paper wrappers are delicate and may need an adult’s hand to keep them from tearing but children can pick out what they want to include in their rolls and help fold. The secret is you’ve put out a selection of wonderfully, healthy produce to choose from.

    Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

      Choose mainstream or exotic fillings to match your diners’ palates and fiery Thai or other chili peppers if you want heat.


  • Serve these as a vegetable side dish or make them the entrée by including protein in the wraps such as lean slivers of pork, chicken, turkey or shrimp and serving with the peanut sauce (my favorite way to go). 


  • The only trip you need to may need to make is to an Asian grocery store to purchase the round rice paper wrappers and rice noodles. This can be an entertaining field trip with kids or friends – and a chance to grab some Asian vegetables that ordinary groceries don’t carry. The rest of the ingredients are available at a supermarket.


  • Customize (or Westernize) the filling ingredients to suit yourself or your diners – just remember to include color and crunch.

 Why All the Focus on Fruits and Vegetables?  Three succinct reasons, per the Dietary Guidelines 2010: 

1. Produce supplies under-consumed nutrients such as folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K.

 2. Eating more produce is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some types may protect against cancer. 

3. Fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories and rich in fiber and nutrients which can help us balance our calories for weight loss or maintenance.  

Salad Rolls — Vietnamese or Southeast Asian

Read the Tips and Variations below, before starting. 

3 ounces thin rice noodles (rice vermicelli or rice sticks)

3/4 cup coarsely shredded carrot

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion

1 to 2 tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeno, Serrano or Thai chili pepper (optional)

2 tablespoons sugar, optional

1 cup warm water

8 to 12 round Thai or Vietnamese rice paper wrappers

4 to 6 red leaf, Bibb or butter lettuce leaves, each torn into 2 or 3 pieces

1 pound cooked baby shrimp, patted dry on paper towels

Basil, mint or cilantro leaves (or preferably a combination)

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, recipe follows, or Peanut Sauce

Cook noodles in boiling water just until tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Set aside.  In bowl, combine grated carrots, green onion and jalapeno.  Stir sugar into warm water until sugar dissolves.  Spread damp towel on work surface. Arrange 1 or 2 rice paper wrappers on towel. Brush water mixture on both sides of rice papers; let stand for a couple of minutes, until opaque and pliable. (Or place water mixture in a large skillet. Dip one wrapper at a time in water and place on damp towel to soften.) Adjust the amounts of filling used to the size of the wrappers.  To fill, on lower third of each, place 1 or two pieces of lettuce, 1 to 2 tablespoons rice noodles, 2 tablespoons baby shrimp and 1 tablespoon carrot mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge of the wrapper. Add a few basil, mint or cilantro leaves, again leaving a 1-inch border.  Roll up burrito style (fold in sides and bottom, then roll up). Repeat with remaining wrappers. Serve or place on a platter, cover with a damp towel and chill for up to 4 hours.  If desired, cut crosswise at a diagonal before serving.  Serve with one or both Sauces.  Makes 8 to 12 rolls.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed (For less garlic flavor smash garlic, add to sauce and then remove before serving)

1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or thin slices of hot green or red chili pepper (optional)  

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Whisk together all ingredients except water.  Add water to taste.  Makes about 1 cup.


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Peanut Sauce and Dip

This is based on the sauce used for satay – grilled Southeast Asian skewers of marinated meat, seafood (or tofu).  You can also use it as a dip for vegetables or as a pasta sauce for soba or other Asian noodles – thin the sauce with some of the pasta cooking water and add slivers of raw or lightly steamed colorful vegetables.  One batch of sauce covers about 8 ounces of noodles.  I usually double this recipe because it goes so fast.

1/3 cup chopped shallot

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh peeled ginger*

1/2 to 1 small fresh hot chili pepper, seeded and chopped or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper or (optional)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 to 1/3 cup water

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 to 2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon sodium-reduced soy sauce

Salt or additional soy sauce, to taste, as needed

In food processor, combine shallot, garlic, ginger, chili pepper and oil.   Process until chopped, scraping once or twice. Scrap into small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until onion softens, 2 to 3 minutes.  Return to food processor and add peanut butter, water, lime juice, honey and soy sauce.  Whirl until smooth.  Thin with additional water and add salt or more soy sauce to taste, if needed.  Makes about 1 cup.

*I use a medium microplane paddle grater for the ginger. 


Lemongrass Variation:  Omit lime juice and add 1/3 cup thinly sliced lemongrass (use root end, trimmed and peeled).  Add to food processor along with shallot. 

Tips and Variations

  • Rice paper wrappers are thin, round Thai or Vietnamese spring roll wrappers that come in sizes ranging from 6 1/2 to 12 1/2-inches in diameter.  Adjust filling portions accordingly.  I tested with 9 1/2-inch wrappers.


  • Make sure to have extra wrappers as you will likely break a few.


  • Use gloves when working with hot chilies.


  • Use warm water for rehydrating the wrappers and handle carefully as they rip easily.  Hydrate one or two at a time, roll and fill before making more wraps. 


  • Instead of lettuce try shredded cabbage, watercress or micro-greens (a combination of sprouted broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, mizuna, red mustard, tatsoi, amaranth and celery).


  • Replace carrots try matchstick-cut radish, red or yellow bell pepper, cucumber or jicama. 


  • Get fruity:  Add chopped fresh pineapple, papaya or mango.


  • Instead of shrimp try strips of cooked chicken, pork or Chinese barbecued pork.  You can even use deli-sliced turkey or chicken breast.  For vegetarians, use chopped roasted peanuts, almonds or cashews.


Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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