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Suffolk private chef Lilian Hiw of Lilian’s Kitchen talks Vietnamese rice paper and its many uses in Asian cooking





Spring sunshine makes me think of fresher and lighter food. I was craving summer rolls the other day and while eating them with lashings of hoisin peanut dip and a scattering of peanuts, I was inspired to talk about rice paper for this month’s column.

What is Vietnamese rice paper?

Vietnamese rice paper, also known as bánh tráng, is typically made from rice flour, tapioca flour, water and salt. Sold dried, these thin translucent sheets resemble plastic. Dip it in water to rehydrate and it becomes pliable and stretchy, ready to be eaten ‘fresh’ or transformed into various dishes. It is a great substitute for other wrappers like Chinese spring roll wrappers, wonton wrappers and gyoza wrappers. Rice paper is particularly suitable for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan diets.

Types of rice paper

Traditionally, rice paper is white and clear and has no distinct flavour, which I love as this blank canvas takes on whatever flavours you put in it.

Vietnamese rice paper
Vietnamese rice paper

Nowadays, you can get coloured rice paper: yellow rice paper is coloured with turmeric, purple with beetroot and brown rice paper is made from brown rice. They are pretty to look at and add variety to the presentation. The flavour of each colour is not so pronounced, so you can use them just like traditional white rice paper. If you would like to try them, check out the Mekong River brand.

In Vietnam, you can also get instant rice paper, which is sold pliable so you don’t have to dip it in water. I have not seen this on the UK market yet.

Shapes and sizes

Available round or square and in a variety of sizes, I use the smallest, 16cm diameter, for canapés because it’s cute and bite-sized. When making summer rolls, I like to show off the colours of the ingredients inside so the more standard size of 22cm is just right. For deep frying, I would recommend the larger 28cm or 31cm as it rolls over the filling twice, giving a crispier texture and reducing the risk of the filling bursting through the wrapper.

Uses

Rice paper is commonly associated with Vietnamese cuisine, where it is widely used in dishes such as summer rolls and spring rolls, but this wrapper is very versatile and you can use it to create an endless variety of dishes.

A cooking tip

When frying, I recommend using silicone tongs, two wooden spoons or wooden chopsticks. Heated rice paper becomes soft and sticky and will cling on to cold metal tongs, making holes and potentially a damaged parcel.

Vietnamese Prawn Summer Rolls with Chives and Hoisin Peanut Dip
Vietnamese Prawn Summer Rolls with Chives and Hoisin Peanut Dip
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (page 66 of Lilian’s cookbook)
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (page 66 of Lilian’s cookbook)
Hoisin Peanut Dip & Nuoc Cham Sauce (Page 62 of Lilian’s Cookbook)
Hoisin Peanut Dip & Nuoc Cham Sauce (Page 62 of Lilian’s Cookbook)

Dim Sum - when steamed, the rice paper becomes clear and has a nice chewy texture, making it an easy alternative to making your own Crystal Dumpling wrapper, which can be tricky. Another of my favourites is steamed Cheong Fun, soft and chewy rice noodle rolls stuffed with barbecued pork or prawns. Making rice noodle rolls is rather labour intensive, so this instant rice paper hack is warmly welcomed. To make prawn cheong fun, simply toss raw prawns with sesame oil, oyster sauce, a dash of white pepper and some sliced spring onions. Moisten the rice paper, add the prawn filling, roll it up, steam and enjoy with a dip made from soy sauce, water and sweetened with sugar or honey.

You can also make little parcels with your choice of filling and cook them in different ways. They can be boiled and served in a broth, or shallow fried for crispy bottom Gyoza, or deep fried for very light and crispy Wontons.

Quick and Easy Steamed Crystal Dumplings
Quick and Easy Steamed Crystal Dumplings
Wontons in Broth
Wontons in Broth
Chinese Five Spice Pork and Spring Onion Rice Paper Parcels
Chinese Five Spice Pork and Spring Onion Rice Paper Parcels

Japanese sushi - it’s all the rage to use rice paper to make sushi rolls, either on its own or with seaweed. These can be eaten fresh with sushi rice, vegetables, fish and meat or pan-fried for a crispy finish.

Fresh Maki Sushi Rolls
Fresh Maki Sushi Rolls
Crispy Seaweed Rice Paper Roll
Crispy Seaweed Rice Paper Roll

Indian samosa - another hot Tik-Tok and Instagram favourite at the moment. Rice paper gives a much lighter crunch than the wheat spring roll wrappers used to make samosas. As they are deep fried, make sure your filling is not wet and that the samosa is well sealed (you don’t need eggs or flour paste to seal as rice paper is very sticky and will seal itself easily). I find that the crunch is even better if you wrap the samosa in a second layer of rice paper.

More creations - you can also deep fry the rice paper, dust it with a seasoning powder and serve it as a crisps snack. Make vegan bacon by layering a few sheets of rice paper and brushing them with barbecue sauce, garlic powder, smoked paprika, soy and maple syrup. Stick a few rice paper together, cut into long strips and serve as noodles!

Dessert - use them as you would crepes. Fill it with whipped Chantilly cream and fresh fruit, or wrap sliced banana and peanuts in rice paper, fry in a little butter and serve with a drizzle of salted caramel and ice cream.

Cakes - I use rice paper to make stained glass effect shards for decoration.

Limoncello Cake with Palette Art Buttercream and Rice Paper Shards
Limoncello Cake with Palette Art Buttercream and Rice Paper Shards
Zesty Lemon Curd Drip Cake with Rice Paper Shards
Zesty Lemon Curd Drip Cake with Rice Paper Shards

Let your imagination run wild. . . create. . . and enjoy!

VIETNAMESE FRESH SUMMER ROLLS

Great DIY party food. They are so easy to make, your guests can create their own rolls and customise with their favourite ingredients laid out on the table. These are gluten free too.

Makes: 8 rolls

Prep time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

8 sheets rice paper wrapper

16 large cooked fresh prawns, deveined

100g dried rice vermicelli

100g iceberg lettuce, sliced

50g fresh beansprouts

1 carrot, cut into fine strips

Handful of fresh mint leaves

Handful of fresh coriander leaves and stalk

Method:

Prep: Soak the vermicelli in boiling water for two minutes, rinse in cold water, drain and place in a pile on a tray. Place all the other ingredients in separate heaps on the same tray.

Assemble: Fill a large bowl with room temperature water. Immerse the rice paper for 20 seconds, remove and place on a plate. Do not soak the rice paper for too long or it’ll turn soft
and floppy and be difficult to handle.

Place your choice of ingredients on the bottom half of the rice paper, lift the edge of rice paper nearest to you, fold over to cover the filling, then tuck in both sides of the rice paper, continue to tuck and roll to the end of the rice paper to form a cylinder shape. Repeat until all the ingredients are use up.

Serve: With Nuoc Cham sauce or Hoisin peanut dip

QUESTION TIME

At her recent book-signing in Waterstone’s, Lilian was asked if she would talk about and include some dietary requirements, such as reduced sugar, in her recipes. It’s inspired her to ask you readers if you have any Asian food related questions for her. If you have, ask them at www.lilianskitchen.co.uk/contact-me and she will address them in a future column

Visit www.lilianskitchen.co.uk
Private chef Lilian Hiw