Vietnamese summer rolls – gỏi cuon

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My three-and-a-half-year-old son is going through a really exhausting, fiesty, “f*ck you” phase, which has been dragging on for months. He wakes up, usually in a terrible temper, and starts shouting NO at anything we suggest. We have to be on alert for biting, kicking and hair-pulling. He’s wise to us bribing him, and just wishes that we would just somehow DO WHAT HE WANTS. We live with a tiny, furious drunken troll.

Me: “Do you want me to read you a story before nursery?”

Threenager: “NO!”

Me: “Time to get dressed…”

Threenager: “NOOOOOOO. NOOOOOO.”

Me: “How about a diamond-encrusted Faberge egg presented on a velvet cushion?””


And so on.

Last week we had some friends over for dinner and I was so desperate to make something nice to eat, but I had Threenager at home that day, which meant that He Would Need Entertaining Non Stop. I wanted to make Vietnamese Summer Rolls, gỏi cuốn, which I can eat mountains of.  (Ha! I hear you snigger. Why don’t you just get over yourself and heat up some pizzas etc?). But I really had a craving for them and was also feeling stubborn. I really like to make my life a pain in the ass sometimes. My love of Vietnamese food knows no bounds. Apparently gỏi cuốn means ‘portable salad’.

I had to resort to the following diversion tactics to distract THE TROLL:

1. Realise that threenager has already watched MASSES of TV that day, so…

2. Ask if threenager wants to play on our outdoor trampoline while I watch out of the kitchen window. Fun? “NO.”

3. Threenager asks if I can put up a tent for him to play in. I try to fob him off with an offer of a ‘den’ (rug slung over two chairs) but he shouts: “NO! I want the big tent.” He doesn’t mean a child’s tent – he means the 4-man tent that smells of old dead sheep, a tent that has seen many, many music festivals and mud. Nice.

4. Spend 20 minutes negotiating trying to get out of putting up frigging massive smelly tent. Fail.

5. Spend 40 minutes putting up frigging massive tent. Threenager won’t go in it. Assemble annoying porch bit as an extra incentive. He sits in porch and scowls.

6. Fill tent with toys, books, cushions and snacks. Threenager goes in. I leg it to the kitchen to start prep on the summer rolls.

7. Five minutes pass. “MUMMMY. MUMMY! MUMMMMMMYYYYY!”

8. Locate massive extension lead and fetch portable CD player from kids room and plug it in in the tent entrance, a fistful of audio CD’s at the ready. Note: Threenager usually loves audio books and will laze about listening for sometimes 20 minutes…but NOT TODAY.

9. Five minutes pass. “MUMMY. I NEEEEEED YOOOOOOUU.”

10. After several changes of audio CD, swearing under breath and useless, hollow bribes, march back into kitchen.

11. Ignoring Threenager doesn’t work. After approximately 1 minute and 40 seconds, Threenager is now back at my side, thrumming with energy and expectation.

As you can see, my diversion tactics were absolutely brilliant.  I basically managed to make the filling for the summer rolls (cook noodles, defrost prawns, wash salad) while he was briefly in the tent, but then spent the next half hour with him clamped around my leg while I tried to roll the buggers up. It became a joke for him, threatening to bite through my jeans, screaming with laughter, while I tried to shove noodles and prawns into damp rice papers. BUT I PREVAILED. The wonky rolls with holes in I just turned upside down. Ha.

You can get circular rice paper wrappers from many Asian supermarkets:

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And I always try to use MSC-certified prawns – that way you’ll know that the people working to farm your prawns won’t be working on slave boats in Asia. I use small frozen prawns from Sainsbury’s which are fished in Icelandic waters and taste just as good as larger king prawns dredged from Thailand’s dodgy, polluted prawn farms.

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Recipe makes 12 prawn gỏi cuon summer rolls – a good amount for 4 people as a starter

You will need:

12 round rice paper wrappers. I use the medium sized ones (18cm diameter). You could also use tofu, chicken, strips of cooked omelette, strips of veg etc.
125g MSC-certified prawns. These frozen small ones from Sainsbury’s are great.
100g cooked rice noodles, drained and rinsed, then dried with some kitchen paper
Handful each of the following: mint leaves, coriander leaves, shredded lettuce. You could use any type of salad, basically. Iceberg lettuce works a treat, nice and crisp. Pea shoots are nice too, if you happen to have these!!
1 carrot, shredded into very thin strips.

Wash and dry your salad and herbs, shred your carrot and have your cooked rice noodles on standby. Make sure your prawns are defrosted.

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Half fill a large bowl with warm (but not boiling) water. Take a rice paper and dip it in the water, turning it around in a circular motion until it all goes soft. Lay it on a plate and arrange a few prawns in the centre, add a few strips of carrot, cover with roughly a tablespoon of noodles, one large mint leaf, a few coriander leaves and a couple of small pieces of salad. Fold up the bottom bit over the filling, tuck in the sides tightly, then roll keeping a firm grip on the filling. Seal up like an envelope. The wet rice paper will stick to itself, creating a nice seal. Lay flat on a plate and repeat until you have 12 rolls. Store in the fridge with a slightly damp cloth laid over them, to prevent the rolls drying out. Serve with a nutty or nuoc cham-style dipping sauce…recipes below.

Some photo steps:

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Satay dipping sauce (adapted from a recipe by Elly Pear)
You will need:

4 tbsp nut butter (I love almond or cashew or peanut – or a combo)
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 fresh birdseye chilli
1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
1.5 tbsp of Siracha chilli sauce / 1 tbsp hoi sin sauce or 1 tsp Korean Gojuchang paste (go easy on this stuff, it’s really potent)

Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until you get a silky sauce. It’s like CRACK – you’ll want to spread it on your breakfast toast if there’s any left.

Or… might prefer a lighter dipping sauce. Felicity Cloake in The Guardian suggests this one:

1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bird’s eye chilli, finely sliced

Whisk the sugar into the lime juice to dissolve, then add the remaining ingredients. Adjust to taste if necessary.


If you happen to go to Song Que Cafe in Shoreditch, East London (my fave Vietnamese restaurant in all of London), their summer rolls are big, bad boys, perfect with a Halida beer. Their satay dipping sauce is made with peanuts and is heavy on the hoi sin:

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If you want to read a really old blog post about my obsession with Vietnam and its food, go here.


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