Before we tuck into these deliciously fresh vegan spring rolls, you should know a few things about me. First of all, I lived in Vietnam for a few years and during this time I battled with a serious obsession with plant-based spring rolls. So much so, I actually started up my own vegan spring roll business with a local business partner there. It was called Sp’roll and yes, I, a Westerner, sold spring rolls to the Vietnamese.
It went down an absolute storm. Probably because I dedicated the business to being 100% plastic-free, wrapping my spring rolls up in banana leaves, and fully vegan. Plus, I made some pretty whacky fusion rolls with Mexican and Japanese flavours, as well as the more traditional Vietnamese spring rolls.
It was during this time that I mastered this particular fresh vegan spring rolls recipe. Whilst I no longer live in Vietnam or run this spring roll business, I do still make this recipe on the regular. It is always incredibly popular with friends and family members, who really enjoy experiencing real Vietnamese flavours, so I knew I had to share it with you all here on Edible Ethics!
Aren’t spring rolls from a Chinese takeaway?
The name ‘spring rolls’ definitely brings up memories of those deep-fried Chinese takeaway rolls filled with veg and beansprouts. However, the Vietnamese have two types of spring rolls, fried spring rolls (chả giò) and fresh spring rolls (gỏi cuốn). For this recipe, we are focusing on fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. Sometimes referred to as ‘summer rolls’ or ‘salad rolls’ in English.
In Vietnam, many locals would give you a slightly odd look if you were to ask for a ‘Summer Roll’ unless you were to hit a touristy spot. It was actually the Viet kieu (overseas Vietnamese) in America who popularised the use of the name ‘summer roll’, as a way to play with seasonality. I have often considered what you would put in a fresh ‘winter roll’, or ‘autumn roll’. Maybe a little too odd to even think about.
For this particular recipe, we are focusing on the fresh variation of spring rolls which will be referred to as ‘fresh spring rolls’ from here on out, hopefully avoiding any confusion and unnecessary heating up of deep fat fryers.
What exactly are fresh spring rolls?
Fresh spring rolls are a popular dish in Vietnamese cuisine, but variations can also be found in Thailand. They are light, refreshing, and typically served as an appetiser or a snack. They are made by wrapping various ingredients in a translucent rice paper wrapper.
The main components of fresh spring rolls typically include:
- Rice paper wrappers: These are thin, round sheets made from rice flour, water, and salt. They are translucent and become soft and pliable when soaked in water.
- Vegetables: Fresh spring rolls are filled with a variety of crisp, raw vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, or Thai basil. These vegetables add a crunchy texture and vibrant flavours to the rolls.
- Protein: Fresh spring rolls can also include protein elements such as cooked shrimp, sliced chicken, tofu, or even thin strips of cooked pork or beef. The protein adds a savoury element to the rolls.
- Rice noodles: Vermicelli rice noodles are often added to provide a more substantial texture to the rolls. These noodles are cooked and then cooled before being included as a filling.
- Dipping sauce: Fresh spring rolls are typically served with a flavourful dipping sauce. The sauce can vary but commonly includes ingredients like soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, chilli, and sometimes peanut or hoisin sauce.
Are spring rolls vegan-friendly?
Fresh spring rolls can be easily made vegan, and this is a common practice in Vietnam. In Vietnam, there are numerous Chay (vegetarian) restaurants that offer vegan versions of spring rolls using ingredients like tofu and plant-based meat substitutes. These vegan spring rolls are typically served with a vegan fish sauce based dipping sauce, which may sound surprising. Vegan fish sauce is made from fermented soy and has a delicious flavour that adds to the overall taste of the dish.
In my recipe for vegan spring rolls, I am going to show you just how easy it is to make vegan versions and just how tasty they can be!
Vegan spring roll ingredients
I like to play around with the ingredients a bit. So, unlike in my recipe here, you may not notice many traditional Vietnamese rolls with pineapple inside them. But I find the pineapple works well to balance out the flavours with the peanut sauce and the green veg.
Here is a list of the main ingredients that I use to create this delicious recipe:
- Rice paper wrappers (spring roll wrappers)
- Thai basil
- Vermicelli noodles
You can also play around with the ingredients in any way you want. Cooked mushrooms work amazingly, especially crispy oyster mushrooms coated in a drizzle of soy sauce, and you can also try fake meat or fake prawns if you want to recreate the more authentic Vietnamese rolls.
Looking to add a crunch to your rolls? I used to actually make a ‘Mexican’ fusion roll with crushed-up tortilla chips and sweetcorn served with a salsa dip. It worked amazingly well – so don’t judge it until you try it!
Want to create other fusion vegan spring rolls? Try out a Japanese-inspired variation using edamame, sesame seeds, and thicker wheat-based noodles. Serve it up with a katsu curry-style sauce.
There are quite a few different sauces you can make to eat with these vegan spring rolls, but I personally really enjoy making peanut sauce. Not only are peanuts a good source of plant-based protein but the sauce is also made using common kitchen cupboard ingredients.
Alternatively, you can try out the following dipping sauce ideas to serve with your spring rolls:
- Hoisin sauce, a very popular Vietnamese dipping sauce
- Vegan fish sauce – try out this nuoc cham chay recipe by The Viet Vegan
Personally, I like to play around with the flavours in the sauce, so I hardly ever stick to one recipe. Have a play yourself and see what you can make!
How do you make vegan spring rolls?
They are very cheap to buy, extremely simple to make, and very very tasty! Fresh ingredients and a flavourful sauce are what make these rolls so great. The one downside to making your own is how fiddly rolling them can be. At first, you may find yourself making a complete mess but keep practising these following tips and you’ll be rolling like a pro in no time!
To assemble fresh spring rolls, the rice paper wrapper is soaked in water briefly to soften it. Then, a combination of vegetables, protein, and noodles are placed on the softened rice paper. The ingredients are tightly rolled up, similar to a burrito, ensuring that the fillings are neatly enclosed within the wrapper. The resulting rolls are usually served cold or at room temperature with a dipping sauce.
Here is a step-by-step process of how to make fresh vegan spring rolls:
1. Wet the rice paper well
You need to wet the rice paper in order to roll it. Have a bowl of water ready to dunk the paper in. Make sure to only wet it and not to drown it, otherwise, it could make your life much more difficult.
I like to use quite a wide pasta bowl in which you can dip one whole side of the rice paper. If you don’t have a large bowl you can use your hands or a piece of kitchen towel to rub water around both sides.
2. Add fillings
Now you will want to add your fillings. There are two important things you should consider before doing this. First of all, make sure to have all of your fillings prepared and ready next to you. The longer it takes to fill your spring roll, the more fiddly the wrapper will become. Secondly, don’t overfill the roll. I know how tempting it is to pack it all in, but you may find that it becomes impossible to roll and the paper splits. See the above image for an example of how much to add to each roll.
3. Roll it like a burrito
Treat the roll like a burrito, bring the sides in and then roll tightly over the top of the vegetables – away from you. This should mean that all the ingredients are wrapped in without an escape route. The tighter the better, even a little sag may create a big mess when you attempt to dip and eat the roll.
Other delicious vegan Asian recipes
If like me you really enjoy eating Asian food then you’ll love these other plant-based recipes I have created inspired by my travels to these countries:
- Try out this Vietnamese dish: Vegan pork bánh xèo recipe
- Try out this traditional Vietnamese dish: Vegan phở recipe
- Try out this quick Thai dish: Vegan pad Thai recipe
- Try out this comforting Japanese dish: Vegan miso ramen recipe
- Try out this indulgence Thai dish: Vegan Thai green curry recipe
Vegan spring rolls with peanut Sauce
- Start by mixing the peanut sauce ingredients together in a saucepan
- Place the pan on a low heat and stir continuously until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the sauce turns into a smooth liquid
- Pour the sauce into a bowl and cool down in the fridge (you can add water to the sauce once its cooled down to reach your desired consistency)
- Prepare your spring roll ingredients by slicing thin strips of the pineapple and tofu
- Wash your lettuce and herbs thoroughly and allow to dry
- Place all your ingredients on a work surface so they are close to hand along with the rice paper, a bowl of water and the rice vermicelli noodles
- Wet one sheet of rice paper and place flat down onto a clean workspace
- Add in one lettuce leaf, herbs, noodles and arrange the sliced ingredients
- Bring in the sides of the rice paper so that they cover the edges of the ingredients and then tightly roll the paper away from you and tuck underneath, and roll over until enclosed (it should seal without any issues, if not wipe with a little more water)
- Repeat until you use up your ingredients
- Serve with your dip and enjoy!