Gluten-free means pasta is off limits, right? Not necessarily. There are rice noodles, which are safe to eat as they’re primarily made of rice flour and water. They sometimes contains tapioca or cornstarch to improve texture. Rice noodles, being an age-old staple in many Asian cultures, are really not even an alternative to what many of European decent associate with pasta (spaghetti and tomato sauce) because they have a completely different culinary context.
Not only is its texture and appearance different then its semolina wheat cousin, but how it is prepared and what it is paired with are quite distinct. So, if you’re willing to open up your palette and try something new you can reintroduce the noodle into your life.
Depending on what you have stocked in your pantry, it may require a trip to an Asian grocer, although many large chain super markets carry most of the necessary items in their “ethnic” foods section. In fact, I bet you’ve already consumed rice noodles in the form of Pad Thai.
A great introduction is the Vietnamese Spring Roll. They are commonly served as an appetizer but I can never get enough of them and often make a heaping stack for dinner. As you are probably aware, a considerable amount of gluten-free meal preparation is elaborate, often daunting, requiring uncommon and sometimes costly ingredients. In contrast, spring rolls are easy to prepare and inexpensive. All you need is a little time to prep your ingredients and assemble them. In fact, it could be fun way to involve your kids in the kitchen as building the rolls requires using your hands. Children and a tactile experience; a perfect combination.
As with most rice noodle dishes, spring rolls are healthy and light with no oil, fat or frying involved. For anyone with a sensitive stomach, this meal is for you as there is no seasoning until you get to the dipping sauce, which you can control if you make it from scratch. Alternatively, you can find jarred sauces but they often have a lot of fillers such as corn syrup. It only takes a few minutes to make the sauce yourself and for a fraction of the cost. I recently substituted sunflower seed butter for peanut butter and it was delicious.
This dish is also good for a first date, having no pungent lasting flavors or aromas. In fact, it leaves a clean mouth feel. If it’s 90 degrees outside, the last thing you want is to stand over a hot oven, set to 400 degrees. Spring rolls are refreshing option for such sultry days as there is little use of a stove and they’re served cold.
Vietnamese spring rolls
Pound of shrimp (fried tofu is a great vegan alternative)
Rice paper wrappers
Cup of bean sprouts
A crunchy and colorful veggie (i.e. red pepper and/or carrots)
Fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and basil (try to find Thai basil)
1 cup Peanut or Sunflower seed butter (allergies and taste preference dependent)
½ cup gluten free soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
juice of 1 lemon
dash of red pepper flakes
- Clear your counters as you’ll want plenty of work area. As you prep each ingredient arrange them so they’re easily accessible during assembly.
- Julienne your pepper and carrots.
- Wash herbs and discard stems
- Boil shrimp until opaque (time dependent on size). Rinse under cold water to cool and halve lengthwise.
- Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set on a plate.
- Fill a vessel such as a large mixing bowl or wide dish with hot water. Next to the water, stage a cutting board that is larger then the rice wrappers (or simply have clean counter space). As the dry wrappers are brittle, carefully submerge one wrapper at a time until it is pliable (about 20 seconds) and place it on the cutting board. If they rip start over or patch it by laying a fold over the tear.
- The order of the filling is really up to you. For the sake of presentation, reserve the ingredients you want on the outer most visible layer until the final wrap. Place a row of rice noodles, sprouts, red pepper and carrots on the bottom edge of the paper facing you. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper over the filling once and squeeze it in place. Place your shrimp and herbs on top of this first completed layer. Fold the sides of the wrapper in and roll the remaining ingredients. Because the wrapper is wet it should seal on its own. After a few rolls you’ll get the hang of quantities and technique. Stage your rolls on a serving dish.
- For the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend. If it is too thick add a bit of hot water. Taste for desired seasoning.
Now its time to roll.
Serve with a crisp pilsner or white wine like sauvignon blanc, or a light gluten free beer and enjoy.