In Granville Market in Vancouver, British Columbia, stacks of long, skinny white cylinders catch my eye. The sign says "salad rolls," but these stark white tubes look nothing like salad. They're Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, which often appear as appetizers in restaurants.
On closer inspection ― and tasting ― I find that the name fits. The thin wrappers enclose crisp lettuce, cooked shrimp, fresh mint, and cool rice noodles--elements of a tasty, healthful salad. The rolls would be perfect for a light lunch or as party appetizers.
The key to these packaged salads is the wrapper, a fragile, paper-thin disk made from rice flour, water, and salt. The mixture is dried on shallow bamboo trays, creating a crosshatch pattern. When moistened in warm water, the brittle rounds quickly soften. They can be filled and eaten uncooked at this soft, supple stage (as in the recipes here) or fried to make a delicately crisp casing.
Rice paper wrappers come in several sizes. We use medium ones, which are the easiest for first-timers to handle. If you can't locate the rice paper rounds, nori ― the toasted seaweed sheets used for sushi ― are a good alternative.
Salad rolls wrapped in rice paper or nori taste best freshly made. You can, however, prepare the elements ahead, then assemble the rolls just before serving. Guests often enjoy helping out with this task.