What is a Paella Spring Rolls?
Paella Spring Rolls is what I envision a Spanish-Vietnamese wedding would serve (and perhaps it’s already happened!). Shrimp is marinated in smoked paprika and oregano and cooked with a sofrito of onions, parsley, garlic, and of course the star ingredient of any paella – saffron. Along with sliced Chinese style sausage, the spring rolls are stuffed with Vietnamese ingredients such as rice vermicelli, Thai basil, chives and mint, and Spanish ingredients such as lima beans and roasted peppers. All of these beautifully fresh ingredients are rolled into a rice paper and the spring rolls are served with a zesty peanut-tomato sauce topped with the saffron-infused sofrito.
Where’d It Come From?
In the Spring of 2018, I took my first trip to Spain. Stationed in Madrid, I signed up for a paella cooking class with a lovely Valencian woman which took place in her quaint apartment. Walking up the steps to her home, she explained that we’d be making a traditional paella using chicken and rabbit. Having been accustomed to seafood paella and being a rabbit-eating virgin, I asked several times whether she actually said rabbit. After the third time, my friend Tiffany answered: “She said rabbit, Julee. Get over it.” That was one of my three main takeaways from that experience. The second being that you are only supposed to stir the rice one time once the ingredients are all in (the brown crust at the bottom is ideal), and the third being that Valencians have a tradition called Falles where they build giant monuments then set them on fire (do they know how to party or what?).
I don’t have any fun stories related to spring rolls, other than the fact that I always have fun eating them. Spring rolls were simply a staple in my diet growing up as a Vietnamese gal and it still is. Since it’s stuffed with tons of veggies, I like to pretend they’re healthy as I submerge them in the creamy and sodium-rich peanut sauce and inhale 20 of them.
Origins of the Paella
Paella comes from Valencia, Spain and began as a poor man’s food. In other words, Valencians scraped together local ingredients such as rice, tomato, garlic, vegetables, meat and seafood (though it was taboo to mix the proteins of land and sea) to make it. In 1840, the first printed recipe came about which detailed ingredients such as rabbit and snails. By this time, paella had become a Sunday tradition in Valencia wherein the men cooked over an open fire of orange tree branches and dried vines while their ladies were at church.
There are two stories attached to how paella got its name. The first, and more romanticized one, speaks of a young man who cooked it first for his lover. In other words, he made it para ella (for her). The second, more plausible story, is that the name came from the frying pan it’s made in with a name that is derived from the Latin patella.
Some now say that an authentic paella can only be made in Valencia because the local water is highly concentrated with calcium, which impacts how the rice is cooked.
Origins of Spring Rolls
There are a myriad of Asian-type rolls that nearly all have their origins in China. And everyone seems to have their own term for each roll that varies from spring roll, to egg roll, to summer roll (and I just did a Google search and found that fall rolls and winter rolls are also a thing – and they’re not the kind you develop from overindulging in holiday feasts).
So allow me first to define what I consider to be spring rolls – In Vietnamese, the term is gỏi cuốn. Growing up in Southern California, just outside of Little Saigon, my family and every Vietnamese person I know has always referred to the non-fried, rice-paper-wrapped, stuffed with shrimp, pork and vermicelli rolls in English as spring rolls. Though through my research and from witnessing it on Americanized restaurant menus, I’ve also seen them referred to as summer rolls and salad rolls.
Spring rolls has been theorized to have come from Southern Vietnam. Due to the warm climate, locals would find fresh foods to help them stay cool. Spring rolls were made very similarly to how we enjoy them today but the dipping sauce originally consisted of sticky rice and fermented soybeans, producing a taste that was reminiscent of porridge. Nowadays in the US, spring rolls are served with either a fish sauce or a peanut-hoisin sauce.
How’s It Made?
Makes: 9 - 12 spring rolls | Passive prep time: 1 hour | Active prep/cook time: 35 minutes
1 lb shrimp – peeled and deveined
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp dried oregano
1 onion – diced
1 handful parsley – finely chopped
4 garlic cloves – minced
7 oz canned diced tomatoes
1 cup hoisin sauce
½ cup peanut butter
¼ cup chicken broth
4 Chinese style sausages (lap xuong) – sliced at an angle
8 oz rice vermicelli
6 oz roasted red peppers (can be found in jars) – sliced into strips
½ cup frozen lima beans – thawed
1 handful Thai basil
1 handful mint
2 oz chives
5 large romaine lettuce leaves
Generous pinch of saffron
1 tbs olive oil
9 - 12 sheets of rice paper
Optional: Chili garlic sauce and chopped peanuts
Marinate shrimp in paprika and oregano for at least one hour.
Add oil to a pan on medium heat and lightly brown chinese sausages to render some of the fat. Remove sausages but keep oil in the pan.
On medium-high heat, cook onions, garlic and parsley for 2 to 3 minutes to make the sofrito.
Reduce heat to medium and add shrimp and saffron. Cook until shrimp is no longer translucent. Remove ingredients from pan but set shrimp aside in its own bowl. Cover the sofrito to keep warm. Slice the shrimp in half by starting as you would when butterflying a shrimp but cut all the way through.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, add diced tomatoes and cook to caramelize for a few minutes.
In a saucepan, combine hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and broth and heat on medium, stirring constantly until smooth. Turn off heat and allow sauce to cool slightly (but still warm) to a temperature that is okay for the food processor.
Combine sauce with diced tomatoes in a food processor and puree until smooth. Cover sauce and set aside to keep warm.
Cook vermicelli based on package instructions.
Prepare to roll! Place sausages, shrimp, vermicelli, rice paper, lettuce, thai basil, mint, lima beans, roasted peppers and chives on the table along with a large bowl of hot water and a plastic plate / cutting board or flat surface covered in plastic wrap (to keep the rice paper from sticking). Grab a second plate to place the rolled spring rolls.
Dip the rice paper into the hot water and rotate it until the entire rice paper is wet and place it onto your “rolling” surface. Start by adding the shrimp (about 3 - 4 halves) and sausage followed by the remaining ingredients (except chives). Keep the ingredients in a thick horizontal line with no ingredients within 1.5 inches of the rice paper border.
Now fold in the sides of the rice paper over the ingredients, add the chives horizontally to the center of the rice paper with the ends sticking out, pull the bottom of the rice paper over the ingredients and roll (this video is helpful in demonstrating the process).
Serve the spring rolls with the peanut-tomato sauce topped with the sofrito, chili garlic sauce, and chopped peanuts.