When the school year ends and teens get together to celebrate their freedom, think of Vietnamese summer rolls as they congregate at your place, hungry as usual.

The vegetarian version of this popular but simple snack omits both the customary shrimp and the bland, rubbery rice paper wrappers that home cooks hesitate to tackle. You can set out the colorful ingredients for this light yet filling finger-food any time, letting the kids assemble them to their tastes.

Summer rolls are a cool, seductive way of getting teens to devour a bunch of healthful raw vegetables. Virtually fat-free and low-calorie, they are great for figure-conscious girls and popular with all. Served as a do-it-yourself dish, they make it easy to skip any parts of the filling they don’t like. You can include a small amount of shredded chicken breast for those who are not vegetarian.

Instead of the traditional thin rice wrappers, this version uses a lettuce leaf. You then add herbs like basil, cilantro and mint, plus an assortment of vegetables like very thinly sliced carrot, white daikon radish and cucumber. The lettuce leaf is then folded to encase everything. Everyone has a small bowl of intensely-flavored dipping sauce to dunk this packet into before each generous bite.

Thin rice noodles, at the heart of summer rolls, are sold in the Asian section of most supermarkets. The other ingredients, including the sauce, can be made ahead, but the noodles should be prepared just before serving. Put them out in a bowl, along with the platters of vegetables and individual bowls of sauce.

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To make your own roll, take a lettuce leaf, heap on a few tablespoons of noodles, then a few strips of each vegetable, top with a few sprigs of each herb and roll or fold the lettuce into a packet. Dip the roll into the sauce and enjoy. Repeat as desired.

Vietnamese Lettuce Rolls

Makes 4 servings of 3 rolls per person.

  • 3-4 oz. thin rice noodles
  • 4 large leaves green leaf lettuce
  • 2 scallions, green part only, cut in 3-inch pieces
  • 1 medium peeled carrot, cut in 3-inch pieces
  • 3-inch piece seedless cucumber, peeled
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) large basil leaves
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut in thin strips
  • 24 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) mint leaves, cut into very thin strips
  • 1 shallot, very finely minced
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce* or reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. Prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Rinse under running water and drain well. Use scissors to cut noodles into 3-inch lengths. Place in serving bowl and set aside.
  2. Tear lettuce leaves into pieces roughly 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. Arrange lettuce on a serving platter.
  3. Cut scallions, carrot, cucumber and basil leaves lengthwise into very thin julienne strips. Arrange in separate mounds on a second platter. Add red pepper, cilantro and mint leaves, mounded into separate piles.
  4. In medium bowl, mix together shallot, pepper flakes, fish or soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and water. Divide among 4 individual small bowls, like custard cups, and place one bowl at each place setting. Place bowl of noodles and platters of vegetables in center of table.*Fish sauce, which is stocked in the Asian section of markets, has a pungent, anchovy-like taste. Soy sauce is an acceptable substitute.
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Nutritional Information Per Serving:
32 calories
less than 1 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat)
7 g. carbohydrate
1 g. protein
1 g. dietary fiber
203 mg. sodium

Source: AICR