Cook the Shrimp:
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop the shrimp into the water and cook until they turn pink and opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until the shrimp are cool. Peel the shrimp, slice them in half lengthwise, and devein if necessary.
Prepare the garnishes:
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the rice noodles. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 8 to 10 minutes, gently lifting and stirring the noodles now and then as they soften, to cook them evenly and to keep them from clumping. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking. You should have about 4 cups cooked noodles.
Arrange the noodles, rice paper wrappers, lettuce, herbs, scallions, and cooled filling (shrimp, beef, chicken, or tofu) around a large cutting board or tray set before you. Have a platter nearby for the finished rolls.
Soften the rice paper:
You'll need a skillet of very warm water to soften the rice paper, and a cutting board or tray to lay it on.
Fill a large skillet halfway with very warm water. Slide a sheet of rice paper into the water and press gently to submerge it until it becomes very pliable, 15 to 30 seconds. Remove the rice paper carefully, shaking gently to help excess water drain off, and lay it before you on a cutting board or tray. (If the water becomes too cool to soften the paper, reheat it briefly on the stove.)
Line up the ingredients:
Starting on the lowest third of the wrapper and working away from you, line up a narrow tangle of noodles (about 1/4 cup), a row of lettuce strips (about 1/4 cup), 5 to 7 good-size mint leaves, a row of cilantro or basil leaves, and a row of scallion strips. Leave about 1 inch of empty space along the wrapper's bottom and side edges.
Make the first fold:
Starting from the edge closest to you, roll the wrapper up and over the fillings. Stop after the first turn to tuck and compress everything snugly into the wrapper. Once the first turn is good and tight, fold the right and left sides of the wrapper in onto the roll, closing off the ends, as though making an envelope.
Add the protein:
Just above the cylinder you've already rolled, lay four shrimp halves, pink side down, a few strips of chicken, or one strip of beef or tofu. Roll the wrapper tightly, all the way to the top, and press the seam closed. If the wrapper is too dry to stick, dip your finger in the water and run it along the paper to moisten and then press the seam closed. Set the roll, seam side down, on the platter. Continue to fill and roll up the rice paper sheets until you've made 16 rolls. (Dont let the finished rolls touch one another or they'll stick.) Serve immediately (or drape a damp dishtowel over the rolls, wrap the platter tightly in plastic, and serve within two hours.)
Make Ahead Tips
You can assemble summer rolls up to 2 hours in advance as long as you cover them with a damp dishtowel and wrap them well with plastic to keep the rice paper from drying out.
nutrition information (per serving):
per two roll serving;
Photo: Scott Phillips