Spring Rolls 101

Learn to cook with Bey Ratsavongsy.

Cooking is universal. Every country eats, and so every culture cooks. We have many opportunities in Maple Grove to experience food cultures from outside of the United States; Mexican restaurants abound, and Chinese takeout is prevalent. What better way to truly experience food from a different country and culture than to be taught by someone who lived there? After a single cooking class with Bey Ratsavongsy, you can enjoy re-creating authentic Asian cooking at home.  

Ratsavongsy was born in Laos and grew up with her family in a refugee camp in Thailand. In the early 90s, she and her family moved to Minnesota for a better future. At home, when her mother would start chopping and cutting food, Ratsavongsy would lend a hand, often finishing the meal by herself. “We usually made stews, soups, steamed vegetables, fishes and others meats (grilled or wrapped) with all kinds of herbs and vegetables and of course, stir fry,” Ratsavongsy says. “Laab, koy (meat salad) and hot chili sauce were the most popular at our house.” These dishes were easy to make using simple seasoning such as salt, fish sauce, sugar or seasoning powder.

When she visited family friends, Ratsavongsy usually ended up in the kitchen, helping with dishes or prep work. She also observed their cooking and asked how much of a certain ingredient they were using. The reply was usually “to eyeball it” or to go by taste.
As Ratsavongsy grew older, cooking became her passion. Her love of eating also made her want to learn more about cooking. “I can be in the kitchen for hours and I will find something to do, especially when I visit with friends and learn new recipes,” she says. Cooking for others makes her happy, and she says that food brings people together. When friends ask her what she cooks with, she says, “with my heart.”

Ratsavongsy’s heart leads her to the grocery store every couple of days looking for ingredients and new seasonings to stock up on. She hops from one store to the other scouring for fresh foods. “Using fresh ingredients is important in Lao and Thai cooking, which is why we go to the market more frequently,” she explains. Early on, sauces found in some American kitchens, such as soy sauce or oyster sauce, caught Ratsavongsy’s attention. “Back in Laos, I don’t usually see many of these sauces,” she says.

Ratsavongsy spends 3 to 4 hours in the kitchen every day. Prep work takes a lot of the time beyond the actual cooking, and the overall amount of time she spends there depends on what she is making and how much clean-up is necessary.

Ratsavongsy teaches Thai cooking classes at the Ethnic Foods Company in Osseo, instructing  people how to cook spring rolls, pad Thai, and Thai curry and satay.

She remembers the first time she made a spring roll with her mother. “Roll it tight” her mother said. Spring rolls are a food that should be easy to pick up with your hands; they should be small. “When I walk around in class, guess what I usually see? Spring rolls that are the size of a burrito from Chipotle. That also happened to my first spring roll,” she reveals. Ratsavongsy says the trick to creating the perfect spring roll is to roll it tight and don’t stuff it too much.

“[What I tell people in class is] in cooking, one cannot be afraid to try new dishes and welcome any new processes or ideas,” she says. The kitchen is Ratsavongsy’s home and place of comfort, and she makes the students in her classroom comfortable as well, while they are trying something new.

Homemade Thai Spring Rolls

Spring Roll:

  • cooked shrimp halved lengthwise
  • ½ package vermicelli
  • noodles (boil and rinse in cold water, let dry)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and
  • cut in half, thinly sliced
  • 1 head of leaf or iceberg lettuce, cut or break leaf in half
  • 1 bunch cilantro,
  • cut 3 inches long
  • 4-5 green onions,
  • cut 3 inches long
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • spring roll wrappers

Fill a big bowl with hot water for soaking the wrappers and set out a plate for rolling the spring rolls.

Soak 1 wrapper in hot water for 2-3 seconds, put on plate.

Put 3 or more shrimp in the center of the wrapper; add noodles, lettuce, onion, cucumber, cilantro and carrots and wrap it up. Place on a serving plate garnished with mint leaves. Serve with peanut sauce or spicy fish sauce.

Peanut Sauce:

  • 3 Tbsp. peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped peanuts
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 5 Tbsp. warm water
  • 3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. chili hot sauce

In a medium bowl, mix ingredients until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with chopped peanuts.

Want to change up the ingredients in your spring roll? Here are some other ingredients that make great add-ins.

avocado, sliced
bean sprouts
mushrooms, drained and chopped
fresh mint leaves

Try It For Yourself
Cooking classes at the Ethnic Foods Co. are a great way to spend an evening with family or friends. Here is a list of upcoming classes:

June 1 & July 19: Indian Class (demonstration)
June 7 & 8, July 26 & 27: Thai Class (demonstration)
June 14 & July 12: Pad Thai Class (participation)
June 15 & July 13: Spring Roll Class (participation)
June 29: World Flavors Class (demonstration)
June 30: Persian Class (demonstration)
July 20: Mexican Class (demonstration)

All classes, 6-8:30 p.m. Visit the website for full details.