I experienced my first fresh spring roll at a Thai restaurant last summer. I was on a date of sorts, or as much of a date as dates go these days. He had a habit of ordering appetizers or desserts without consulting me first—a habit I might find infuriating in someone else. He stuck with vegetarian options for my sake, though, and I didn’t mind.
Anyway, fresh spring rolls arrived at the table that afternoon, and I didn’t know what to think at first. Their oddly translucent skins made them look almost alien-like, but I saw familiar, friendly herbs and vegetables peeking through at me and trusted that I’d like them. We each dunked a roll in spicy sauce and, in between bites, drifted back into conversation about our usual topics of discussion: pirates, Halloween costumes, our dogs. Pure nonsense.
I’ve wanted to make fresh spring rolls since that afternoon, but I couldn’t find the wrapping papers for the longest time and wasn’t sure what to do with them even after I finally found some. (By the way, spring roll wrappers are also called rice paper wrappers.) Then I watched Erin’s great spring roll video and she made spring rolls look easy. Something about watching cooking techniques in action makes them seem more approachable.
I wanted to publish the recipe on Monday to coincide with the other Food Matters Project members’ posts, but this move has me all out of sorts. Everything seems to take longer here, as I’ve been getting settled and situated. I ended up working on this recipe all week—running out of natural light one day, waiting on the internet installation guy the next, sampling different combinations of filling ingredients in the meantime.
I can’t say these rolls are the easiest things to make, but they proved well worth the effort. I got the hang of soaking the wrappers quickly and I think you will, too. The wraps needed something substantial and kind of creamy, as all of the other filling ingredients are light and crisp. I took inspiration from Sprouted Kitchen’s new cookbook and dressed uncooked tofu in a sprinkling of sesame seeds, which turned out to be a fabulous idea indeed.
I also made the dipping sauce twice, trying it with peanut butter, different sweeteners and soy sauces. Sometimes I wish I had someone else around for a second opinion (especially if the second opinion would also help me wash dishes), but I really think the version below is the best. I hope you’ll give these wraps a try this weekend—they’re crunchy and fresh, creamy and spicy, and best of all, they are a complete meal that don’t require a heat source to make. Invite some girl friends over, pour some wine and enjoy!
- ½ cup roasted peanuts (unsalted or lightly salted)
- ½ cup light coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons lime juice (the juice of less than 1 lime)
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar
- 1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari (or other soy sauce)
- about 5 cloves garlic (to taste)
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu
- 1+ tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 heaping cups arugula, roughly chopped
- 3 big carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 4 Persian cucumbers, cut into matchsticks (or about 2 regular cucumbers)
- 2 red or orange bell peppers, top and bottom removed and sliced into thin strips
- 1 jalapeño, cut into matchsticks (optional)
- 3 green onions, sliced into thin rounds
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
- 8 sheets rice paper (8 to 10 inches in diameter)
- Sriracha hot sauce, for serving with assembled spring rolls (optional)
- In a food processor, process all of the dipping sauce ingredients for a couple of minutes, until fairly smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or divide into individual ramekins. (You can make the dipping sauce a day ahead, just cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.)
- Drain the water from the tofu and very gently squish some of the water out of the tofu. Slice the tofu into two slabs by cutting lengthwise through the center. Wrap the slabs in a clean tea towel or paper towels. Stack the slabs on top of each other and place a heavy saucepan or a plate and cans on top to help press out more of the moisture.
- Prepare the arugula, herbs and vegetables as directed in the ingredients list above. Set them out on your work surface, with a clean tea towel on the side.
- Remove the towels from the tofu and slice each slab into about 7 equal-sized strips (less than ½-inch in width). Sprinkle sesame seeds onto a plate or cutting board and gently roll the tofu strips to coat.
- Fill a bowl or baking pan with warm water. Place one rice paper in the water and let it rest for about twenty seconds. You'll learn to go by feel here—the sheet should be pliable enough to give to touch but not super floppy. Lay it on the towel.
- Top the rice paper in a lengthwise orientation (as shown) with a big sprinkle of arugula, one strip of tofu, a few strips of carrot, cucumber, bell pepper and jalapeño (if using). Sprinkle with some chopped green onion, cilantro and mint.
- Fold over one long side to enclose the filling, then fold over the short sides like you would a burrito, and lastly, roll it up, stretching the remaining long side around the the roll to seal it. Serve the rolls whole or cut in half, with dipping sauce on the side.
Amounts for stuffing ingredients listed above are approximate, adjust them to suit your tastes and needs.
Preparation tips: If you like to smother your spring rolls in sauce, you might want to double the sauce recipe.
Make it gluten free: Use tamari instead of soy sauce.
Change it up: Arugula might seem to be a strange choice of greens here, but I really loved the spicy flavor and preferred it to watercress. You could also try leaves of butter lettuce for some crunch.
Find Mark Bittman's original recipe at Everyday Maven.