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’ post. 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!
Summer Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Appetizer
- Method: By hand
- Cuisine: Thai
Spring rolls stuffed arugula, sesame seed-sprinkled tofu and crisp summer vegetables. Served with spicy peanut sauce, these rolls are a great appetizer or light main course. Bonus: they don’t require the stove or the oven!
Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce
- 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.
Recipe adapted from The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman and The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte.
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.
I love spring rolls. I used to make them all the time during my brief stint as a line cook at a college cafeteria. People dont know what to think of rice paper. Once, a student asked me, “Is that plastic?” yeah we are trying to make you eat plastic! Anyway, he tried it and came back and told me that he liked it.
Ha! I can see why he would think the wrappers look like plastic. I’m glad to know how to make spring rolls now—I want to try making baked spring rolls next!
These look delicious! I have trouble finding rice paper – is this a staple in most grocers?
Thanks, Nicole! I had trouble finding rice paper for a while, but now it seems to be everywhere I shop. It is usually near the Asian section and seems to be more common in health/gourmet stores than regular grocery stores. Sometimes it’s labeled rice paper and sometimes they call it spring roll wrappers. Good luck!
Laura (Tutti Dolci)
I love spring rolls but I’ve never made my own – these look fantastic!
Thanks for the link- I do love my spring rolls and these look delicious! Between you and Sara I’m craving peanut sauce now!
Mmm these are positively lovely!
These look great – I love the idea of coating the Tofu in sesame seeds and your vegetable mix is really interesting and full of complex flavors.
Summer rolls are one of my favorite foods ever. :) I love the idea of rolling the tofu in sesame seeds!
Yum x infinity! Beautiful photos, too. xxx
Sylvie @ GitK
Fresh and light, this is perfect summer food!
Erin’s spring roll posts definitely inspired me to try making them at home. I so wanna be one of your girlfriends. We can eat, drink, and be merry together!
delicious. they are tricky, but so worth it. Tough to photograph too, so kudos to you for that! Thanks for the shout out :)
I can’t wait to check out the cookbook! I love spring rolls and these look so great. I love the tofu rolled in sesame seeds. I’m a big fan of sesame!
I love making spring rolls and these look so fun!
These look lovely! The problem I’ve always had with making peanut sauce at home is that it’s hard to thin out with out making it watery (if you’re using water) or too sour (if you’re thinning it with vinegar and/or lime juice). I always forget that there’s a coconut version of this dish, so my next one will definitely be made with some of it! One of my other favorite versions, born of this very problem, is peanut sauce made with silken tofu. Just toss the tofu, natural peanut butter, a dash of soy, rice vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, chile garlic paste, and a bit of sugar into the blender and then blend it all till smooth.
Thanks for sharing!
Great suggestion, thanks Cat! I’ve made a peanut sauce with water that I liked on soba noodles but I definitely enjoyed this coconut milk version, too. I thought it was interesting that Mark Bittman’s recipe called for roasted peanuts instead of peanut butter, I really liked it!
Spring rolls are my favorite summer dinner! I’m guilty of eating the remaining dipping sauce right out of the bowl… Since I always use the same ingredients in my version, I’m excited to switch it up with your recipe here! Thanks!
I also had luck finding rice paper wrappers at my local health food store, near the other Asian ingredients.
Ordering without consulting–you have the patience of a saint! I’ve been making spring rolls and peanut sauce for as long as I can remember, so in case you’re interested in (yet another) variation that has never failed me yet: http://wallflourgirl.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/tofu-vegetarian-spring-rolls-with-honey-peanut-dipping-sauce/ Loved reading your post, thanks for sharing!
Honey peanut dipping sauce?! Sold!
It’s been about a year since I last tackled spring rolls, and now you have inspired me! Yours are just gorgeous – love the peanut sauce, especially :)
Thanks, Liren! Hope you give these a shot, I think they are well worth the effort!
These are just lovely!
We loved these last night! Even my grandmother who isn’t a tofu an raved about the rolls. And the sauce is amazing!!!! Thank you!!!
Hooray, so happy to hear that you and your family enjoyed the summer rolls, Alina! Thank you for the comment. :)
And also, I am so happy I found your blog!!!! :)
erin @ yummy supper
Kathyrne, I always love spring rolls and never make them at home. You are inspiring me to get off my butt and give ’em a try!
I hope the move is coming along for you.
so healthy & nutritious but absolutely wonderful. thanks for this recipe!
I’ve always wanted to make these! I worked at a chain restaurant in high school and the only thing that kept me there was free food (which included summer rolls). I’ll definitely be trying this!
Kate, these spring rolls look amazing! I am going to try this recipe this week. Yum! My family definitely needs a healthy detox considering all of the junk we have eaten all summer.
These look so wonderful and fresh! I had some really awful spring roll type things recently (that bear no resemblance to these at all!) and your pictures definitely have me craving the good version!
These spring rolls look so fresh and light and NEAT. Whenever I make anything wrapped in rice paper it ends up half falling out. And I’m all for anything with peanut sauce.
Leanne @ HP
If you find a second opinion that ALSO washes dishes… let me know. I’d like to trade in mine for an upgraded model :P
I’m absolutely in awe of these. They look stunning. This weekend, I’m going to shop for the ingredients and make these. Thanks for a great recipe!
Tate it if you can
These look just delicious… lovely pictures too !
They’re definitely doing on the light dinner list for me…I never want any other food when there’s peanut sauce on the table. Really gorgeous!
claire @ the realist
These are incredible!!
Beautiful photos! These are so colorful, and that peanut sauce sounds delicious!
I love spring rolls! I’ve been making them forever but I really love the idea of your sauce. I think I’m going to have to give it a try next time I make them!
Thanks so much for this recipe. I made these for dinner tonight and got rave reviews! This was the first recipe I tried from your website and I am already planning on which one to try next – maybe coconut pancakes, since I have leftover coconut milk! Thanks again!
That’s so great to hear, thank you! Please let me know what you think of the other recipes!
First home-made meal we have made since trying to recover from last week’s craziness/awesomeness. So good!!! I love these. Such an awesome mix of flavors. You rock Kathryne!!!
Also, it was wonderful to see you last week! Keep these good recipes coming!!
That makes me happy, Kirsten! Your wedding weekend was a blast from start to finish. Thanks for letting me be a part of it! Love!
Same thing here! P.S. The gluten free cookies worked beautifully!
Actually I saw rice paper at Ralph’s the other day and probably all the large grocery stores carry them in the Asian section. I usually get mine at a nearby Asian market since they have a larger selection of sizes.
Made these this morning and couldn’t wait til lunch! Delicious! Thanks for the fresh, fun recipe.
Thanks, Claire! So glad you enjoyed the summer rolls. They are perfect for warm weather.
I just had to drop back and tell you that this has become one of my go tos. I’m making this for each work Christmas party to lighten up the tables filled with sugar, sugar, sugar. Such a welcomed break from all the fun but fattening holiday treats.
Thanks, Claire! I wouldn’t have thought to serve summer rolls at a holiday gathering, but they sound like a perfect addition. Thanks for the idea!
Wow, these look delicious!! I live in NE OK in a really rural town and just came across the rice wrappers in my local grocery store. I was so surprised to find them here. I am probably obsessed with Asian food and used to make it constantly when I lived in an urban area. I’ve been thinking of what I can put in my rolls and, thanks to you, I found it! Can’t wait to try it! Thank you :)
Shelly, I hope your spring rolls turn out great! Glad you found the wrappers!
I love eating fresh spring rolls with hoisin sauce. A Vietnamese restaurant I used to go to (before the owner moved and therefore closed the restaurant) made homemade hoisin sauce and it was fabulous. She would sprinkle finely chopped peanuts and shreds of carrot on top of the sauce. Thank you so much for this recipe. I am mostly vegetarian and using the tofu was a great replacement for shrimp.
Thank you, Deidre! I’m sorry your Vietnamese restaurant closed.
I did not try this recipe, but it looks delicious! Just one problem, though: the peanut sauce. Peanut sauce does not have to be as complex or confusing as most recipes for it are. This is a recipe that I have used many times and always turns out great:
In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of unsweetened peanut butter, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (for heat). Combine ingredients and chill in a refrigerator until necessary for a creamier texture.
This recipe works well for any Thai-inspired recipes, and can be adapted to any taste with different spices. I hope this helps.
I made these last night as an appetizer – they were amazing! I left out the tofu though and just filled with the veggies plus avocado. Your peanut sauce is sooo yummy.
Thank you !
I made this into a delicious summer roll salad! Made crispy tofu instead of raw and added a little quinoa. Just sprinkled in the sesame seeds. I was just too lazy to wrap but it still had all the great flavors!
cilantro and mint are not favs…suggestions if any subs could be made or, would it just not be the same?
You could try parsley, but I really like this combination.
I don’t have agave nectar, what can I substitute? Many thanks!
You can try my Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce