Vietnamese summer rolls are popular and a perfect cooling food for this time of year.
Occasionally friends ask me for a vegan version. I've also been asked for an alternative to peanut sauce to address peanut allergies. Here it is all in one, Crispy Tofu Summer Rolls with Spicy Raw Almond Dipping Sauce.
Summer rolls, much like any kind of roll (or dumpling), fresh or fried, is all about technique. Once you've learned the technique, the filling is as you wish. Of course a true Vietnamese summer roll will include poached shrimp, often times combined with thinly sliced pork meat or julienned rind.
Here I use tofu, slicing the cakes into 1/2-inch thick matchsticks, then pan-frying them until crispy to add texture. I then stick to the classic, adding tender lettuce, shredded carrot, sliced cucumber, and either mint or cilantro, which ever is available at the market. Instead of using a whole scallion, I like to thinly slice the stalk and incorporate some with the rest of the ingredients, for a more balanced flavor and pleasant texture. I've never really liked biting on a thick piece of scallion.
Though the classic sauce calls for dry roasted unsalted peanuts, for those with allergies, a great alternative is roasted or raw almonds. The dry roasted unsalted nuts will give you a more pronounced flavor than the more delicate, though far more nutritious, raw nuts. You choose.
TIP: 1) soak rice noodles (papers and vermicelli) in cold water, not hot, as the latter will cook the noodles. That needs to be done separately. 2) When ready to assemble the rolls, be sure to soak the rice papers, one at the time so they do not stick together. The process or rolling is fairly easy and goes fast, especially if you have friends over to help. 3) Ingredients are not created equal, some cucumbers are smaller than others, some fish sauces are saltier than others, and some limes have more juice than others. Adjust accordingly!
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/3 cup unsalted 100% pure raw almond butter
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sambal olek (optional)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond butter, hoisin sauce, lime juice, agave nectar, water, and if desired, samba ole and fish sauce. Set aside for now.
CRISPY TOFU SUMMER ROLLS
Makes 16 (Serves 4 as a full meal or 8 or more as an appetizer)
1/2 small cucumber, peeled, cored and finely julienned into 2-inch long pieces or thinly sliced into half moons
1 large carrot, peeled, and julienned into 2-inch long pieces
2 scallions, trimmed and julienned or thinly slices on the diagonal
1 small head lettuce, leaves separated, ribs removed, large leaves halved lengthwise
1 small bunch mint, leaves only
2 ounces rice vermicelli, soaked in cold water until pliable, then boiled for 10 seconds, shocked under cold water and drained
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
Two 1-pound firm tofu cakes packed in water, each cut into 8, long sticks crosswise (about 1/2-inch thick), drained.
Sixteen 10-inch rice papers
Arrange the cucumber, carrots, scallions, lettuce leaves, and mint leaves on a large plate in separate piles, and the vermicelli in a separate bowl.
Have a large round platter filled halfway with room temperature water on the work surface. Next to it, have a clean absorbent surface in front of you such as a wooden cutting board, or a clean and smooth cotton towel.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, pan-crisp the tofu until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes total, turning the pieces every so often. (you may have to do this in 2 batches)
Dip 1 rice paper into the water and set it on your work surface (wooden cutting board, is my go to). The paper will still be brittle but will continue to absorb the access water as you pile (lengthwise, following the final shape) the ingredients in this order and in small portions on the side closest to you: lettuce, vermicelli, carrots, cucumber, mint leaves, and crispy tofu.
Pick up the edge of the rice paper closest to you and fold over the ingredients once. Fold in the sides, and holding back the ingredients, roll to the end tightly and carefully, preventing tears. (By the time you roll, the paper should be very soft).
Enjoy with the dipping sauce, as a full meal or as an appetizer.