Today’s recipe is for Vietnamese spring rolls with a vegetarian twist, using smoked tofu to make delightfully aromatic tofu summer rolls. These South East Asian favourites have gained a lot of popularity in recent years and for good reason, they’re amazingly easy to make, as well as bright and fresh and a crunchy summer treat that can be made in the kitchen to wow your guests, or created at the table so that everyone can get their hands dirty.
Don’t Keep Me Hanging on the Telephone…
Waiting. I’m waiting. I’m trying to buy a little flat. Well, I say I’m trying to buy a little flat, but actually, I’m allowing my pooch and my work to choose a flat for me. You see, as an unattached guy in London who works from home, I could have chosen all sorts of places to live, East, West, North, South, as long as it cleared the obvious financial hurdle which comes along with buying a property. I could have picked up a simple, cosy little flat with low overheads within reach of Central London. However, as food photographer/blogger with a dog, things change slightly. Not only do I need enough space to take good photos of food, but I also need to tick that little box on the property sites which says ‘Garden’, to allow for my dear little furry companion. Upon doing so, I can watch most of the properties on the search map disappear.
Not only do I need a garden, but I’d also like a kitchen bigger than a particularly delicate amuse bouche. Preferably a kitchen which is separate from the lounge, but I fear this might be asking a bit too much. In recent years it seems that ‘open plan’ kitchens are all the rage. I can’t stand it. I want to be able to make a mess in my kitchen, along with lots of smoke, steam and all sorts of havoc, then be able to close the door and sit down in peace to eat whatever results from that cacophony. Plus for food photography it’s good to have some ‘elbow room’ away from the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s perfectly possible to produce great photos and blog content without much space, because I’ve done it in the past. However getting all of these things depends on how far out of London along the tube/rail lines I’m prepared to go.
C’est La Vie.
The delicate balance of requirements/space/budget/zone is a tricky one. Having viewed about 10 properties now, I’m attempting to be as calm about the whole process as possible. It’s out my hands anyway, because I’ll end up living wherever I’m meant to and ultimately it makes no odds what happens, because I can’t control anything in life, I just have to go along for the ride. In fact, if my dog and my work choose my flat for me, it makes life incredibly easy, because it removes any decision making on my part. Garden? Tick. Decent size kitchen? Tick. Once those are both in place then all I have to do is take care of the things I can, such as being able to access enough money to buy it and moving my worldly goods into it once I have taken possession. As I once was told, happiness is not having the things you want, it’s wanting the things you have.
Vietnamese Tofu Summer Rolls.
Back to the grub. Vietnamese Summer Rolls. Or in this case Vietnamese tofu summer rolls. These should be on cooking 101, if such a thing exists. They’re such delightfully simple things to make, a pure piece of fun which requires no cooking knowledge or skills. They are so accessible, yet they will wow anyone you serve them to, because these little rolls are so amazingly fresh, crispy and crunchy and can be livened up with some amazing sauces from across Asia. The original, traditional Vietnamese recipe includes meat or fish, however by making these as vegetarian it allows even more simplicity to creep into recipe and all you need is a knife and some water, with no heat or cooking required. What could be so easy?
They also make a fantastic meal for your guests to get involved with, if you make them at the table as you go. They become one of those fun meals where everyone gets their hands dirty. Prepare a big pile of different ingredients to suit everyone, such as some prawns, peanuts, cabbage, bean sprouts and a selection of sauces. You can even buy dipping dishes specifically for the rice paper discs. Then you can all dive in and start wrapping and rolling.
If you have trouble getting the rice paper discs locally, there are lots of places that sell them online. They also store really well, so worth buying a bigger pack than you need so you always have some in the cupboard to whip out whenever you fancy!
Vietnamese Tofu Summer Rolls
By Gavin Wren
Serves 4 as a starter or side
Uses a knife and chopping board
20 Vietnamese Rice Paper 22cm discs (You can buy these online if you don’t have a shop nearby that sells them)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 medium carrots, cut to 8cm juliennes
Half a cucumber, cut into 8cm juliennes
A small bunch of mint, leaves only
A bunch of coriander
200g Smoked tofu, cut into 8cm slithers (You can make your own, using my recipe, or buy pre-smoked, I used Taifun brand in this recipe.)
70g Mixed salad leaves
Dipping sauce – summer rolls go really well with a load of different sauces, such as sweet chilli sauce, my Thai dipping sauce or a peanut satay sauce.
To make the rolls, get a bowl of warm water large enough to fit a rice paper disc into. Immerse a rice paper in the water for about 20 seconds, remove from the water and place on your work surface. The rice disc should still be slightly firm, it will soften more over the next 30 seconds as you prepare it’s filling. You might need to adjust this ‘dunking’ time through trial and error. If you go too long, it will be an unmanageable, floppy mess straight away and very tricky to handle. However, to little time and it will not roll and stick together nicely.
Sprinkle a column of sesame seeds along the middle of your rice paper. Now place some cucumber and carrot in the middle. Lay two mint leaves on top, plus two stalks of coriander, stems and all. Lay a couple of strips of tofu on top, followed by a little bit of salad.
By the time you’ve added all of these ingredients to your rice paper, it should have become soft and floppy. Start to roll up your pile of ingredients, then fold the sides in, then continue rolling until wrapped up. The rice paper should stick to itself, creating a beautiful looking summer roll, ready to be dipped and devoured!