Monday, April 2, 2018

Vietnamese-Style Vegan Summer Rolls with a Peanut Dipping Sauce

Think summer. Think colorful veggies, fresh greens and aromatic herbs. Think of a light, healthy and flavourful meal. These Vietnamese-style summer rolls checks all the boxes! 

These fresh summer rolls or salad rolls are made from featherlight rice paper wrappers encasing fresh crunchy vegetables partnered with cold proteins, fresh herbs, and sometimes rice vermicelli noodles. Although they are Vietnamese in origin, there are plenty of variations that have popped up.

I have always had a thing for spring rolls. Who doesn't like the universally popular deep-fried snack? We eat spring rolls all the time at home (just for the family and also while entertaining) as well as at restaurants. My domestic helper makes delicious spring rolls and this is an appetizer I ask her to make regularly. The only time I had the fresh translucent kind of rolls was in Vietnam and even though I found them refreshingly different, delicious and a much healthier alternative to the deep-fried kind, I had not tried them for myself. With my current healthy eating plan going on in full swing, I felt it was high time to make these low-calorie packages of summer goodness. I had plenty of inspiration from my brother and sister-in-law who have been making summer rolls for a while and who had recommended that I try them. 

Now, pardon me but I'm not sure about the origins of the terms 'spring rolls' and 'summer rolls' and if they refer to two separate entities or even if the term 'spring roll' can be applied to both varieties but for this post, I'm sticking to the term summer rolls. Kapish?

I knew what veggies and herbs I was going to use but for the protein, I wanted to elevate the tofu to make it extra special. Psst...while on the subject of tofu, I'll let you in on a `secret - I actually hate tofu in its natural unmodified form. Don't like its texture one bit and I find it horribly bland. So, I made sure to transform it into something much more appetizing before it made its way into the rolls. And of course, I was also going to to a spicy flavour-packed dipping sauce on the side. Peanut butter and sriracha make a trendy combo and together, they are bound to result in an explosion of flavours that excite the palate. 

These summer rolls are highly customizable so you can add whatever veggies or greens you like. But understand that using fresh and colorful produce is paramount in summer rolls. Of course, you can use leftover ingredients like rice noodles or meat to fill your rolls but, you do want to make sure you include at least two to three elements with a crunch, like carrot, cucumber, bell peppers, bean sprouts, or lettuce. Fresh herbs will do wonders for capturing the Vietnamese fresh summer roll flavor. Just a few leaves of thai basil, mint, or cilantro can brighten up the flavor of the rolls. Also, garnishes like crushed peanuts and sesame seeds help to bring in even more flavour and texture. 

Setting your ingredients up in an assembly line on your workstation is key. It makes things much easier, less messy and you can trust that you won't forget any ingredient. 

Now doesn't that look appetizing? 

I think that Vietnamese fresh summer rolls are one of those things that people would like to eat but always assume are too cumbersome or difficult to make at home. I won't sugar coat it - there is considerable prep involved (mostly chopping) and it does take time to assemble the rolls but a lot of the steps can be done ahead of time and with a little bit of planning, you can get these done without feeling like being in the kitchen forever. Moreover, if you have a little help, it definitely makes things much easier. Get the partner, kids, siblings, parents, friends....whoever is around involved! Also, if it is your first time handling rice paper, you may fiddle a bit with the first few (and even destroy them!) but trust me, you will get the hang of it with a little practice. 

So if you haven't tried making these summer rolls yet, I suggest you waste no more time. My version here is a vegan and gluten-free one so I'm assuming it can cater to almost everybody right? These summer rolls can serve as a cool summertime appetizer, a wonderfully light lunch or dinner or a grab and go snack. They can be enjoyed room temperature or even cold. These light yet satisfying, nutritious and adaptable summer rolls must be included in your menu plan for the week. 

So let's get rolling shall we?