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 dislike 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? 

Vietnamese-Style Vegan Summer Rolls with a Peanut Dipping Sauce

Preparation time: 60 min; Assembling time: ~25 min
Makes: 12-16 rolls
Serves: 4
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe source: Adapted from here and here

For the sriracha soy sauce baked tofu

1 block extra-firm tofu
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1½ tbsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce
1 tsp maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC).

2. Slice your tofu into rectangular slabs (not too thick).

3. In a mixing bowl, add the olive oil, sriracha, soy sauce and maple syrup. Gently mix to combine.

4. Spread the tofu slabs on a parchment sheet, apply the sauce liberally and bake for 12 minutes.

5. After 12 minutes, flip each piece of tofu, drizzle the remaining marinade over the tofu and bake for another 12-15 minutes.

6. One the tofu is crispy on the outside, remove from the oven. Cut the tofu into thin strips

For the Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls

12-16 rice paper sheets (preferably 22cm)
1 recipe of baked sriracha soy tofu (see above), cut into thin strips
1 medium English hothouse cucumber, seeds removed and cut into thin strips
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2-1 cup bean sprouts
2 cups baby salad leaves or 8-12 leaves lettuce washed, dried and roughly torn 
1/4 cup chopped spring onions
a generous handful of Thai basil
a generous handful of fresh mint leaves
Sesame seeds, use as required
Crushed roasted peanuts, use as required

1. Fill a plate halfway with room-temperature water. Immerse 1 wrapper in the water until it softens, about 30 seconds. Use both hands to pull it up out of the water, being careful so it doesn't collapse on itself, and immediately lay it flat on a clean work surface. I used the countertop but you can also place it on a damp towel. Keeping the work surface wet while handling the rice paper will prevent the wrapper from drying out and from sticking.

2. Fill the wrapper: Place a few salad leaves down the wrapper, just slightly to one side of the middle. Place a few sticks of red peppers, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts and tofu strips over the salad leaves. Now overlay this with chopped spring onion greens and a few leaves of basil and mint. Sprinkle some coarsely ground roasted peanuts over the filling and sesame seeds all over the wrapper. 

If the rice paper looks like it is drying out, moisten it with more water

3. Roll up the summer roll: Fold the sides of the wrapper over the filling. Fold the side closest to the filling over the filling and continue rolling tightly to the right until it's closed and snug. Place it on a baking sheet seam-side down and cover with a damp towel. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.

4. If you’re serving your summer rolls shortly after making them, you can keep them on a platter seam-side down, covered with a damp paper towel.

For the Peanut Dipping Sauce

1.5 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce 
1 tbsp sriracha
1.5 tsp sesame oil
1.5 tsp brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1 tsp sesame seeds
1.5 tbsp water to thin the sauce

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and serve alongside the summer rolls

Note: The sauce in the photos has been made from doubling the ingredients but the quantity turned out to be too much so I have adjusted the recipe

Serve the summer rolls at room temperature or cold alongside the peanut dipping sauce. You can cut them diagonally in half if you like (I didn't because I was afraid the filling would come out)

  • The larger size of rice paper you use, the easier it is to wrap. I prefer 22cm. The 16cm I find much trickier to handle
  • Do not soak the rice paper for too long or else they may tear. They should just be pliable enough to handle. Depending on the brand of the rice paper you are using, the time taken for it to soften may change from this recipe
  • If you want a meat-based protein, you can use cooked chicken, fish or shrimp in the place of tofu
  • Do not overfill the roll or else you will not be able to wrap it properly
  • Try to roll the rice wrapper as tight as possible and make sure the ends are folded in or else the filling is going to come out
  • You can also use sweet chilli sauce or a hoisin dipping sauce as accompaniments to your summer rolls


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