When I go to a Vietnamese restaurant, spring rolls are without question, the appetizer I want. I love how fresh they are – the cilantro, mint and/or basil; I also love the different textures: crunchy carrot and cucumber, soft lettuce, al dente rice noodles. But I especially love the peanut dipping sauce. I love them so much in fact that I was very curious to make them at home! After making them and falling in love with how easy the prep is, I decided they’d also make a really fun “make-your-own” bar at a dinner party. I ended up setting up a ‘Make-your-own-spring-roll-bar’ at a little dim sum brunch party I threw a few years ago. Two of the folks at the party, who were vegetarian, were delighted to learn how easy they were to make and how much they tasted exactly like what they’d ordered at the local Vietnamese restaurant. While perfect for a party or as an appetizer, I also think they make a pretty good meal for two… and they really are quite healthy – tofu, veggies, rice noodle and rice wrapper; it’s basically a wrapped up salad with a starchy side and a little fat from the peanut sauce.
Regarding the peanut sauce…. I’ve tried many many many peanut sauce recipes over the last few years, and I could never get it to taste the way it tasted in the restaurant. Lime juice? No. Ginger? No. Miso? Nah. Sriracha? Nope. Sesame oil? Good idea in theory, but no. All the recipes I tried were over-thinking it. All you need is peanut butter, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, and water. BAM. Shoutout to Z Living Network for this easy peanut sauce recipe, though I changed the proportions to suit my taste.
One last word: don’t let the idea of wrapping spring rolls keep you from making these. They’re pretty much like folding up a burrito. And who cares if they’re not picture perfect when you make them? You’ll still enjoy eating them. If you’re making the rolls for the first time, I recommend buying eight-inch wrappers instead of the six-inch size because they’re bigger and a little more forgiving when you inevitably overfill them with the ingredients!
Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
makes about 12 spring rolls
For the spring roll:
- 1, 14oz block extra firm tofu
- 2 ounces bean thread noodles (find them in the Asian/international aisle)
- 12 spring roll wrappers (again in the Asian/international aisle)
- 1/3 head of green or red lettuce, washed and leaves torn into thirds
- 1/2 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
- 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
- handful of bean sprouts, washed
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, washed
- 2-3 scallions, chopped (optional)
- handful of Thai basil, washed (or any other basil you have)
- handful of mint, washed
- hot sauce for dipping, such as Sriracha or Chili-garlic sauce (optional)
For the peanut sauce:
- 3-4 tablespoons natural peanut butter
- 2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2-3 tablespoons water
1. Drain the water from the tofu and press it for at least 30 minutes by placing the tofu between two thick paper towels on a plate setting something heavy like a cast-iron skillet on top. Change the paper towels once if they become soggy. After the tofu has pressed, slice it into 12 thin pieces. Heat a nonstick pan on high heat and then sear the tofu in the pan, pressing it down with a spatula occasionally to squeeze out any last water, turning after a few minutes to sear the other side. (More on dry-panning tofu here.) Set aside.
2. Prep the bean thread noodles. Fill a medium bowl with very hot water (not boiling) and let the noodles sit 7-10 minutes until softened and slightly al dente. Drain and set aside.
3. Prep the peanut sauce and set aside. Mix the peanut sauce ingredients together until well-combined. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking, adding more vinegar if you prefer a tangier dip. Add more water if the sauce seems too thick.
4. Arrange the lettuce, cucumber, carrots, sprouts, and herbs on a platter.
5. Fill a shallow bowl with warm tap water.
6. Arrange the spring roll ingredients in the following order on the table to make assembly the easiest: spring roll wrappers, shallow bowl of warm water, platter of veggies and bowl of noodles, tofu, and finally the dipping sauces.
7. To assemble a spring roll:
- Dip a spring roll wrapper in the water for only a couple of seconds.
- Place the now wet wrapper on your plate, and like filling a burrito, place way less of the veggies, herbs, and noodles than you think will fill the wrapper into the lower third of the wrapper.
- Fold the wrapper over and turn in the sides, as you would fold a burrito. Place a piece of tofu in front of the veggies.
- Turn over again to seal in the tofu and voila! You’re ready to dip your spring roll in some peanut sauce and enjoy!