Tofu Herb Summer Rolls & Peanut Sauce

I never really understood people who say it’s too hot outside to eat. I’ve only experienced that feeling once in my life, and it’s because I had full on heat stroke.

But any other day, even when it’s above 30° Celsius, I’m probably thinking about food. I’m not usually hankering after chili or schitzel when the mercury jumps, but crisp, juicy fruit and vegetable based dishes never fail to hit the spot.

Some of my favourite go-to hot weather snacks? Watermelon (obviously), fresh fruit of any sort, gazpacho, tabbouleh, corn on the cob, salted edamame, maki sushi, cold noodle salads, chips and guacamole, a heaping platter of crudités with hummus, and of course… summer rolls.

To get the extremely unnecessary recipe for what is essentially raw vegetables rolled in rice paper, click here. There’s a peanut sauce recipe down there too.

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The first summer rolls – or fresh spring rolls as some people call them – I can remember having were made by my mother in the 1990s. At the time, she was somehow running a catering business, babysitting a troupe of kids, homeschooling her own two (yes, I know, it explains a lot), and smocking dresses for dozens of babies.

She would make a mixture of shrimp, bean sprouts, herbs, and peanut sauce and wrap it up into an all-in-one, no-need-to-sauce roll. They were a hit.

When I got older and moved to Ottawa, I was introduced to goi cuon, Vietnamese summer rolls. Roast pork or tender shrimp, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cilantro, mint, Thai basil, and maybe some other fresh vegetables. We’d happily dip them in hoisin sauce and/or nuoc cham (a fish sauce and lime based sauce) while we waited for our pho. I’m not sure how I had room for both, but I always managed.

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In recent years, a sort of “whatever I have around or am craving” summer roll has become a stand by in our household. While it’s perfect for these hot summer days, it’s been known to make an appearance in January.

These days I find myself more drawn to peanut sauce to accompany them, but hoisin and nuoc cham remain classics. By the way, if you’re looking for any sauce recipes, Serious Eats’ Sauced is usually where I head to find one. I’ve included a rough peanut sauce recipe below, I say rough because I usually add a little more, a little less, a dash of this, and a dash of that until it tastes perfect according to my preference that day. I recommend you do the same.

I like to use bean thread noodles instead of rice vermicelli because I like their slippery yet crunchy texture, and they’re harder to overcook. I’ve switched to using either sesame tofu or smoked tofu instead of meat in my rolls, and the vegetables vary depending on what’s around, but you can always count on an overflow of herbs. We have mint and cilantro in the garden right now, and they make these even more special.

You can either make your rolls all in one go and then eat them sitting down, or you can eat them as you go. The former is more efficient, but I find the latter more enteraining when you have guests over, or, if people are picky and don’t want to get stuck with a “what would two whole jalapenos in here taste like” experiment.

Now for the nitty gritty.

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Tofu Herb Summer Rolls

Makes enough for 3 people, more or less.

350 grams extra firm tofu or smoked tofu, drained and lightly pressed
sesame oil

20-30 large rice sheets
2 bundles of bean thread noodles

1 bunch of cilantro, torn, or 2 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves
2 stalks of mint, or, 1/2 cup lightly packed leaves
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 head of romaine lettuce, or, 1 head butter lettuce
4 cups thinly sliced or grated vegetables that can include: red or green cabbage, carrot, daikon radish, zucchini, cucumber, beets, etc.

Heat up a decent amount of sesame oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat until almost smoking. While it heats, cut the tofu into thick batons, the fry in the hot oil until browned and crispy on all sides.

In the meantime, pour boiling water over the bean thread noodles and let them sit for five to 10 minutes or until they’re soft but not mushy, drain and rinse.

Prep the vegetables and set yourself up with a bowl of warm water, a towel, a plate, and a serving plate.

When everything is ready, assemble your summer rolls by soaking a piece of rice paper in warm water until just pliable – it will continue to soften so keep them al dente! – then dab on the towel to remove excess moisture and start building on your plate. Tear up the pieces of lettuce and herbs as you go, and add whatever you want to your roll.

Fold your roll however best works for you, I like to fold in both sides and then roll up the bottom and tuck it tightly as I roll it up. You know, like a sleeping bag you want to fit back in the bag you bought it in? (Whoever actually succeeds in this gets an A+ in camping and will probably excel at rolling summer rolls.)

Slice in half on the diagonal if you’re feeling fancy, or just bite off the top, spoon in sauce, and devour.

Peanut Sauce

Makes about 1 cup of sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter, processed will be more junk food-y, natural will be more natur-y, obviously
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
juice of 1 lime

Start by adding the warm water in a slow drizzle to the peanut butter so it doesn’t seize up. Add everything else and whisk like the dickens, or just blend in a food processor or blender until creamy. Use as a dip for summer rolls, a dressing for salads, or something to dip your fingers into before licking.

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