12 July 2013
Summer rolls with fresh herbs & peanut-chili sauce
What's next on the it's-too-hot-to-cook menu? I propose the summer roll: seared tofu, slivered crunchy vegetables, and handfuls of fresh herbs rolled in a delicate rice paper wrapper and dipped in a rich, tangy peanut sauce. Obviously the tofu requires some minor stovetop heat (although you can always use raw, or just make rolls minus tofu if you prefer), but everything else is cold.
For vegetable fillings, I went pretty classic. In place of the usual rice noodles, I used shredded cabbage, which provided a nice extra crunch and eliminated a pot of boiling water on the stove. And of course summer rolls need an assortment of herbs, so I grabbed some mint and basil from the garden and a bunch of cilantro from the store.
The classic sauce for Thai summer rolls is peanut. I've been looking for a good recipe for way too long, and now I finally have one. I based it on Minimalist Baker's Thai peanut sauce, with a few key changes. For one thing, we don't have any chili garlic paste hanging around; instead, I used sweet chili sauce and omitted the extra sugar. The result was the best Thai peanut sauce I've ever made.
Summer rolls with tofu, veg, and herbs
red bell pepper
fresh cilantro, mint, & basil
rice paper wrappers
peanut sauce to serve
Start by cutting your tofu into long batons and searing them on all sides in a little peanut oil. Let them cool before you assemble your rolls.
Seed your cucumber, peel both it and your carrot, and sliver up all your vegetables. Strip your herbs off their stems; if the leaves are particularly huge, cut them into smaller pieces.
To assemble a summer roll, first soften your rice paper wrapper by soaking it in a shallow dish of water for about 1 minute. I used a pie plate, which was a bit smaller than ideal, but worked nonetheless. Only soak one sheet at a time, or your papers will get too soggy. You want them to be just flexible.
Put your rice paper on a work surface and pile your fillings in a line 2/3 of the way down, leaving a bit of space at either side. If you want a lovely decorative herb presentation, you can arrange your herbs in a line another third of the way up the wrapper, but it's also fine to just pile them up with the main filling. I decided to go for the fancy presentation not only because it's pretty, but because we have a cilantro-hater in the house, so I wanted to clearly distinguish between rolls with cilantro and those without.
Roll the bottom edge of your rice paper up over the vegetable and tofu filling. Fold in both sides to seal, and then continue rolling from the bottom up to create a long egg roll shape. Repeat until all your fillings are used up. I made ten rolls with half a block of tofu.
Serve your rolls with peanut sauce. If you have leftovers, cover them with a damp paper towel in a sealed container and they should keep for a couple days.
Thai peanut sauce
2 giant honking spoonfuls natural peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
2+ tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup hot tap water
Stir the living crap out of your peanut butter before you use it. I'm just saying. Natural peanut butter naturally separates into oils & solids, so you want to be super sure you've gotten the oil well mixed down to the bottom of the jar before you start scooping. Do it! Otherwise you'll be facing a quarter jar of dry peanut paste in a few weeks.
Combine all ingredients but the water in a medium bowl and mix well with a fork. Add half the water and mix again. If you're happy with the consistency, go ahead and serve. If you want to thin it down a bit more, incorporate the rest of the water.
Eat with summer rolls.
Needless to say, there will be more peanut sauce in the future. I would absolutely make up a batch just to dip cucumber slices and carrot sticks. It would be great tossed with cold noodles and crowned with steamed broccoli or ladled over a plateful of seared tofu and vegetables. I'm also having visions of brushing it over eggplant slices and baking until awesome. It's all good.