Spring Rolls

The sun was out, the mercury topped sixty, and all signs pointed to spring. So we made spring rolls.

My mom makes amazing spring rolls with all sorts of different fillings–salmon, pork and shrimp, tofu, and just veggies. Tonight, I had a box of tofu that I wanted to use up. I prefer my tofu fried in a little oil. I like the crunchy outside and soft middle of fried tofu.

Nacho Man loves these. For years, he and my mom ribbed me about the fact that I couldn’t roll a spring roll that didn’t look like an overstuffed sausage. When I asked him how come he was so good at it, he looked at me and said, “It’s like rolling a burrito.”

Fusion family, fusion cooking.

You’ll need a dip for the spring rolls. When I was younger, I wouldn’t go anywhere near nuoc mam, a traditional dipping sauce that has fish sauce as a base. My  mom would make me a separate sauce of soy sauce, a little water and sugar, and chili paste. But once Nacho Man and I were together and I’d watch him dive spring roll after spring roll into nuoc mam, I decided to give it another try. Now, it’s my sauce of choice, too. Spring rolls just don’t taste right without them.

Spring rolls are definitely more involved than throwing a pot of water on the stove and boiling spaghetti, which we do a fair share of here. But if you have a little extra time or energy to devote to prep work and construction, spring rolls are a great way to break out of a midweek food rut. As long as you’re going to the effort, make a lot of them, wrap them individually, and refrigerate them. You’ll be the envy of everyone in the staff lunch room the following day.

Slice your tofu and set it between two paper towels.

Heat some oil in a large, deep frying pan on medium-high heat. Fry the tofu in small batches, flipping once, until they’re golden brown. Set the fried tofu on another set of clean paper towels.

Rice paper and rice stick. You need to cook the rice stick in boiling water. You also need to boil water to soften the rice paper.

Don’t worry about breaking apart the sheet of rice stick before you put it in the pot of boiling water.

Just submerge the entire sheet. It’ll start to soften immediately, so don’t walk away from it. Stir. These noodles cook in just a couple of minutes and need to be drained, then rinsed in cold water right away, or you’ll have paste.

My production line. That bowl of water is for the rice paper. Quickly rotate the rice paper through the hot water. If the water’s too hot, or you take too long moving the rice paper through it, you’ll get a sticky, unworkable mess. I know this from experience. It’s okay. One quick rotation through the water is all it needs. Set the dampened rice paper on a clean work surface. It might still feel a little crispy, but it will continue to soften.

Filling goes on the bottom of the softened spring roll wrapper.

Bring the sides in.

Tuck the bottom of the wrapper over the filling and roll.

Now for the nuoc mam. Mix 1 part fish sauce, 1 part vinegar, and 2 parts water into a large bowl. Add 1 part sugar and stir until dissolved.

Can you take it?

Serve with tangy, spicy nuoc mam.

Spring Rolls with Tofu

Ingredients:

spring roll wrappers

dried rice stick noodles

1 block of tofu, cut into strips

2 carrots, julienned (shredded if you want to save some time)

half an English cucumber, cut into sticks

cilantro (optional)

Thai basil (optional)

lettuce (optional)

your oil of choice for frying (olive oil not recommended)

Directions:

1. Set the tofu strips between paper towels.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil for the rice stick noodles.

3. Set a large, deep frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the oil. Fry the tofu strips in batches, flipping once, until they are golden brown on each side. Set the fried tofu on a plate with clean, dry paper towels.

4. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, take the kettle off the heat so the water can cool a bit.

5. Cook noodles according to package directions. Be sure not to overcook them, and rinse them in cold water as soon as they are finished cooking.

6. Pour the teakettle water into a large, shallow dish. Set the rice paper, cooked noodles, tofu, and vegetables nearby in an assembly line.

7. Rotate a piece of rice paper through the dish of water. If the water’s too hot or you leave the rice paper in it for too long, it’ll turn sticky and unmanageable. The key is to let the water cool slightly, and move the rice paper through it rapidly.

8. Set the rice paper on a clean work surface, such as a cutting board.

9. Add ingredients to one end of the rice paper. I like to place the lettuce first (didn’t use any on this night), followed by noodles, tofu (or meat), vegetables, and herbs.

10. Roll the rice paper as though it’s a burrito. Fold the sides in, pull the bottom corner up over the filling, then roll.

Nuoc Mam

Ingredients:

A little goes a long way; I usually combine 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar with 1/2 cup of the water, and it makes plenty for a large family dinner or to save. This will keep in the refrigerator for a very long time.

1 part fish sauce

1 part vinegar

1 part sugar

2 parts water

chili paste to taste

Directions:

1. Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, and water in a large bowl.

2. Add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Test and adjust flavors if needed.

3. Add chili paste to taste.

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