(Almost End of) Summer Rolls

September 3, 2008

As a personal chef, I feel really lucky to have such great clients. I currently have three couples that I cook dinner for twice a week (one couple is just once a week), and they have been really flexible and understanding whenever I go out of town, or one of my kids get sick, or I decide to take a 6 month maternity leave. Perhaps best of all, they eat whatever I bring them. None of them is vegetarian but they are happy to eat that way and they haven’t really had any dietary or dislike restrictions. I have just been able to show up with what I felt like making that day and they have been happy to eat it.

Until about 3 months ago. My friend and longest standing client Stephanie told me that her husband really doesn’t like Asian food and neither of them really like mushrooms. This was a blow because a) I LOVE Asian food and b) mushrooms are an important part of vegetarian cuisine – for me anyway. They travel on a semi-regular basis so whenever they are gone, I make Asian food or Things with Mushrooms or Asian Mushroom Food.

Last night I made a Red Curry with Summer Vegetables and Fresh Summer Rolls. The rolls are something I have been working on for years. I used to order them all the time at the Noodle Ranch in Seattle where my taste buds were forever spoiled because they were so good and are so mediocre at most other places I have tried. I have experimented with all different recipes with all different fillings, and have attempted to perfect my rolling technique. I have to say, last night I think I nailed it. I borrowed an idea from here and there and I used an incredible dipping sauce from Everyday Greens. Some day when I am the master of my new camera (it is currently the master of me), I will document a step by step photo montage of how to make these. For now, I will just have to try and be descriptive. They are not hard to make, just a little time consuming and so so so so worth it.

A word about the tofu. I found tofu that had already been fried at PCC. This was huge for me because I hate frying tofu, or frying anything for that matter. If you are unable to find it and don’t want to fry your own, you can either just use plain or use one of the flavored varieties (stick with Asian-y flavors). You can also use my super simple and delicious method described here.

Fresh Summer Rolls with Tofu and Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce
Makes approximately 12

The carrots, cucumber, and tofu can all be prepared a day ahead and stored, separately, in the refrigerator. The herbs are flexible here. Use just mint and Thai basil if you hate cilantro, or all mint if you can’t find Thai basil. Rice paper rounds can be found in the Asian section of some supermarkets – Whole Foods has them. They are about frisbee diameter. For the noodles, look for those that are about the width of angel hair pasta. Any thicker and it won’t turn out right.

12 rice paper rounds
3 medium carrots, cut into very thin matchsticks about 3 inches long

1 lg. “English” cucumber

4 oz. thin rice noodles

12 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long

Cilantro leaves

Thai Basil leaves (substitute mint, if desired)

Blanch the carrots in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut both ends off the cucumber. Stand it on one end and, avoiding the seeds, cut down the length of the cucumber. Keep turning it 45 degrees and making the same cut, then discard the seedy interior. Slice the four pieces into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long. Set aside.

Place the noodles in a large heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand 10 minutes, drain, and set aside.

Mix the cilantro leaves and Thai basil leaves in a small bowl.

Have all your ingredients ready in front of you. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and spread out a clean dishtowel on a work surface. Place one rice paper round in the water and allow it to soften for about 15 seconds. You want it slightly pliable but not mush. It will continue to soften once you get it out of the water. (If you leave it in for too long, it will become like plastic wrap and be difficult to work with.) Scatter a few cilantro leaves and a few Thai basil leaves over the surface of the paper. Starting about 2-3 inches from the bottom of the round, place a few pieces of carrot, then a few pieces of cucumber, then a few pieces of tofu, and then a small fingerful of noodles. Stack them one ahead of the other, not one on top of the other. Resist the urge to overfill until you get the hang of what is the right amount.

Fold the bottom of the circle over the filling and try to compress the filling a bit. Continue rolling, then fold the right and left side in, then roll up to the top. Roll it over on itself so the seam will stick. Continue with the rest of the papers and filling ingredients. Rolls can be made about 4 hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator, covered loosely with a damp paper towel.

Peanut-Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Adapted from
Everyday Greens
Makes about 1 cup

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

1/3 cup water

1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Heat the oil in a small saute pan and add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain
on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finely chop and transfer to a small bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir.

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