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Recipe: Fresh Tofu Summer Rolls
Summer rolls, or fresh spring rolls, are a wonderfully light alternative to deep-fried spring rolls. Filled with tofu, asparagus, and shredded lettuce, they are perfect for summer when hot temperatures warrant cooling foods (and hence the name). It is important to remove the ribs from the lettuce leaves so as not to tear through the delicate rice papers. Rice paper is extremely fragile, yet the rolls must hold together. This means that they have to be rolled tightly. Too loose and it will look unattractive. Too tight and it will break. Practice definitely makes perfect when making these fresh rolls.
Serves 6; makes 24 rolls
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 small to medium head Boston lettuce, ribs removed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips.
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, steamed until tender, and cut into 2-inch-long pieces
- 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned into 2-inch-long pieces
- 8 fresh mint leaves, or 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 2 scallions, trimmed and julienned into 2-inch-long pieces
- 24 round rice papers (8 inches in diameter)
- Asian Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and pan-fry the tofu slices until golden and crisp on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate, cool, and cut into strips 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick, about the size of thick french-fries.
On a large platter, arrange the lettuce, asparagus, carrot, mint or cilantro leaves, scallions, and tofu sticks in individual piles, one next to the other.
Fill a rectangular baking pan halfway with lukewarm water. Arrange a lint-free kitchen towel on your work surface. Have a second lint-free kitchen towel for blotting. Soak 2 rice papers, one at a time, separating them as you add them to the water, until pliable and fully softened, about 3 minutes. Carefully lift and place them flat, one next to the other, on the towel. With the other towel blot them dry. (You want to work with a paper that is sticky, not wet and slippery.)
On the side closest to you and 1 inch from the edge, place a couple of pieces of tofu and asparagus, followed by small amounts of the lettuce, carrots, mint, and scallions. (Be light-handed here, as overstuffing your paper will probably result in tearing.) Lift up the edge of the paper closest to you and fold over the filling. Fold in the sides, and continue to roll to the end. (It should be tight, but not so tight that you tear it. You do not want a flabby-looking roll.) Repeat until you have 24 rolls. Serve with Asian Peanut Sauce on the side for dipping.
Asian Peanut Sauce
It is a smart idea to learn how to make a good peanut sauce. For one, it is a great sauce for dipping all sorts of cocktail foods, including the popular fresh spring rolls (also known as summer rolls). Or, try tossing egg noodles with it for a quick bite-I promise that you will not be disappointed. The cooked sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. After refrigeration it may thicken. If that is the case, just add a small amount of water or chicken stock to loosen the sauce while slowly reheating it. You can substitute 1 cup 100 percent pure peanut butter for the peanuts to save time. Some store-bought red curry pastes are spicier than others, so add it according to your taste.
Makes about 3 cups
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, or to taste
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted dry-roasted peanuts, ground to a powder
- 1/4 cup palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups Basic Asian Stock
- 1/3 cup tamarind (liquid concentrate) or fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro or mint leaves, minced
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the curry paste and stir-fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the peanuts and stir, roasting them until two shades darker but not burnt, about 8 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved and starts to caramelize, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, tamarind or lemon juice, hoisin sauce, and fish sauce. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened (look for a crème anglaise consistency), allowing the natural oils from the peanuts to surface, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve at room temperature.
Stir-Fried Sweet Potato Noodles with Vegetables and Beef
Chap chae is a classic Korean dish made with sweet potato cellophane noodles. These are two to three times as thick as their Chinese counterpart, which is made with mung bean starch. Stir-fried with vegetables and julienned beef, it is a perfect light meal. A small amount of julienned beef is traditionally added to the dish, but ground beef is a delicious alternative, allowing the cook to distribute the flavorful meat throughout the dish. Try it either way.
Eight ounces of meat is plenty, but add more for a heartier meal. For interesting variations, substitute chicken or pork for the beef. Chinese mung bean noodles can be used here, but note that they will cook in half as much time. Freeze the beef for 30 to 45 minutes for easy slicing.
- 12 ounces dried sweet potato noodles, soaked in water until pliable
- 1/3 cup thin soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 8 to 12 ounces beef sirloin, thinly sliced and julienned, or coarsely ground
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks
- 10 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, and caps julienned
- 1 pound baby spinach
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat, and cook the noodles until tender but still chewy, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, shock under cold running water, and drain again. Set aside.
In a bowl combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, and whisk until the sugar dissolves completely. Take 2 tablespoons of the sauce and use to marinate the beef in a separate bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Stir-fry the garlic and carrots for 10 seconds. Add the shiitakes and spinach and stir-fry until just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the vegetable stir-fry to a plate. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and stir-fry the marinated meat, breaking it up (especially if using ground beef), until just cooked, about 1 minute. Add to the vegetable stir-fry. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and stir-fry the noodles with the remaining sauce, tossing to coat evenly. Reduce the heat to medium, return the vegetables and meat to the skillet, season with pepper, and toss to combine well. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.
About Corinne Trang:
Corinne Trang is a New York-based award-winning author who has written for such distinguished publications as Food & Wine, Health, Cooking Light, and Saveur, where she held the positions of test kitchen director and producing editor from 1996 to 1998.
Her first cookbook, Authentic Vietnamese Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 1999) won Best Asian Cuisine Book in the World and Best Book on Asian Cuisine in English at France's Salon International du Livre Gourmand (The 2000 World Cookbook Fair). It was also awarded Best of the Best of 1999 by Food & Wine magazine. Her second book, Essentials of Asian Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2003), which covers Chinese cuisine and its influence on the major cuisines of Asia including Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, has already received much praise from the press including starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Cook's Illustrated. Since then she's published The Asian Grill (Chronicle Books, 2006), A Food Lover's Companion: Vietnamese (Mark & Spencer, 2007), and the recently published Noodles Every Day (Chronicle Books, 2009). In addition to writing her own cookbooks, Trang has contributed to many others including Curry Cuisine (Dorling Kindersley, 2007), Saveur Cooks Authentic American (Chronicle Books, 1998), Saveur Cooks Authentic French (Chronicle Books, 1999), and The Encyclopedia of Food & Culture (Scribners & Sons, 2003). Born in France's Loire Valley of a French mother and a Cambodian-Chinese father, Trang was raised in Phnom Penh, Paris, and New York. She has traveled extensively and studied culture and cuisine throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Bolstered by her multi-ethnic background, her deepest commitment is to exploring the relationship between culture and food.