I love this time of year. Not because I love winter – but I love the fact that the days are slowly, steadily getting longer. I like the quiet of winter. The long dark evenings. The clean blanket of snow. The fact that it’s actually easier to sit at my desk now than it will be in six months when the garden will be luring me outdoors. Mostly, I love the fact that spring is coming, and then summer, and then autumn. It turns out that what I really love is the fact that I live in a place where we have four distinct seasons. And I spend a good portion of winter looking forward to the other three.
I’m back at my desk again after months of being on the road. My beautiful companion, Lola, can scarcely believe it. We are back on a schedule of walking and working and though I feel the constant pull of the kitchen, the gym, spending time catching up with friends, and a general relentless restlessness, I’m doing my best to start work on a big new project.
The beginning of anything new is often the hardest bit; at least it is for me. Well, the hardest bit if you discount the middle and the end. And then all that follows. New projects make me want to procrastinate a little longer. I suddenly start thinking of all the odd jobs I’ve needed to do for months or longer. I’d like to paint my bed. And the whole interior of my house. I’ve got a stack of books I’d like to read. I’ve got mending and shopping I should do. And I start thinking of things I’d like to make in my kitchen – a lemon yogurt poppy-seed loaf glazed with lemon icing suddenly seems absolutely imperative. Homemade ricotta cheese. Preserved lemons. Red wine jelly. A large batch of chili. A Catalan beef stew loaded with olives. It takes serious discipline for me to stay out of the kitchen.
The truth is, I cannot manage to stay out of the kitchen for long and I cannot imagine a life where I didn’t cook. I think good food is fundamental to a life well-lived and that we constantly underestimate its importance. As far as I’m concerned, time in the kitchen is time well spent.
So these Vietnamese tofu spring rolls are perhaps a little more time-consuming than strictly necessary. But they are so well worth the time and effort. They are a great dish to make with a favourite friend. Get all the bits and pieces ready and then create a spring roll assembly line.
And even if you think you don’t like tofu – there’s something about the blend of flavours here that just works so well. The slightly crispy caramelized tofu provides the perfect backdrop to the other flavours and textures of fresh cilantro and mint, and the spicy dipping sauce. Every single time I cook with tofu I’m amazed at what a fantastic, inexpensive source of protein it is. The rolls are vegan and they’re also gluten and dairy-free and can be made several hours in advance of serving. (Just omit the fish sauce and use a little soya sauce in its place if you’re catering to vegans or vegetarians.)
This recipe comes from A Taste of Wintergreen.
Vietnamese Tofu Spring Rolls
- 16-24 large rice paper wrappers (about 22 cm in diameter)
- 100 grams of thin rice vermicelli noodles, cooked and drained, and chopped a bit to make eating easier
- 1 bunch of cilantro, washed and trimmed (remove most of the stems)
- 1 cup mint leaves, chopped
- 1 lb (454 grams) firm tofu, well-drained
- 3 tbsp soya sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp sunflower or other oil
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp sweet Asian chili sauce
- 4 tbsp fish sauce (or 2 tbsp soya sauce for a vegan version)
- juice of one fresh lime
Begin my slicing the block of tofu lengthwise into four pieces. Then cut each of the four long pieces into four more pieces lengthwise – for a total of 16 pieces. Combine the soya sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and salt and pour this marinade into a glass lasagna pan. Lay the tofu in the marinade and turn gently to coat. Let the tofu stand in the marinade for 30 minutes while you prep the remainder of the ingredients.
Place the prepared cilantro and mint in a bowl together. Cook and drain the noodles then chop a couple of times roughly (with kitchen scissors) and place in a bowl. Lay out a large glass or similar pie plate large enough to fit the rice paper wrappers. Bring kettle of hot water to the boil.
Once the tofu has marinated for 30 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of sunflower oil in a large skillet. Gently transfer the tofu to the skillet and allow to brown on medium high heat, at least one minute on each side or longer if necessary.
To assemble, pour boiling water into the glass (or similar) pie plate and place a rice paper wrapper into the hot water. Remove carefully, after about a minute, and place another wrapper in the hot water. Begin by placing a tablespoon or so of the cilantro and mint mixture in the centre of the wrapper in a horizontal line. Add a few noodles, then place a strip of the tofu on top. If your strips of tofu are too long – break a piece off and reserve to use with other broken pieces. Fold the sides of the wrapper in and begin rolling the wrapper tightly around the contents. Set aside and continue. You will need to replace the boiling water in the pie plate as it cools to ensure that the rice paper wrappers are softened.
Once all the rolls are made – slice in half with a diagonal cut. Mix together the dipping sauce ingredients and either wrap the rolls in cling wrap and chill, or just serve immediately.