Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Spring rolls are traditionally made of sliced pork, boiled shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles and Vietnamese herbs wrapped in rice paper called bánh tráng. Since I cook for a vegetarian crowd every day, today I made “salad” rolls with sauteed carrots, beech mushrooms, shredded white cabbage, soybean sprouts, fried tofu and the usual rice vermicelli noodles, lettuce and Vietnamese mint.
Served at room temperature with a vegetarian dipping sauce, they make the perfect summer entree. And speaking of summer, wrapping almost anything is a really great way to exercise portion control, which will do wonders for your bikini bod!
Yields: 10 servings1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu
1 large jicama
2 cups beech mushrooms (see tips), separated
½ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil), as needed
1 tablespoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
2 carrots, peeled and shredded into about 5"-long thick strips
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1½ cups white cabbage, shredded
1½ cups soybean sprouts
½ cup yellow onions (see tips), sliced and fried
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1¼ tablespoons superfine sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 (16-ounce) package rice vermicelli noodles, boiled, drained and cooled at room temperature
20 bánh tráng disks (rice paper, see tips)
¼ cup Vietnamese mint, chopped
4 cups lettuce, shredded
¼ cup Thai basil, chopped
vegetarian dipping sauce
For the tofu: Drain any liquid from the tofu. Pat dry with a paper towel. Slice the tofu into ½"-thick slices. In a large pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil; pan-fry the tofu slices on both sides until golden and puffy. The tofu should have a nice fried outer crust and still be moist inside. Transfer the tofu onto paper towels. Once the tofu pieces are cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips.
For the jicama: Peel and slice horizontally into ½"-thick pieces. In the same large pan, add about 1 tablespoon oil and fry the jicama slices until golden brown. Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips.
For the carrot: In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil (if necessary). Add ½ clove of garlic and cook until golden. Add the carrots and drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons water. Stir-fry over high heat until softened. Season with mushroom salt and pepper.
Repeat the same procedure with the cabbage, soybean sprouts and mushrooms. Note: Make sure the heat is at its highest, so the elements of the spring rolls aren't watery.
Fill a saucepan with water. Bring the water to a boil. Let cool a bit. Quickly dip the rice papers, one at a time, into the warm water and place on a clean flat surface. Wait about 1 or 2 minutes. The rice paper should be soft but not too wet. I usually dip 4 rice papers at a time, then start wrapping.
Place 2 leaves of mint, shredded lettuce, tofu and vermicelli noodles in the center and about 2 tablespoons vegetables, about 1½" from the bottom edge of the rice paper.
Carefully fold each side flap and roll away from you. If the rice paper is moistened properly, it should easily stick and roll. Tuck all the mixture into the wrapper, forming a cigar. Continue until all the rice papers disks are used.
Serve with soy sauce dipping sauce.
Bánh tráng are dried rice paper sheets. I buy the Ba Co Gai (Three Ladies) brand for this dish. The rice paper isn't too thick, yet strong enough not to easily break on contact with moisture. I use the same brand for my phở noodles. You can find all these ingredients in Asian stores.
For the rice vermicelli noodles, just boil the noodles as you would for regular pasta. Drain thoroughly but do not rinse. Let cool completely.
You can find mushroom seasoning salt in most Asian specialty markets.
You can find beech mushooms in most Asian markets. They look similar to enoki mushrooms but are larger and taste very close to oyster mushrooms. You could replace them with button mushrooms.
Jicama is a large, sweet, firm root vegetable that when fried, is used in vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine to imitate juicy pork fat and pork skin. It's crunchy like an apple and filling like a potato. You can find it (it's called củ sắn in Vietnamese) n most supermarket produce sections.