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
48 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)
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
For the summer rolls
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.
For the peanut sauce
- 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.