A Fresh & Easy Recipe That's Packed With Flavor

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tofuPhoto: Dana Shultz.
This is my kind of soul food.

The kind that’s fresh, filling, loaded with flavor, and doesn’t make you feel like crap afterwards. Now that’s (healthy) living.

My cookbook features spring roll recipes, but none of those versions has such an abundance of flavorful components and fresh herbs as my most recent rendition of this Asian classic.

Typically I leave my tofu raw, but here, I give it a crispy edge by dredging it in cornstarch and sautéeing it in sesame oil. Then, I toss it in my savory almond butter dipping sauce and give it another flash “fry” in the pan.

The result is a tender, slightly crispy, perfectly seasoned tofu that’s way better than in its raw state. And yet, it's not too complicated.

An essential component of this recipe is the dipping sauce.

Typically, Vietnamese spring rolls come with a vinegar-based sauce, but, sorry no — I'm not a fan. I just can’t pass up the opportunity to whip up a creamy nut-based sauce.

Although I love a good peanut sauce for spring rolls, because peanuts can be a little hard to digest, I went with almond butter as the base. Still so good and perfectly savory and sweet.
tofu2Photo: Dana Shultz.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls With Crispy Tofu
Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the Spring Rolls
1/2 cup each julienned carrots, red pepper, and cucumber
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh mint
4 oz vermicelli or rice noodles (the thinner the better)
8-10 rice spring roll papers

For the Almond Butter Dipping Sauce
1/3 cup salted creamy almond butter
1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1-2 tbsp brown sugar, agave or honey if not vegan (depending on preferred sweetness)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce
Hot water to thin

For the Crispy Tofu
8 oz extra firm tofu, drained and thoroughly dried/pressed
4 tbsp sesame oil, divided
3 tbsp cornstarch
2.5 tbsp almond butter dipping sauce
1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar or agave nectar

Instructions:
1. Start by preparing rice noodles in boiling hot water for about 10 minutes (read instructions on package), then drain, and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat and cut pressed tofu into small rectangles. Toss in 3 tbsp cornstarch and flash fry in approximately 3 tbsp sesame oil, flipping on all sides to ensure even browning — about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.

3. Prep veggies and prepare almond butter sauce by adding all sauce ingredients except water to a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add enough hot water to thin mixture until a pourable sauce is achieved. Adjust flavors as needed (I often add a little more chili garlic sauce and brown sugar).

4. To add more flavor to the tofu, transfer approximately 2.5 tbsp of the sauce to a small bowl and add an additional tbsp each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar (or agave) and whisk to combine.

5. Add tofu back to the skillet over medium heat and add “sauce/glaze,” stirring to coat. Cook for several minutes or until all of the sauce is absorbed and the tofu looks glazed, stirring frequently (see photos). Set aside with prepared veggies and vermicelli noodles.

6. To assemble spring rolls, pour very hot water into a shallow dish or skillet and immerse rice paper to soften for about 10-15 seconds.

7. Transfer to a damp cutting board or damp towel and gently spread out edges into a circle. It may take a little practice, so don’t feel bad if your first few attempts fail!

8. To the bottom third of the wrapper add a small handful of vermicelli noodles and layer carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, fresh herbs, and 2-3 pieces of tofu on top. Gently fold over once, tuck in edges, and continue rolling until seam is sealed.

9. Place seam-side down on a serving platter and cover with damp warm towel to keep fresh. Repeat until all fillings are used up — about 8-10 spring rolls total. Serve with almond butter sauce and sriracha or hot sauce of choice.

Leftovers store well individually wrapped in plastic — if you somehow manage to have leftovers.

Next: A Stir Fry Recipe With Tofu And Cauliflower