I used to buy Salad Rolls for lunch when I worked downtown from one of my favorite food carts. They were fresh and inexpensive and the peanut sauce was addictive. And I didn’t have to wait in line since they were ready-made and I always had exact change. Sounds pretty rushed for the devoted “Slow Foodie” that I am. . . . but sometimes work called!
Now many years later, I’ve finally learned to make them. I held a private cooking class this weekend and was asked to teach an Asian-inspired menu. Salad rolls were the first thing that came to mind so that was our starter.
This dish brought with it a conversation (mostly with myself) about using local produce. My classes/menus (and my everyday cooking) are driven by the produce I buy at the farmers’ markets. All of a sudden I found myself wanting/needing basil, mint, and cilantro–none of which are at local farmers’ markets right now. I bit the bullet and bought these things at the grocery store. I actually buy cilantro at the grocery store occasionally without giving it much thought but not the basil and mint. I grow both, but the mint is barely peeking out of the ground at the moment and of course the basil is months away. Now I do buy oranges and bananas in the winter and plenty of other non-local staples but because of the plethora of wonderful veggies that do grow here year-round, I’ve never really bought much produce out of season. I’m bemused and interested by my mental games and parameters I’ve somewhat unwittingly developed. More on this in a later post and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. . . .
My conclusion, post salad roll making and eating, is that a) I’ll plant more basil this year, and add cilantro to the mix (hoping it doesn’t bolt too fast) and b) I’ll occasionally indulge in salad rolls out-of-season too. They were just so good and so light and fresh after months of heavier winter fare.
So, now to the recipe. I adapted recipes from Gourmet for both the rolls and the peanut sauce. I made enough changes that I’m posting my versions here, but here’s also the original in case you’re curious.
Herb Salad Spring Rolls – adapted from Gourmet
1 ounce bean-thread (cellophane) noodles
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
eight 8-inch rounds rice paper plus additional in case some tear
1 green onion (scallion), cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
3 oz firm tofu, well-drained and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed well and spun dry
In a bowl soak noodles in very hot water to cover 15 minutes and drain well in a colander. With scissors cut remaining noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths and in a small bowl toss with vinegar and salt to taste.
In a shallow baking pan or cake pan soak 2 rounds rice paper in hot water to cover until very pliable, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Lay a dry dish towel on a large, flat dinner plate. Carefully spread 1 soaked round on it and blot top with other half of dish towel. Peel paper off and place on plate (it will stick to the towel if you leave it on the towel). Leave remaining round in water, and blot with dish towel. Arrange several basil leaves on bottom half of sheet, leaving a 1-inch border along edge. Top basil with about one-fourth of noodles, arranging them in a line across lettuce. Top noodles with one-fourth each of scallion, carrot, tofu, and cilantro and mint. Roll up filling tightly in rice paper, folding insides after first roll to completely enclose filling, and continue rolling.
Blot remaining soaked rice paper round on dish towel and blot other side then move to the plate. Wrap rice paper around spring roll in same manner. (Double wrapping covers any tears and makes roll more stable and easier to eat.) Wrap spring roll in rinsed and squeezed dish or paper towel and put in a resealable plastic bag. Make 3 more rolls with remaining ingredients in same manner. Rolls may be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Before serving, bring rolls to room temperature.
Halve rolls diagonally and serve with spicy peanut sauce.
Spicy Peanut Sauce – adapted from Gourmet
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or 1 small Serrano chili, minced, or to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lime, more to taste
In a small saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes or Serrano and ginger in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except lime) and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer sauce, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in lime or lemon juice. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.
Serve sauce warm or at room temperature.