Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Rolls for Summer Days

Near my house is a cafe that has seen several incarnations over the past fifteen years. The good, bad, and the indifferent have all existed in the space, which is on prime real estate in our commercial center and, amazingly, has parking. The most recent business to open there is Kickstand Cafe, and it seems that form and function have finally merged. The food and coffee are great and the atmosphere is lovely. I should know since I camped out there quite a bit while my house was under construction. 

One of the first things I tried at Kickstand was their summer rolls, and I was instantly hooked. Really hooked. And even though the rolls are inexpensive, the cost of eating them so often was mounting up. So while I'll never give up on Kickstand, I have started making summer rolls at home too. 

Summer rolls are delightfully easy to make, and (mostly) do not involve turning on any hot appliances during these hazy summer days. OK, I do roast tofu, but because that can be done ahead of time I pick the least hot moment to turn on the oven. Once all of the ingredients are in bowls, the assembly goes quickly.

One thing I try to mimic closely from Kickstand is their peanut dipping sauce. This sauce may, in fact, be the reason for my obsession with this dish. Without knowing Kickstand's ingredients, I bumbled along and created a reasonable approximation that is quite worthy of savoring all by itself on a spoon.

Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
makes 16 rolls

For the sauce:
1/3 c. smooth peanut butter
1/3 c. hoisin sauce
1/3 c. water, plus more if needed
the juice from one lime
kosher salt to taste
siracha or other hot sauce to taste

In a bowl, mix the peanut butter, hoisin, water, and lime juice until smooth. Add additional water to make the sauce pourable (but still thick). Add salt and hot sauce to taste. Set aside.

For the rolls:
1 14 oz. package firm tofu
cooking spray
kosher salt to taste
6 oz. thin rice noodles (also called mai fun or vermicelli)
2 carrots, grated fine
1 T. rice vinegar
5 pieces of romaine or leaf lettuce, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1 cup cilantro sprigs, packed
16 rice Spring Roll Skins (found at Whole Foods or Asian Markets)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Slice tofu into 1/2 inch slices and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Blot tofu dry with paper towels, then spray lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tofu is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool (tofu can be refrigerated at this point for up to one week). 

Place rice noodles in a bowl. Pour boiling water over them and let sit until tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain and set aside. 

Toss grated carrots with rice vinegar in a bowl and set aside. Place lettuce, mint, and cilantro in separate bowls. Cut tofu into sticks. Line up the noodles, tofu, carrots, lettuce, and herbs around a cutting board. 

Place spring roll skins near the cutting board. Fill a pie plate or shallow bowl with lukewarm water and place next to skins. One at a time, submerge a spring roll skin into the water until softened, about 10-15 seconds. Remove skin and place on the cutting board. Add some of each of the ingredients to your liking in the middle of the skin. Fold the top over the ingredients, then the sides, then roll it towards you tightly to seal the roll. Place on a plate or a container lined with wax paper, taking care that the rolls don't touch each other. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Serve with dipping sauce.