7 years ago, i made these fresh vegetable spring rolls and brought them to a party with friends and their partners. my friend’s husband tried these fresh vegetable spring rolls. every. single. time. i have seen him since then, he has RAVED about these spring rolls. every time.
now, granted, i don’t see my friend and her husband that frequently, but still, 7 years. every time. all of that to say, at least one person besides me thinks these are really good.
now that i’ve totally hyped the spring rolls up, i should probably mention that they require some ingredients. some ingredients that may require a little searching and/or a little online ordering and/or a little substituting.
because i want you to be able to experience these spring rolls, though, i’m going to go through each of the ingredients and provide sources, alternatives, etc. we’ve got this!
rice wrappers: these very thin rice paper wrappers are sold dried and then you soak them briefly in water to hydrate them before filling them. if your grocery store has a decent international aisle, there’s a good chance there will be a package of these, likely near the rice noodles (in the thai/vietnamese section). if not, you can find them on amazon or at a local asian market, if you have one near you. (be sure to check the ingredients/label if you need gluten free.)
i wouldn’t substitute fresh gyoza wrappers or tortillas here. if you’re more excited about the flavors and ingredients here than the portability/appetizer-ness of a spring roll, you could skip the rice wrapper entirely and have a fresh vegetable spring roll-inspired salad bowl, like i did for lunch today.
rice vermicelli: basically same deal here as for the rice wrappers. you are looking for the skinniest strand you can find. if your grocery store/local asian market doesn’t have it, amazon does (or if you’re not concerned about gluten and, to a lesser extent, authenticity, you could substitute in angel hair or vermicelli pasta. not traditional but totally passable.)
sweet chili sauce: hang out in the international aisle a bit longer and see if you can find this. several big brands, including kikkoman, thai kitchen, and trader joe’s all make this, so i bet you’ll find it. the brand i have is mae ploy but use whatever you find.
hoisin sauce: again, i think there’s a good chance your grocery store may have this. depending on how granular the shelf stocker gets, this may be with the chinese sauces, rather than thai or vietnamese condiments. a quick google search indicates that there are a bunch of big brands who sell it, including whole foods. amazon has it too.
purple cabbage, shredded carrots, extra firm tofu: you’ve got this. the produce section of almost every grocery store has you covered here. if you can’t find purple cabbage or tofu, just skip it. if your grocery store doesn’t sell pre-shredded carrots, regular carrots + a food processor or coarse grater = shredded carrots.
peanut butter: i prefer to use a natural kind (the type that needs stirring) but use what you like. (i know i just said use what you like but, have you tried the valencia peanut natural peanut butter from trader joe’s? it’s super yummy. the fancy valencia peanuts give it a strong peanut flavor that i love. but really, you can use whatever you like.)
ok, last two ingredients. i *may* have held the two trouble makers for last…
bean sprouts: these add crunch but not a ton of flavor. if your grocery store doesn’t sell them (in the produce section, likely near the shredded carrots/tofu/fake meat/refrigerated salad dressings), then just skip them. we have purple cabbage and carrots for crunch, we’ll be fine without bean sprouts.
thai basil: alright, this is the one. this is the one that is fresh (so we can’t amazon it) and, in my experience, the most difficult to find. if your store has it, it will be in the produce section with all of the other fresh herbs (or maybe in the refrigerated case with the leafy greens, etc. – but it will most likely be along the wall where the cold stuff is).
if you can’t find it (i couldn’t this time), the best substitutes are actually fresh cilantro or fresh mint, NOT fresh italian-style basil. if you google this, you will find a lot of people who say that you can substitute “regular” basil for thai basil. while this is technically true, i think a better complement for the other flavors we have going on is mint or cilantro.
alright, hopefully that was helpful, not overwhelming. i already had a bunch of these ingredients (sauces, rice wrappers and noodles) because they repeat in various dishes i make (such as thai noodles) but if i were to go to my reasonably diverse/good selection “normal” grocery store right now to buy all of this, the only thing they don’t carry is thai basil.
so, if you live in/near a city (or even a “city” – portland has a population of about 66,000, which if you rank the states in order based on the population of their largest city, puts portland fourth from the bottom), these fresh vegetable spring rolls are totally within reach. and if you live in a more remote/less diverse area but don’t mind ordering from amazon, you should be good to go too. and if none of those apply to you, chick pea, tomato, and pasta soup is just about the most delicious thing i know how to make from simple pantry staples.
fresh vegetable spring rolls
basic dipping sauce
- 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce (check labels if you need gluten free)
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
extra credit dipping sauce (optional, instead of basic dipping sauce)
- 90 g. (1/3 cup) peanut butter
- 30 g. (2 tablespoons) hoisin sauce (check labels if you need gluten free)
- 6 g. (1 tablespoon) low sodium soy sauce (tamari or coconut aminos for gluten free)
- 7 g. (1 teaspoon) chili-garlic paste (i added a second teaspoon after tasting the sauce with one teaspoon)
- 12 g. (1 tablespoon) dark sesame oil
- juice of one lime (~38 g.)
- 1 small clove of garlic, grated on a fine mesh grater or minced into a paste
- 56 g. (¼ cup) water
- 198 g. (7 oz.) extra firm tofu
- 1 teaspoon olive oil or cooking spray
- 50 g. (1 ¾ oz.) dried vermicelli rice noodles
- 50 g. (1 ¾ oz.) fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
- 50 g. (1 ¾ oz.) shredded carrots, dried if very wet
- 50 g. (1 ¾ oz.) red cabbage, very thinly sliced
- small bunch fresh thai basil (see post above re: substitutions), rinsed, dried and cut into thin ribbons
- 8 rice wrappers
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
basic dipping sauce
- combine hoisin sauce and peanut butter in a ratio of roughly 2 parts hoisin to 1 part peanut butter. taste and adjust if desired. if the sauce is really thick (this will likely be the case if you use thick peanut butter), add 1 teaspoon of water at a time and mix in well until the sauce is the desired consistency. i like it to be pretty thick, but not so thick that i can’t actually dip the spring roll in the sauce.
extra credit dipping sauce (optional, instead of basic dipping sauce)
- combine everything in a medium bowl. whisk until everything is well combined, then taste and adjust as desired. if the sauce is really thick (unlikely but may be the case if you use thick peanut butter), add 1 teaspoon of water at a time and mix in well until the sauce is the desired consistency. i like it to be pretty thick, but not so thick that i can’t actually dip the spring roll in the sauce.
- slice the tofu in half from long edge to long edge so that you have 2 flat planks, like oversized decks of cards. to press out excess water: place a few layers of paper towel on a large plate or cutting board, spread the tofu out in a single layer, put a few more layers of paper towel, then weigh the tofu down with a heavy pan or a cutting board with a few cans on top for 20 minutes.
- preheat the oven to 400° F. slice the tofu into ¼” (1/2 cm) matchsticks. toss tofu with teaspoon of olive oil or spray baking sheet before adding tofu. arrange the tofu in a single layer on the baking sheet. if you didn’t oil the tofu, spray the tops of the tofu. bake for 15 – 20 minutes, flipping pieces over halfway through, so that tofu gets lightly golden brown and a little bit drier.
- put the vermicelli in a large, heat safe bowl or pot. pour boiling water over the noodles (use plenty – cover them by an inch or so) and use a fork to stir the noodles and prevent them from clumping. soak them until they are just tender; mine took about 3 minutes. test them frequently so they don’t overcook and get mushy. once the noodles are tender, drain and rinse them with cold water to stop them from cooking further and to rinse the starch off so they don’t stick together too much.
- get all of your ingredients prepped and laid out in an assembly line. grab a large plate to assemble your spring rolls and the plate/platter you plan to serve them off of. ideally, the spring rolls won’t touch each other on the serving dish, to reduce the chances of the delicate rice wrapper sticking and ripping when someone takes a spring roll from the platter.
- grab a skillet/round cake pan/pie dish that is ideally just slightly larger than your rice wrappers. add about an inch of boiling water to the pan and then just enough cold water so that you don’t burn your fingers in the water. put one rice wrapper in the water. let it soak for 15 – 20 seconds, then gently swish it around in the water with your finger tips. gently remove it from the water as soon as it’s softened (i think of it as transforming from a sheet of dry paper to a piece of fabric, in terms of how it moves in the water). i find that if i grab it from the water around 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, most of the wrapper stays mostly in a single layer. let the excess water drip off for a second. lay the wrapper out in a single layer on the plate that you’re using for assembly. don’t fuss too much if the edges are folded over.
- place a bit of the noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage, and thai basil in the center of the rice wrapper, as if you were making a burrito. my two best tips are 1) don’t overfill the wrapper (and this is coming from a chronic burrito over-stuffer) and 2) line up the ingredients vertically so they mostly all go in the same direction. i’m not into fussy food styling but the carrots especially are stronger than the rice wrapper and will poke right through the side if they are all pointing in random directions.
- add 1 – 2 teaspoons of sweet chili sauce to the little pile of ingredients. to fold the wrapper, fold the bottom section up to meet the filling, then fold the top section down to meet the filling (now you have a rectangle, which has curved sides on the two short sides). fold the left flap over to meet the filling, then carefully roll the whole thing towards the right until it’s all rolled up. (your rice wrapper package may have a diagram on it that shows this process.) place the spring roll on your serving platter, ideally not touching his neighbors.
- add the next rice wrapper to the soaking dish. wipe the assembly plate dry so the rice wrapper isn’t sitting in a puddle while you add the fillings. repeat the filling and rolling process with the remaining ingredients. serve with either dipping sauce on the side.
substitutions please see the post above for ingredient sources and substitutions.
customization as always (or at least usually), feel free to adjust the ratios/ingredients to suit your tastes. if you want to cook some shrimp, chop ‘em up, and toss them in, go for it! just resist the urge to overstuff the rice wrapper. trust me…
make ahead the spring rolls can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead of when you plan to serve them, then stored with space between each roll in an airtight container in the fridge. if the rolls are touching each other, the rice wrapper will likely rip when you try to separate the rolls to serve them. i promise. the sauce can be made a day or two in advance and then stored in the fridge in an airtight container.
leftover ingredients the other half of the package of tofu is begging to be tossed into carrot ginger soup or creamy roasted mushroom soup. a bunch of the other ingredients also turn up in asian style salmon tacos and asian salmon burgers. if you make the extra credit dipping sauce, you’ll probably have leftovers, and you should probably spoon them over grilled chicken.
the spring rolls and basic dipping sauce are adapted from a recipe that came from a friend of friends. the extra credit dipping sauce is adapted from a peanut sauce recipe that was posted on chow.com back in 2008 and which is no longer available online – paper copies of recipes for the win!
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