I rarely go out for Thai food – not because I don’t like it, but because if I am going out for a meal, I tend to choose a type of cuisine that I can’t replicate – like Indian. But when I do go for Thai, it’s usually because I am looking for something healthy and low fat – and although many Thai dishes are full of oil, there are enough healthy options on a menu. But one thing I almost never order is a salad roll. Why? Because they are SO easy to make at home, by yourself. As a general rule, I don’t order anything that I can make myself.
I am not a Thai expert. I have never been to Thailand. I have never tasted the food – unadulterated as it should be – in the mother country. Who knows if the thousands of Thai restaurants that speckle this city are even close to the real thing? I offer that as a disclaimer, because I simply don’t know how authentic my salad roll recipe that follows really is. But what I do know is that it is a) healthy, and b) easy. Once you get the hang of rolling them, you’re all set.
(makes 8 rolls)
8 rice wrappers (round)
6 oz of extra firm tofu
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice flour (could probably substitute corn flour or even white flour, but I have never tried it)
pinch of salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
1/4 package of thin rice vermicelli (I used brown rice vermicelli, but it doesn’t matter)
16 large mint leaves (fresh)
8 leaves of romaine or boston leaf lettuce
2 large carrots, julienned
2 mini cucumbers, julienned
1/4 cup of partially crushed cashews
For the sauce (Vietnamese nuoc cham)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/3 cup water
juice from half a lime
2 tbsp muscovado or brown sugar
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
Instructions: Press excess water out of the tofu by covering it with a thick paper towel or cheese cloth and laying a heavy book or pan on top. Slice the tofu into thin, half centimetre lengths. Heat both oils in a shallow pan; meanwhile, mix the flour, salt and sesame seeds (optional) on a plate and dredge each tofu slice in the flour until it is lightly coated. Place each tofu slice in the heated pan and allow about 5 minutes per side, or until each tofu is slightly crispy. Remove the slices and drain them on a paper towel.
Next, pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to stand about 5 minutes before draining and rinsing in cold water. Fill a pan with lukewarm water and spread a clean dishtowel over your work surface. Soak on sheet of rice wrappers in the pan for about 3-5 minutes, until totally soft. Gently remove it and spread it on the dish towel, and place the next sheet to soak while you work on the previous one. Begin by laying the lettuce leaves near the bottom of the circle. Add a portion of the carrots and cucumber. Next, take the vermicelli and fold a bunch of noodles into 10 cm lengths; put these on top of the pile. Add a slice of tofu (you might need to use one and a half to match the length of the other ingredients). Lay two mint leaves, end-to-end, on top and then sprinkle some of the cashews.
To fold the rice rolls, simply pull the bottom up gently (but taut) over the salad mix, then fold in the two sides. After that, roll to the top keeping it tight but being careful not to tear the rice paper. Place finished roll on a plate and repeat until they are all finished. It sounds complicated but it isn’t. I think the biggest mistake people make with salad rolls is boiling the rice wrappers, instead of soaking them in luke warm water. When you boil them, they get torn or flimsy and they tear easily. It is not necessary to boil them.
Mix up the ingredients for the nuoc cham (sauce) or use a store-bought Thai dipping sauce, and enjoy your healthy salad rolls!