Basil Spring Rolls

With a new year comes resolutions, and this year mine is one I know we are ALL going to enjoy. In 2014, I want to try new recipes that aren’t just freehanding whatever is in the house–I want to purposefully shop for specific ingredients needed for a specific fun, challenging, or innovative recipe. Of course, I’m sure we’ll modify things along the way, but I want to add more dishes to our repertoire – the perfect place to start are the recipes we got as a part of our wedding RSVPs. We’re specifically looking forward to a great shakshuka recipe, my aunt’s mujadara, and some new soups!

But for now, we started off 2014 with a familiar dish and one of our personal favorites. We met up with close friends for New Years Eve and given their small kitchen in their rental beach house, wanted to prepare something that didn’t need any last minute touches once we got to the party. These rolls are healthy, veggie-friendly, and light, but also filling and super tasty. Just like pancakes, the first few are a learning experience, but once you get the technique down they’re easy to assemble and fun to make- you’ll be the hit of your next party with these!

Look how pretty--why pay $6 at a Thai restaurant for these when you could make dozens at home!?

Look how pretty–why pay $6 at a Thai restaurant for 2 of these when you could make dozens at home!?

Basil Spring Rolls with Peanut Hoisin Sauce

-1 package of rice paper (approximately 9′ circles, in the Asian aisle at the grocery store, either Vietnamese or Thai, doesn’t matter) –should be dried/soaked in water before  using. We like 3 Ladies brand or one with a green dragon
-1 package thin bean curd noodles or rice vermicelli (angel-hair thickness)-cook according to the package (usually just soak in water and drain). Let them cool down before handling
-3 carrots, shredded. (Put together a bowl of Mirin and rice wine vinegar at a ratio of 3:1, then soak shredded carrots at least 30 minutes or until ready to assemble rolls) *see photo below*
-1/2 inch thick strips of tofu- marinated in your choice of seasoning. Sear all pieces and set aside. *see photo below*
-lettuce or Napa cabbage, cut into thin strips
-bean sprouts
-fresh basil (preferably Thai basil but Italian works well)
-1 bunch scallions, with the green part cut into 2-3 inch pieces. Save the remainder for the sauce below
For the dipping sauce (put in separate bowl for serving)
-peanut butter
-mirin
-hoisin
-rice wine vinegar
-sesame seeds
-thinly chopped scallions
-soy sauce
(taste-test until you get something creamy, a little sweet, and a little tangy-see photo below for our sauce)
To assemble the rolls:
Chop all of your vegetables and lay them out in separate bowls so they’re easily accessible. Be prepared to work in a circle–your warm water on one side and veggies on the other, with the dish towel in the center. This goes somewhat quickly, so have everything ready for assembly before you start.
Fill a large tupperware container (or bowl,  something with a flat bottom works best) with very warm water, but not boiling. Lay a clean, dry cloth dish towel on the counter.
Put 1 sheet of rice paper in the water to soak for about 30 seconds to a minute. When it’s flimsy and transparent, gently take it out and lay it flat on the towel. Smooth out any places where it’s folded over itself so it’s a flat circle. Bring the corners of the towel over top of the rice paper and blot off the excess water. Move somewhat quickly and be gentle–you won’t want to push it into the towel because it’ll make a mess. The rice paper should be a little sticky to the touch. The next step should happen pretty quickly before the rice paper dries ON the towel.
When the rice circle is flat and dry, put the toppings of your choice in the center of the circle. For a circle 7-9″ wide, you want about 3″ worth of fillings and to pile it about an inch high. There isn’t a science to it, but I start with a piece of basil (so that it shows through when you wrap it), then noodles, followed by carrots (the carrot marinade drips onto noodles and seasons them a bit) and then put 1-2 pieces of scallions, then cabbage/lettuce, then tofu and bean sprouts.
Fold the top of the rice paper circle (12o’clock) over top of the filling and kind of UNDER the filling. With one hand slightly pushing down on the filling, fold one side  (3 o’clock or 9 o’clock) over top of the filling, then do the opposite side. The only ‘loose’ paper should be at the bottom of the circle. Take the ‘roll’ and roll it towards you, being gentle but firm to push out the air and roll it tightly. The stickyness of the rice paper (after being soaked in the water) should make it attach to itself and have the whole thing stick together. This will look a lot like wrapping a burrito. The first few may give you difficulty as you determine how quickly you need to work and how to best hold your hands in relation to the roll to keep things together.
Set aside all rolls- they keep well in the fridge for a day or two, so feel free to make them in advance. I HIGHLY recommend wrapping them individually in plastic wrap or parchment paper to keep them from sticking to each other, because if the papers stick together they’ll rip. Dip in the sauce and enjoy the compliments!
These could easily be made with seared shrimp if you’re not veggie, but they’re just as good as they are (ironically vegan!) We were the only vegetarians in the group of 15 and they were gone in minutes–no one even mentioned the tofu! They have all of the flavors of a restaurant spring roll, but since you control what goes in them they’re healthier, cheaper, and far more satisfying! Give it a try and see what you think- could this be your ‘new recipe’ for 2014 that makes you the hit of every party?

Shredded carrots marinated in Mirin and rice wine vinegar give these an extra pop of flavor!

Shredded carrots marinated in Mirin and rice wine vinegar give these an extra pop of flavor!

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