I really grappled with what I should title this post. Why, you ask? Well….this dish is based on tofu. Now, I know a good number of people. And if there is one thing I know, it’s that they probably don’t all agree on the topic of tofu. Some eat tofu, some eat it if they have to, some would never let it pass their lips, and some tried it and don’t like it. It’s a pretty polarizing ingredient to be sure so I hesitate to call it out from the get-go, afraid it will turn off the fussy eaters among us.
A week and a half ago I met a remarkable woman whose work brought me to tears and who gave me a sense of hope in the kindness of others. Shura Wallin, the founder of Green Valley Samaritans in Sahuarita, AZ, spoke to a small group of like-minded participants of a seminar discussion at the Circle Pines 75th Anniversary Celebration in Southwest Michigan. A tiny woman with a huge heart, a big message, and a spitfire to boot, shared with us her stories of locating migrants who are found suffering and offering them first aid, food, and water to prevent them from dying in the desert as they cross the border and make their way toward Tucson.
Her stories were touching and she reminded me just how closely tied we are to others and how we can always find a common thread of understanding to carry us past differences of personality, religion, politics, and all other ‘issues’ that can stand in the way of finding common ground. If we try, we can usually find a common thread despite our differences.
One of the reasons I love food and cooking so much is that it offers a common ground and shared experience. Drop the politics and a group of people coming together over good food can come to coexist over the shared joy of food.
It is also the finest way I know to show someone you care for them. For me, cooking healthy but tasty foods and sharing them with those I love is the simplest gesture of love I can offer. I love having friends over to share a meal with us. I love sending them home, bellies full and leftovers in hand to enjoy for lunch the next day. To me, food is love.
Not too long ago (but long enough ago to make me feel like I’m behind on posting!) I whipped up these spring rolls when our friend, Natalia, had a canceled flight and ended up staying the night with us. Although I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about the canceled flight, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to have her for dinner. It was a hot and sticky night that called for something fresh and cooling. We had a wonderful night hanging out and I loved hearing Natalia and Drew share their new songs with each other. I felt lucky to share an unexpected meal with a very cool new friend.
This recipe is great because it satisfies those who eat gluten-free, vegans (without the sauce or with a modified sauce), and vegetarians, as well as meat eaters and picky eaters. The fresh spring rolls seem to be a universally enjoyed dish, at least amongst the many friends I’ve served them to.
Fresh spring rolls can be concocted in a myriad of ways–this is just the way I do it most of the time. Feel free to experiment or pick and choose various components from other recipes. Here are a couple of others to pick and choose from: Fresh Spring Rolls from Cooking Light (2004), Fresh Vegetable Rolls from Cooking Light (1999).
Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce–Serves 4
- 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sambal oolek (garlic chili paste)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely grated carrot
- 12 (8-inch) round sheets rice paper
- Head of butter lettuce (tender leaved lettuce)
- 1 cup julienned carrots
- 1 cup julienned cucumber
- 1 cup shredded radishes
- 1/2 cup basil and/or mint leaves, chopped
- 1 block of extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour (for instructions, click here), cut into fat matchsticks
- 2 tablespoons tamari or high quality soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
- Add oil to a wok or skillet and heat until very hot. Toss tofu into pan–you’ll need to keep an eye on it to avoid burning and toss with a spatula or spoon until browned. Turn off the heat and dash the soy sauce onto the pan. Toss tofu into sauce and let sit to cool for a bit before making the rolls.
- To prepare dipping sauce, combine all six ingredients. Stir until sugar dissolves. Let sit while making spring rolls.
- To make the spring rolls, put an inch or two of hot water in a wide, shallow dish with sides. I sometimes clean out the sink and fill it with water if I can’t find a bowl right away.
- Place one rice paper sheet at a time into the water. Let soften–it will take about 30 seconds. Don’t soften too much or the sheet will fall apart–you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of tries. Put rice paper sheet on clean counter or a large plate. Put one piece of lettuce in the center of the sheet and top with carrots, cucumber, radishes, tofu, and some chopped herbs. Fold one edge over the filling, then both sides, rolling as you go. The rice paper will stick and form a seal. Press the seam if it doesn’t automatically stick. Put the spring roll on a platter, covering with a wet paper towel to keep from sticking.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients until you are out of either filling or papers. Slice on a diagonal, arrange on a beautiful platter, and serve with dipping sauce.
Welcome to another Food Matters Monday! This week’s recipe was Sesame Noodles with Spinach and Salmon, chosen by Sara from Pidges Pantry. Check out everyone’s variations on the dish here. So far I’ve seen posts starting with this simple noodle dish and changing things up with crab, sea bass, kale, green beans, lamb, ahi, and fried tofu. Wow!
Whatever variation you choose, this noodle dish is a perfect weeknight supper or quick lunch. Add more spinach than noodles and you have a perfectly satisfying and very healthy dish. The sweet soy-garlic-ginger sauce will be a hit with any diner at your table.
My version uses baked hoisin-glazed tofu and adds ginger and agave nectar. I love the chewy texture of baked tofu and I wanted to make some for a friend of mine who is not eating meat this month to show her how satisfying baked tofu could be. This was the perfect opportunity! I promised to take photos to illustrate the process so here goes…!
First, I press the tofu for a while to get some of the liquid out. This is an especially important step when you are frying tofu but I do it for baked tofu anyway to speed up the baking time. To press tofu, wrap the tofu in a clean towel (I use flour sack towels but any clean towel or paper towel will do) and place a small plate on top for 1/2 hour or longer to press. Make sure the plate isn’t too heavy or else it can smush and crack the tofu.
Once the tofu is pressed, unwrap and slice into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place on an oiled baking sheet and brush with a marinade or hoisin sauce.
Bake at 300 degrees for 1/2 hour. The result is toothy and satisfying: smooth on the inside and crispy on the outside with a dense texture. It is my favorite way to eat tofu!
The noodle dish is so simple. Just cook the noodles while quickly sauteing the garlic, ginger, and spinach in a wok. Add the noodles, toss in soy sauce and agave, top with the tofu and you have a meal to the table in 1/2 hour.
As I always like to remind you, feel free to change things up if you would like! This dish would also taste good with cabbage, green beans, zucchini, snap peas, or snow peas. I added a few cubes of sweet potato to one of my plates of noodles. Enjoy!
Sesame Soba Noodles with Spinach and Baked Hoisin Tofu
Makes 4 servings; Time: 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
- 8 ounces firm block tofu
- 3 tablespoons store-bought Hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 and ½ pounds spinach, trimmed and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon agave nectar (or sugar)
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 8 ounces buckwheat (soba) noodles
- Drain the tofu and wrap it in a clean towel. Place a small plate on it and let sit for a half hour to extract some of the liquid.
- Heat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a baking pan.
- Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch slices. and place on baking pan. Brush with hoisin sauce on both sides and bake for 30 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet on medium. Add the garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic begins to soften and the sesame seeds turn golden, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, for another minute or 2. Add the soy sauce, agave, sesame oil, and a splash of water and cook until the spinach is wilted, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Cook the noodles in the boiling water until they’re tender but not mushy (start tasting after 5 minutes), then drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Turn the heat under the spinach mixture to medium and add the noodles. Toss, adding enough reserved liquid to keep things moist. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately or at room temperature with tofu laid on top and some sesame seeds sprinkled on top.