Since the beginning of January, I’ve found myself reaching for lighter things. Not necessarily diet food but certainly more fruit and vegetables than I was consuming in December. After a parade of Thanksgiving indulgences, Halloween candy splurges, and a deluge of Holiday treats, my tastebuds are screaming for a refresh. Not because I want to find my way into a pair of my high school jeans. It’s more a desire to shock my system and wake myself up from a sluggish parade of potatoes, pasta, and bread. If you share these sentiments in any small way, these Braised Tofu Fresh Rolls are for you.
I love fresh rolls dearly. In my corner of the world, they are often reserved for summertime entertaining, and rarely make an appearance during the bleak winter months. I mean, I get it. Fresh rolls are very heat-wave-friendly. But I don’t like to limit them to one time of year. With their versatility and bold refreshing flavors, they are the perfect eye and palette opener during the darkest days of winter.
These Braised Tofu Fresh Rolls are my favorite of the bunch. They feature extra firm tofu braised in a Vietnamese caramel sauce seasoned with fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and shallots. The tofu on its own packs a mean flavor punch and acts as a very pleasing foil to the fresh veggies and tangles of springy rice vermicelli.
But the real hero of this dish is the dipping sauce. This sauce is a not-so-traditional rendition of nuoc cham, a family of fish-sauce-based Vietnamese dipping sauces. My version forfeits its authentic status by using sambal oelek. Sambal oelek is an Indonesian chili and garlic paste popular throughout Malaysia, Sir Lanka, and of course, Indonesia. But in my defense, many versions of nuoc cham call for both garlic and chili. So really I’m just being lazy by adding a paste instead of mincing my own.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Braised Tofu Fresh Rolls. If you’re still on the fence about making them, peep the video below to see what a breeze they are to make. And if you happen to enjoy the video, don’t forget to like it and subscribe to my channel. I post a new video every two weeks.
Braised Tofu Fresh Rolls with Rice Vermicelli
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- ½ cup hot water
- 3 tbsp fish sauce**
- 2 shallots halved and sliced
- 1 (1-inch) knob ginger minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 brick extra firm tofu Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 150g (5oz) dried rice vermicelli
- 1 Asian pear peeled, cored, and cut into batons
- 3 small carrots peeled and julienned
- 3 scallions dark green sections removed and set aside, light green and white sections finely chopped
- ¾ cup roasted unsalted peanuts coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves tightly packed
- 1 tbsp sambal oelek
- 1 lime juiced
- 2 tsp turbinado sugar
- 2 tsp fish sauce**
- Pour 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar into a cold skillet. Turn the heat on to medium and wait for the sugar to dissolve and become liquid, shaking the pan occasionally. Swirl the pan frequently as you continue to heat the sugar until it turns a rich amber color
- Once the sugar reaches its desired shade, immediately add 1/2 cup of hot water. The mixture will bubble violently, but it should subside quickly. Stir the caramel gently, encouraging any of the melted sugar that may have seized to melt into the mixture.
- Pour in 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and then add your shallots, ginger, and garlic. Add the slices of tofu in a single layer. You may have to work in batches depending on the size of your pan. Gently braised the tofu over low heat until completely saturated with the sauce, about 3-5 minutes per side. If you notice the pan start to look dry, add a few tablespoons of water and keep braising.
- Transfer the finished tofu to a plate and pour the remaining sauce, shallots, garlic, and ginger over top. Set aside.
- While the tofu is braising, prepare your rice noodles. Place the rice vermicelli in a bowl and cover the noodles with a kettle’s worth of boiling water. Let soak for about 5 minutes before draining.
- Fill a wide shallow vessel, like a pie plate, with warm water. Dip a rice paper sheet into the water until thoroughly saturated but still a little rigid. Transfer it to a wooden cutting board and press to lay flat.
- Slice the tofu slices in half lengthwise and place both halves end to end in the center of the rice paper sheet. Next add a few pieces of the Asian pear, followed by a small handful of the carrot, and a piece of the dark green section of a scallion. Place some noodles on top and with finely chopped scallions, peanuts, and whole mint leaves.
- Take the end of the rice paper sheet closest to you and fold it over the filling. Tuck in both sides of the rice paper sheet and roll the sheet away from yourself to form a seal. Transfer the roll to a plate and set it aside. Repeat with the remaining fillings.
For the Dipping Sauce
- Place 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek in a small bowl. Add the lime juice, turbinado sugar, and fish sauce. Whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.