I love my husband for many reasons.
One reason is for introducing me to Vietnamese cuisine when we started dating in Northern Virginia, specifically phở (pronounced “fuh”, a noodle soup that originated in Hanoi a century ago) and gỏi cuốn (summer rolls, or spring rolls).
These two Vietnamese dishes became my quick meal on weekends while wedding planning and my comfort food in the winter once Wedding Blues set in. How I adore both, especially the Summer Rolls.
This recipe for a salad version of a summer roll originated out of necessity. I gathered all the ingredients to whip up a batch for a weekend lunch, but – gasp – I was out of wrappers (30 go faster than you think). Crises averted – I had a box of rice noodles in the pantry. Same thing, just in slightly different form, right?
This salad embraces all the flavors of classic Vietnamese Summer Rolls, but in a different form – unrolled into a healthy gluten-free Summer Roll Salad with a creamy peanut dressing.
The best way to describe summer rolls, and this salad, is light and refreshing.
Thinly sliced red bell pepper, green onions, carrots along with fresh mint, cilantro, and baked tofu provide a variety of texture and layers of flavor.
The mint is my favorite part – a summer roll just doesn’t taste like a summer roll without fresh mint. It’s a lovely, yet unexpecting flavor so wonderfully refreshing it makes you want to shout with each bite, “Oooo, mint!”
For the noodles in the salad, I use Thai Kitchen’s Stir-Fry Rice Noodles, which are gluten-free as well as vegan.
I found the size to be perfect. The wide noodles overwhelm the bowl, and the thin noodles got lost. The stir-fry noodle size is a perfect balance with the julienned vegetables.
This bowl of rice noodles, tofu, herbs, and thinly sliced veggies wouldn’t be complete without a peanut sauce, now would it?
My go-to gluten-free and vegan peanut sauce is adapted from a recipe by Oh She Glows. It’s very peanut forward, with back notes of bright lime, zesty garlic, and savory soy sauce.
The peanut sauce is thick and creamy, but has a smooth and thin enough consistency to serve as a dressing for this salad. I like to make a big batch to refresh any leftovers the following day (if there are leftovers).
I would love to hear from you. What’s your favorite summer roll filling?
- 14 oz extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1" cubes
- 4 oz uncooked gluten-free rice noodles (stir-fry, not wide or thin kind)
- 1 large carrot, julienned
- 2 medium red bell peppers, julienned
- 4 medium scallions, diced
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
- 4 tbsp creamy, unsalted peanut butter
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp low sodium gluten-free tamari
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp agave nectar (or honey *non-vegan)
- ¼ cup room temperature water
- Press the tofu to remove excess water by using either a tofu press or the "cookbook stack method" - rinse the tofu and pat dry, then wrap in a paper towel. Cover a cutting board with a dishtowel and place tofu in the center. Lay another dishtowel on top of the tofu. Position 3-4 heavy cookbooks over the center of the tofu, balancing so they don't topple over. Let sit for 15 minutes.
- While waiting for the tofu to finish "pressing", prepare the vegetables: Peel and julienne the large carrot either with a julienne peeler or by slicing into thin, 2" long strips. Core, seed, and julienne the red bell pepper into 2" long, thin strips. Dice the scallions (both green and white parts). Mince the fresh mint and cilantro. Toss together in an large bowl and set aside.
- Set the oven to Broil and position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Remove the tofu from the paper towel, rinse it, then pat dry. Cut into roughly 1" cubes. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss with a light amount of olive oil cooking spray. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Broil the tofu for 5-7 minutes. Once the tofu starts to turn golden, flip with a spatula (the flip doesn't have to be perfect, you can simply give the tofu a gentle nudge to move it around). Bake for another 5-7 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
- As the tofu is cooking, prepare the noodles according to package instructions. After the noodles are done cooking, rinse well under cold water. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil over the noodles and massage to coat, which will prevent the noodles from sticking together.
- Prepare the dressing: Add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Process until well combined and smooth.
- Add the noodles and tofu to the bowl of prepared vegetables and stir with tongs to combine (I find this easier than a spoon). Pour ½ of the dressing over the mixture and stir again so everything is coated. Add more dressing as needed. Divide into four bowls and garnish with fresh mint and cilantro (and extra dressing, if desired). Enjoy!
I broiled the tofu on the middle rack of the oven so it turned golden brown, but not crunchy.
The amount of dressing the recipe yields may seem generous, but I think it's better to have slightly too much dressing than not enough. Start with half the amount, then adjust to your liking. If you have leftovers, it can be refreshed the next day with the extra peanut sauce...which, by the way, tastes yummy with just about everything. Any extra will not go to waste!