Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TVP Spring Rolls, Cabbage Slaw and Tofu with Baby Bok Choi




Who can honestly resist anything fried? Of course, many of us do, for fear of not fitting into our new fuel-efficient compact cars, but deep down, if given free reign over the universe, wouldn't we all gorge on deep-fried everything?

I had a serious craving for Vietnamese spring rolls today, but I'm struggling to shed some winter fat and just couldn't bear to ruin my calorie balance for the day. So, I stopped by our local Chinese/pan-Asian grocery store and tried to find something to satisfy my fried, salted, starchy yen.

This meal was a challenge because I had grand plans for the evening: delicate and crispy baked spring rolls, a light, slightly tangy cabbage salad and some fried tofu tossed with bok choi and garlic. Then, as I was about to conquer one of Brian Kest's workouts, my little red-haired man called, asking if I wanted to go out and grab something quick because he had a meeting this evening.

Out? But the plans: the rolling and stuffing and sauteeing!! "Why no!" I declared. "I'm making spring rolls!" (Say that to yourselves in a booming voice, filled with the hope for a better life.)

Some people might panic in these scenarios. I thrive. You need three dishes of obscure and somewhat experimental origins in 45 minutes? I'm your girl. Keep in mind that my little red-haired man in no way pressures me to cook for him, myself or anyone. He's happy that I do and sometimes worried that I get a little caught up in it, but he respects my need to create things and reaps the rewards of his patience and my persistence (at least when the results don't go directly in the trash).

Back to the thriving...

Oh yes. So spring rolls seem a bit dodgy at first. Thin noodle sheets are like my nephew near nap time. Make one wrong move, and it's the rest of the day with the screaming and tears. Plus, I'm always wary of making vegan fillings for anything from Asia. The fatty pork and/or shrimp of most dumplings and egg rolls adds a lot of flavor and trying to make a vegan filling as full and complex is difficult.

But I laugh in the face of a challenge. Just try to tell me that I can't do something. Go ahead. I dare you.

The filling uses TVP. For the uninitiated, this is textured vegetable protein. It's essentially de-fatted soy flour, so it's used as a protein. It comes in little grains about the size of panko crumbs that you soak in hot water. It's utterly tasteless and even if you douse it with what you think is an obscene amount of seasoning, it often remains as bland as Al Gore on xanax. So don't fear it.

Baked Spring Rolls

2 cups of TVP soaked in 1 3/4 c of boiling water
3 oz bean thread noodles
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 c soy sauce
3/8 c pickle juice *This is weird, I know but it's from my home-fermented pickles so it's salty and a bit sour (not as sour as vinegar).
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
3 tbsp dried onion
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper

Spring roll prep:
1. Take out the stack of spring roll wrappers and carefully peel them apart, one by one into a new stack onto a damp kitchen towel. This may seem odd, but it helps the whole process along. Most packages will have 20-30 wrappers. With this recipe I made 28 rolls.
2. While you're waiting or preparing the filling etc., cover the peeled wrappers with the damp towel and wrap up the rest and put them in the fridge. Like any thin pastry these dry out very quickly and then crack.

Filling:
1. The TVP package should tell you how to reconstitute it. In a large bowl, just pour the boiling water over the TVP and stir. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so until it's soft.
2. Cover the bean thread noodles with hot water as well, and let sit until they're soft (5-10 minutes).
3. After the noodles are soft, drain them and chop into 1-2 inch lengths (this can be pretty rough. Just get out your rage on it for a minute.
4. When the TVP is soft, add all the other ingredients, mixing well.
**Now I was pretty stupid about this filling and I should have substituted the soy sauce/pickle juice, sesame oil etc. for some of the soaking water. That way, the TVP might have absorbed more of the flavor directly.
5. Taste it. It probably needs more seasoning. I think I ended up adding more garlic, white pepper and soy sauce. You really have to figure it out for yourself.

It is at this point that I start the tofu, since it takes quite a long time to cook.

Tofu and Baby Bok Choi

3/4 brick of tofu, cut into 1/4 by 1/2 inch strips
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
soy sauce to taste
1/4 tsp white pepper
3 handfuls of baby bok choi, ends trimmed so the leaves are separated

1. In a heavy non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and fry the tofu strips on medium heat. Turn every 10 minutes or so. This could take some time. I like a little crust on my tofu.

Back to the rolls:

Have ready some egg replacer (ener-g or Bob's Red Mill work well) mixed with a little water to work as a sealant for the edge of the rolls.

1. Take one wrapper from the stack and lay it on a clean cutting board as a diamond.
2. Drop about 2 tbsp of filling near the bottom corner and roll up, pulling the wrapper snugly around the filling until you reach the middle of the diamond.
3. Fold over the side corners (it will look like an envelope of sorts).
4. Roll up to the end, dabbing a little fake-egg around the edge of the final corner to seal it.
5. Keep the finished rolls under a damp towel until they're ready to bake.
6. Before placing on a baking sheet, brush them with a little vegetable oil.
7. I baked 6 of them at 450F in my convection toaster oven for 12 minutes. I left the rest until after dinner and baked them in batches.

Check on the tofu!

Once the tofu is cooked to your liking, throw in the garlic, ginger, pepper, soy sauce and bok choi and stir fry for a few minutes.

Cabbage Slaw

1/4 of a red cabbage shredded
2 carrots cut into matchsticks
3" chunk of daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
a handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ginger paste

Toss this all together.
Oh yes, and make it the night before. That will save time.

Don't you hate it when recipes tell you to do things the day before?

In hindsight, I wish I had some fungus (black rubbery stuff in a lot of spring/egg rolls) or other mushrooms and maybe I should have used some shredded green cabbage to replace some of the TVP. There was just something lacking in the filling and I'm not sure exactly what it was...

Oh yes. LOTS OF OIL.

Oh well. My blood lipids will thank me in the morning.