We added these Vegetarian Spring Rolls to the menu a couple years after we opened. I was looking for a vegetarian alternative to the ubiquitous fried vegetable spring rolls that are often filled with cabbage and not much else. We wanted something different and exciting that would make people forget that they weren’t fried! I knew I wanted to use rice paper because I like the light chewy texture. So then we went around playing with the filling.
Ultimately, we ended up with a mix of something familiar (the salad greens and herbs) and something exotic (fresh shiitake mushrooms and a fermented black bean sauce). Now the sauce is an essential part, practically my favorite thing.
A Little Background…
When I was a kid, we went to three restaurants to eat when my parents weren’t working. Lums, which was like a regional Denny’s (because it was close to our house and made us feel American), The Crab House (because again it was close to the house and we loved seafood), and Wong’s (which was one of the few Chinese restaurants serving both Americanized and traditional Cantonese cuisine).
One of the items I most looked forward to at Wong’s was the clams with black bean sauce. I loved the rich briny sauce with salty black beans that coated the plump clams. It was the best weekend if they had fresh clams. This was finally my opportunity to put Chinese black beans on our menu in a totally unexpected way.
A Light and Flavorful Bite
These spring rolls are a great option for vegetarians and vegans. The tofu provides a good source of protein, while the veggies add both color and texture. These vegetarian spring rolls aren’t fried, so they have a wonderfully light and fresh flavor. Plus, they make a great party snack since they can be made and held a couple of hours in advance.
The rolling process is a cinch and it’s hard to mess up. I use rice paper wraps, which don’t need to be cooked. Instead they are softened in warm water before filling and rolling.
Rice paper is translucent so it makes really beautiful rolls:
And about those black beans…Chinese fermented black beans are amazing. Full disclosure, they are actually soybeans, not black beans, that have been fermented in salt. They are used in all kinds of dishes to add a sharp salty taste, rich in umami. Like fish sauce, a strong whiff of just the black beans can be off putting, but once you taste it in the sauce, you too will see the light. It’s just that good.
Make the Black Bean Sauce
First we will whip up the sauce. The fermented black beans need to be softened for a half hour in warm water. This also helps lessen the saltiness. Then they get pureed in the blender with the rest of the sauce ingredients. The rice vinegar adds a nice tang, while the soy sauce adds depth. The sauce can be made ahead, and keeps for up to a week in the fridge. Leftover black bean sauce makes a great dip for raw veggies, or spooned on top of simple grilled meats.
Prepare the Fillings
First you will briefly saute the shiitake mushrooms. The mushrooms are the only cooked component of this dish. The high heat and salt soften and flavor the shiitakes.
While the mushrooms cool, prep your other ingredients. Shred the carrots. Slice the tofu. I use tofu cutlets, which have been lightly fried. If you can’t find them, regular tofu works well also. Have your greens ready to go too.
Make sure you have enough work space. If you don’t have a lot of counter space, you can always use your dining room table as a work surface. I like to have everything in an assembly line to make it faster. First you dip the rice wrapper in the hot water, to soften it and make it pliable. They are very delicate and tear easily, so handle with care. Then you add the fillings, in a line down the center:
The mushrooms, tofu, greens, avocado and carrots all get added. Then you roll it up like a cigar. It isn’t unlike wrapping burritos.
Once you get the hang of working with the rice paper, it goes quickly. And these vegetarian spring rolls are make ahead. When they are all done, you can cover with them a damp paper towel (to prevent the rice paper from drying/cracking) and they will hold in the fridge for several hours. For a beautiful presentation for a party, slice the rolls in half and sit them upright on a platter:
My vegetarian spring rolls with black bean dipping sauce are a tried and true crowd favorite. If you make them, we want to know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag us in your photos, @funkyasiankitchen. Show us the goods!Print
A perfect vegetarian starter! Fresh, not fried, veggie filled rolls.
- 1 bag baby greens (about 5 ounces)
- 1 1/2 avocados, peeled and cut into thin slices (about 18 pieces)
- ½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
- 1 block fried tofu (you can find already fried tofu in Asian markets or substitute fresh firm tofu)
- 1 large carrot peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater or shredded on a mandoline
- ½ bunch cilantro or basil, or a mix
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- a pinch of salt and pepper
- 8 pieces of dried rice paper (available at specialty Asian markets)
- ¼ cup fermented Chinese black beans
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 large cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup warm water, divided
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 stems scallions roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup neutral oil
Make the Sauce:
- To make the dipping sauce, put the beans in ¼ cup warm water and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Drain the beans before continuing.
- Put the drained beans, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ¼ cup water, sugar, and scallions into a blender and blend until smooth.
- With the blender running, add the oil slowly to make a rich creamy sauce.
- The sauce can be made ahead and keeps covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
For the rolls:
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat for a couple mins. Add the oil, a dash of salt and pepper, and the mushrooms.
- Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they have released their juices, 2-3 mins.
- Continue to cook for a couple more mins. until the pan is relatively dry and then remove the pan from the heat.
- Put the mushrooms aside in a bowl to cool.
- Cut the tofu in half widthwise to create two thinner pieces and then cut the tofu into thin strips. Put the tofu into a small bowl.
- Clear an area on your kitchen countertop to start rolling the spring rolls.
- Fill a large bowl with warm water and submerge the rice paper into the water completely, just for a moment. Let the excess water drip back into the bowl and then put the rice paper rice on the counter (it will soften within a couple seconds). Repeat so you have two pieces of soaked rice paper, side by side. Use a paper towel to dab any excess water sitting on the rice paper.
- Place a small handful of the lettuce in the center of each rice paper. Add a tablespoon of mushrooms, a couple strips of tofu, 2 pieces of avocado, a few sprigs of herbs and 1 tablespoon of grated carrot. Roll the spring roll tightly to form a fat cigar-like roll.
- Continue preparing and rolling with the remaining sheets of rice paper. You will yield 8 pieces.
- After your rolls are finished, cover them with a slightly damp paper towel and plastic wrap. The rolls will keep for several hours in the refrigerator. Serve with the sauce on the side.