Thai and Vietnamese cuisines are complimentary but very different beasts. I admit I am no expert on the Thai or Vietnamese palate, like AT ALL, but I grew up eating this stuff enough to know that their flavor profiles are distinct. Many a restaurant claims to be both at the same time, which usually means you may want to 1) suss out their real geographic speciality and stick to that cuisine or 2) not eat there. Restaurant exceptions exist, of course—Asian fusion can be tasty—but there’s nothing worse than chewing on a flaccid bánh mì when the guy across from you is noshing some delectable looking khao soi. It’s also pretty fucking sad to sit in Little Bangkok longing for pho to accompany your thai tofu, or to fantasize about a steaming plate of phat phrik khing curry to go with your bún chả giò at Nam Phuong. You just can’t win.
Well folks, the struggle over. I have found the solution. The fatass force is strong in this one.
Thanks to a gift from my friend’s recent trip to Thailand, I had some particularly delectable panang curry paste on my hands. It was in the midst of my normal simultaneous Viet-Thai cravings that I devised a solution without compromising my ‘lazy or die’ ethos. Why expend energy making a Vietnamese dish and a Thai dish like a productive person? Cram the flavors into one. Artfully, of course. And make the dish work in two ways: summer rolls for dinner and salad for lunch the next day.
Like many Asian dishes, this recipe requires some time to prepare with all the chopping, shredding, and assembly. But it is so, so worth it. The fresh herbs, the creamy and sweet coconut milk, the pickle-y crunch of the veggies, the complexity of the panang paste…it. is. worth. it. You can take that to the curry bank. And maybe withdraw a few massamans while you’re there to pay me for basically creating your next two meals.
Panang Summer Rolls & Salad
Summer rolls serve 1 very hungry person or 2 people as an substantial appetizer. Salad serves 1.
Panang Curried Tofu
- 2 tbs coconut oil
- 1 14 oz. block extra firm tofu
- 1 c coconut milk
- 1 panang curry paste packet (or 2 oz. curry paste)
Vietnamese Shredded Veggies
- 3 medium carrots
- 1 cucumber
- 1 small zucchini
- 1 jalapeño
- ¼ c cilantro
- ½ lime, juiced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 large scallion
- Pinch of salt
- Rice paper [for summer rolls]
- Fresh greens like arugula, baby spinach/kale, mixed greens, romaine…your preference [for salad]
- Fresh mint
- Fresh basil
Dipping Sauce / Salad Topper
- Sriracha (optional)
- Roasted peanuts, crushed
Wrap tofu in a few paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and press the block with your hands to extract some of the extra water. Now cut the block in half horizontally. Slice the two halves in 3 equal parts length wise and 4 equal parts on the shorter side. This will yield 24 rectangular pieces between the two halves. If those directions were confusing then join the club because I have no idea what I just described.
Wok or pan fry the tofu over medium high heat in the coconut oil until golden brown. Let the pieces cool on a plate lined with paper towels, so some of the excess oil is absorbed.
They should looks like these beautiful nuggets.
Combine the curry paste and coconut milk on medium low heat in a saucepan or pot and let it simmer for a couple minutes until you see oil floating on the top. Make sure the paste is fully incorporated into the coconut milk.
When the tofu is fried and cool enough to handle, slice each piece into six slivers. Throw the sliced tofu into the curry sauce and mix on low heat for 3-5 minutes, letting the flavor absorb. Now turn off the heat and let everything cool.
Peel and julienne the carrots, cucumber, and zucchini. You can use a julienne peeler (preferred), or shred them with a grater or food processor. Mince the garlic and jalapeño. Finely chop the scallion and cilantro. Juice the lime. Mix it all in a big bowl with a pinch of salt and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the dipping sauce / salad topper, simply mix hoisin and sriracha in a small bowl and top with crushed peanuts.
For summer rolls:
Chiffonade the basil and mint, or keep the leaves whole. Take a piece of rice paper and slide / rotate the piece in a shallow bowl of water, then place on a flat surface. Once the rice paper is pliable, place some of the mint and basil on it—two basil leaves and two mint leaves or thereabouts. Add a scoop of the shredded veggies and top with 6 of the little slices of tofu. Roll it up (tightly!) like a burrito. Repeat these steps 6 times. For rice paper beginners, here are detailed instructions.
Ok, so I’m not the best summer roll wrapper. I was hangery during its production.
Place a couple large handfuls of salad greens in a large bowl. Top with the rest of the shredded veggies, the tofu, mint, and basil. Garnish with crushed peanuts. Add the hoisin and sriracha mix. You can add more lime juice or a vinegar / oil mix to thin the sauce out, which will give it more of a salad dressing consistency.
Notes & Tips:
- Make sure your curry paste and hoisin are vegetarian. Many curry pastes and asian sauces have fish sauce, shrimp paste, or some other weird shit lurking in there. All the authenticity lunatics out there will be cyber-screaming at me for typing this, but Thai and Vietnamese dishes still taste absolutely delicious without the fermented seafood in there!
- All basil types are delightful to eat, but buy Thai basil if you can find it.
- I don’t actually know how much basil and mint you should use. That is deep philosophical question only you can answer. I include numerical amounts in the above recipe—two leaves per roll—but herb quota is entirely subjective. If I possessed enough basil and mint to quadruple the amount I put in the rolls and on the salad, I would have. Alas, the bugs got to my herb garden before I did.
- I should have fried shallots to put in the summer rolls and atop the salad. That would have been incredible. Don’t make the same mistake and consume before thinking. Don’t settle, kids. Fry some shallots.
- This nifty peeler is affordable and does a good job of julienning everything. I prefer it to shredding veggies, but if you don’t have one, shredding the veggies with a grater or food processor will do.
***Originally posted 7/14***