It was stinking hot today, and drippingly humid, but a front finally passed through with a lovely drop in temperature and some sheeting rain chased by much flashing and booming of the sky. And, as if by some miracle, the power didn’t go out, so I get to tell you what we had for dinner. In heat such as this, thoughts of the stove can of course cause suicidal ideations in even the most devoted cook, so I sussed out something virtually raw that nonetheless provided enough protein (and quantity) to make a satisfying meal. The only problem was that I thought of it at ten this morning, so I was tortured all day by visions of cool, crunchy summer rolls and thick, spicy sauce.
Gỏi cuốn are a perennial favorite, and I almost always get them when eating at a Vietnamese restaurant. Since, however, the nearest such establishment is pretty far away, I have to make them myself. This time of year, with the garden going crazy, that’s hardly a burden. And best of all, I had everything on hand already; the wrappers and bean thread noodles keep forever in the pantry, mint and lettuces are exploding all over the place, and I had a hunk of tofu in the fridge (I was not about to drive 16+ miles round trip just to get some good shrimp). I did brown slices of the tofu, to give it texture and some maillard flavors. The firmness that results from crisping it in olive oil adds some much-needed density and resistance to the result, much the way shrimp do. The sauce was peanut butter, tamarind paste, sriracha, black vinegar, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, and maple syrup.
One or two of these make a wonderful appetizer, and four or five of them make a pretty great meal. They’re light, cooling, and complex enough that one does not tire easily of eating them. And, as with all such things, they can be remixed and reimagined endlessly depending on what the garden and other sources have to offer. These were so good I’m going to do a Korean beef version in the very near future, using gochujang in the sauce and some fermented pickles inside with the meat.
It’s also lovely to be able to once again shoot dinner in natural light. I love the way the lettuce acts as a gel and the noodles like fiber optic filaments, turning the whole interior a glowing green.