After working too many hours this summer, eating out too often, eating too much junk, and just, in general, not eating well, I craved vegetables and simple Vietnamese food. Nothing elaborate. Just some cold noodles. Grilled meats. Perhaps a few egg rolls to toss into the bowl.
My standard Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg/Spring Rolls) were fine, but I had been wanting to challenge myself to come up with a tasty vegetarian version for a while. My mom made vegetarian egg rolls long ago for my Chinese grandfather's first year death anniversary, in which the whole meal is supposed to be vegetarian. All I remembered were the vermicelli noodles, which were quite dry and crunchy because they didn't have anything substantial to latch on to. I don't count the cheap cabbage-only fillers at Chinese buffets. Recently, at my oldest uncle's 49th day death anniversary, the Buddhist temple had an excellent version with shredded taro root.
So in creating my recipe, I knew that I wanted to add some tofu for moisture. Instead of taro, I used a small yam. Have you seen the sizes of taro that are sold at the supermarket? They're just way too big for one person and I didn't want food to go to waste. But other than that, the traditional cha gio ingredients of Nam Meo (Vietnamese Tree Ear Fungus), bean thread vermicelli noodles, and carrots suited me just fine. The main trick then was pressing the tofu to reduce as much liquid as possible so that the egg rolls don't get soggy.
The result? These vegetarian egg rolls were so good that I didn't even see them as a meat substitute, but as a separate recipe all their own. And isn't that how it should be? Not a substitute; just good.
Cha Gio Chay (Vietnamese Vegetarian Egg/Spring Rolls)
For two dozen egg rolls, you'll need:
1 package Chinese egg roll wrappers or Vietnamese rice paper sheets
1 bundle bean thread vermicelli noodles, soaked and drained
1/3 cup dry tree ear fungus, soaked and drained
1 16-oz block tofu, pressed
1 small onion, grated
1 small yam, about 1 cup, grated
1 small carrot, about 1 cup, grated
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Oil for frying
Optional: 1 egg to help with binding, although it's not essential if you're vegan and want to omit this. Also, instead of the yam, you can use taro or potatoes. You just want something starchy to absorb some of the moisture from the tofu and to help bind the filling.
Soak the bean thread vermicelli noodles and tree ear fungus in warm water. Set aside.
Place several napkins in a shallow bowl and put the tofu on top. Add more napkins on to of the tofu, a plate or chopping board on top of that, and let the tofu drain for about half an hour.
I used darker colored napkins so you can see how much liquid gets pressed out of the block of tofu.
Gather the rest of your ingredients.
In a bowl, add the tofu and drained tree ear fungus and bean thread noodles. Cut the noodles into about 3-inch sections for ease. Grate a carrot, yam, and onion and add those as well. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground black pepper. Add an egg to help bind everything together.
Mix up everything and drain out any excess liquid.
Create your wrapping and rolling station with a bowl of water to bind the edges of the egg rolls.
Separate the egg roll wrappers. If you want to use Vietnamese rice paper wrappers then follow the directions in my Gluten-Free Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls) recipe.
Dip one corner into the bowl of water.
Place the wrapper flat on a surface and add about 2 tblsps of the filling about a third of the way on one corner.
Make one quick roll, making sure to keep the filling tight.
Fold in the sides.
Keep rolling, making sure to the filling is tight and the edges are straight.
When you've rolled about half a dozen egg rolls, you can start frying them. Just make sure you check on them in between wrapping and rolling.
I didn't feel like dragging out my wok for only a few egg rolls, so I used my black steel pan, but any iron or steel pan is great for frying. I fry on medium-high heat with the dial a little closer to the medium side. Your stove temperature may vary.
Drain the egg rolls on a rack or napkins to remove excess oil.
Crispy outside, moist inside.
And if you're making Vietnamese vegetarian egg rolls simply because you like them, and not because you're vegetarian, you can even make a cold noodle dish and serve them with Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties).
Eat them these vegetarian egg rolls plain or with Nuoc Cham Xi Dau (Vietnamese Soy Dipping Sauce).
Also, if you don't plan to eat these all at once, store the extra filling in a colander placed inside a bowl to drain excess liquid. The mixture should keep in the refrigerator for several days.
My other egg roll recipes:
Gluten-Free Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls)
Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg/Spring Rolls)
Cha Gio Bap/Ram Bap (Vietnamese Corn Egg Rolls)
Cha Ram (Vietnamese Shrimp Egg Rolls)
Egg Rolls Stuffed with Bananas and Mangoes with Nutella Dipping Sauce
Egg Rolls with Salmon and Avocado
Lumpiang Prito (Filipino Fried Egg Rolls)
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