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.