Thursday, September 29, 2011

3 vegetables I am currently obsessed with

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Before discussing vegetables, I wanted to say thank you - very much - for your comments on my last post. I am really very grateful. I'm putting my neighbour into the 'ignore' basket and will endeavour to keep him there long-term!

This doesn't seem like a post that's well-suited to saying thank you. I was wishing I had some chocolate to review, or a new muffin recipe to share. But, alas, my mind is on vegetables.

I haven't traditionally gotten excited about vegetables. I would miss them if I didn't have enough (if travelling, for example), but whilst I can easily exceed the daily recommendations for servings of fruit, I have generally only just scraped in to the vegetable guidelines.

One advantage of switching away from animal products and by-products is that this has changed. There are still days when my intake only barely touches what is recommended, but I am more aware of the different vegetables on offer, and the many, many ways of preparing them. They've moved from a side dish to a focal point.

Now, somewhat oddly, I find myself in the unusual position of craving a certain three.

Edamame beans


I only discovered fresh edamame recently, when a friend served them for dinner at her house. For some reason I have always been too scared to order them in Japanese restaurants (I don't know why), and so the incredible fun of eating soy beans out of their pods has passed me by.

Trust me, it is fun.

They are also rather delicious.



I found the 450g pack pictured above at my nearest Asian supermarket, for the grand sum of $2.50. All the preparation the beans require is defrosting, and perhaps a rinse in boiling water. 

100g will provide 12g of protein, 90% of the daily recommended intake for folate, and 19% of the daily recommended intake for iron. Quite impressive, I think.

Steamed carrots

These aren't a new discovery, but instead an old and much loved favourite. I am liable to make happy murmurs whilst eating them at dinner. I really should just steam a full bag of carrots every weekend, because I could certainly eat 1kg across a week.




The steaming process makes them sweet and delightfully soft, and the final product is like a dessert in vegetable form. Mmmmm. 

Zucchini

This is another fairly recent discovery, and one which I stumbled across through baking. After making apple and zucchini muffins and an apple and zucchini slice, I started experimenting with the vegetable in savoury form too.

Having access to a grill served to seal the deal.

Sprinkled with a spice mix that included pepper, chilli, and cloves

Amazing.


I'm now adding zucchini to all sorts of dishes, and am dreaming of the day that I can grill it again too.


I never thought I'd see the day when I dreamed of zucchini, but there you go. I'm sure it's a good thing!

Do you have favourite vegetables? Have your tastes towards them changed over time?

I have also updated my comments section, to use Disqus. I am hoping it will work better than the standard Blogger format, but please let me know if it causes any problems on computers other than my own!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A stormy Sunday

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Last Sunday was the afternoon of the WAFL grand final and of my friend's baby shower.

I am pleased (very pleased!) to report that Claremont won the WAFL premiership.

I am also pleased to report that my friend had a good afternoon, or at least that all indications would suggest so.


I still don't fully grasp the concept of a baby shower, but I can see that the idea of having friends come together to offer well wishes and congratulations, before the significant changes that a first baby brings, may be helpful to some.



For myself, it was bitter-sweet. I sometimes feel out of place at social events like this, where my friends are slightly older, or just in different stages. There were probably 20 people there, of whom at least 5 were pregnant, another 2 had children, perhaps 10 were married.

I don't want children right now. And whilst I was happy for my friend, and it was nice to catch up with other friends who I hadn't seen for some time, on that particular afternoon I really wanted to be at the football. Thinking of Mr Bite and his siblings amongst the crowd and excitement, whilst I made small talk about babies and social niceties, was hard.



I think the problem was that at the baby shower, I felt out of place. I didn't fully fit in. This made me acutely aware of one of the advantages of following sport, and perhaps one of the reasons I have come to embrace it. By following a team, you automatically belong (on one level at least) with others who support that team. This applies more than ever at final matches, and in large-scale crowds.


These thoughts, and the afternoon in general, left me feeling a little odd, a little sad. Anticipating a long and busy Monday probably didn't help either.

Unfortunately, the day didn't end there. As I was reflecting on these things, I received a knock on the door.

Without going into an excessive and boring amount of detail, it was a neighbour complaining about where one of our cars was parked. Some houses in our neighbourhood have street parking only, and this particular person seemed to view the bit of street out the front of his house as his private property. Although we weren't in his valued spot, we were, it seems, too close to it.

(I will note that we were parked somewhere we were entitled to park, according to parking regulations and council guidelines.)

I don't deal well with criticism, especially criticism delivered in the form of being told off. I generally end up in tears. I did on this occasion. I was teary before the conversation was half over, and when the neighbour had left, I proceeded to sob for some minutes.

I'm calmer now, the day has passed, and my emotions are back into smooth(er) waters. The day certainly got me thinking though, and I suspect will for some time yet, on the mystifying ways of society.

My conclusions thus far? All our efforts to feel like we're part of a group or a team (whether socially, in sport, or in other areas), and/or to honour social rituals, can seem meaningless when confronted with one rude individual with a personal vendetta.

It seems like there is something wrong with that.

Have you had negative experiences with neighbours? Or experiences that make you wonder about the ways of society?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Apricot, Sesame and Coconut Balls, and Chocolate Peanut Fudge

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We are home! After a brief trip to Sydney, a week back home, and then 3 weeks of house sitting (only 15 minutes from our own house, but nonetheless not at our own house), we are back in our own place.

It may be smaller, it may not have a big veggie garden, and there may not be any pets...but it is rather nice. In fact, it is very nice. Having all of my things in one house, rather than strewn in a disorganised fashion across two locations, is also nice.

Before I left my Mum's kitchen I had, of course, to try her magimix. I wanted to see how it compared to my Kitchen Aid.

Thus, you may consider the following products as creations in the name of research. It's hard, but someone has to do these things.

Apricot, Sesame and Coconut Balls

Inspired by Johanna's apricot delight
Makes 12 - 15 balls


Combine 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/4 cup dessicated coconut, and 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots in a food processor

Pulse until well-combined and the mixture resembles crumbs

Add 1 tbsp honey or agave and 1tsp water

Process until the mixture starts clumping together

Roll into 12 - 15 balls and coat in extra coconut

Set in the fridge or freezer



I actually preferred these to the chocolate-y fudge below, which says something rather significant about how good they tasted...

I'm still looking forward to trying Johanna's original, apricot and coconut version of these, but this combination worked well as a way to use the ingredients on hand in my Mum's pantry (which included the sesame seeds).

Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Inspired by chocolate
Makes ~15 squares




Combine 1/2 cup chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup cocoa in a food processor

Pulse until well-combined and the mixture is moist

Add 2 - 3 tbsp agave (or more if you want it sweet), 1tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp plain flour, and 1/4 tsp salt

Process until the mixture is smooth and starts clumping together

Press into a square container and sprinkle with extra peanuts

Set in the fridge or freezer, before cutting into squares




These is far more decadent than the short ingredient list would suggest. Sprinkling the chopped peanuts on top also makes the squares look fancier than the simplicity of the recipe deserves.




The conclusions? The magimix still works well, after 25+ years :)

Have you tried different food processors? Or even a Thermomix (although be warned, if you have a Thermomix, I may not be able to control my jealousy...).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Barley risotto

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Do you cook with barley? Oddly, I rarely do, despite liking it a lot as an addition to soup.

It seems that it is a worthwhile grain to utilise. Barley has a low Glycemic Index, provides both soluble and insoluble fibre, and is a source of several vitamins and minerals, including B1, B3, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and copper.

Other than an easy addition to soups, pearl barley (which is hulled and steam processed) can be used in place of rice in risottos and similar dishes. This casserole recipe provides one example, but the ingredient and flavour combinations could easily be modified to match the season, what's in your fridge, and your own tastes.


Barley Casserole
Adapted from Rosemary Stanton's Healthy Cooking
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bunch spring onions, white ends chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Oil, optional, for cooking onion

Instructions
  1. In a large non-stick pan, cook the spring onion and crushed garlic until soft.
  2. Add the barley and stock and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and add capsicum, zucchini, and celery. Stir through and add the oregano.
  3. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. 
  4. Serve on its own, or as a side dish.


I really enjoyed this!

The leftovers are also enjoyable cold, which makes for easy mid-week lunches. 


Do you make any barley dishes? Or have any other ideas for using the grain?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On daydreams

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Some people have the magical ability of climbing into bed and falling sleep almost immediately. I'm not one of them, although I'm fortunate not to have difficulties with insomnia either. Generally, though, there will be a window of time between when I close my eyes and when I drift off. Reading helps to reduce that time, but it doesn't eliminate it.

Once, this window of time provided an opportunity to plan the next day, reflect on the day that had finished, and worry about upcoming events or deadlines. It only took me 20 years or so to realise that this may not be entirely conducive to a restful night.

These days, I daydream (evening dream?) instead. This seems slightly foolish to admit to in the day, but in that twilight zone of sleepiness, it is rather soothing.

What do I daydream about? Well, three top scenarios are below...

Walking / hiking / camping

Although I enjoy walking and activity, and generally being outdoors, I'm not really a camper. I've only been camping a handful of times, all of which were school-based trips, and the reality is that I like running water and bathrooms. I wear contact lenses. I don't like being dirty. I don't think I'm high maintenance (I can skip make up and my hair is almost always tied up), but tents are probably not my ideal environment.

In a daydream, though, the practicalities don't matter. I entertain myself with thoughts of where I would walk, where we would camp (Mr Bite is forced to come along in these daydreams), what I would carry in my pack, what I would cook over the camping stove, and what it would be like to wake up surrounded by trees.


Sometimes I daydream about the pre-camping stage, too: buying a tent or pack, choosing food at the supermarket (this keeps me particularly entertained :) ) and planning the trip / route.



Being stuck in a department store or shopping centre

As a child, I watched a movie (or TV show) about a child (or children) who got stuck in a department store over night. Despite the fuzziness of my memories now, the general concept stuck with me. In the show, it was approaching Christmas and the child / children entertained themselves with the Christmas display, played with the toys, and then slept on the display beds.

In reality, I would hate to be stuck in a shopping centre over night. But in my daydreams, it is a lot of fun. I overlook the fact that most stores would have security systems, or if in a shopping complex, have each shop individually shut up. Instead, in my sleepy state, I have access to the whole centre, including toys and outdoor equipment, books, coffee machines, and soft-serve frozen yoghurt. It's pretty magical.

I don't think I'd choose to be stuck in a Dubai shopping centre, but I do have photos of a Dubai shopping centre. Thus, that is what we get here.


Having a tight budget, and shopping for a particular set of items

I'm a big planner. I like value for money. I like getting the best possible deal, and I like the challenge of trying to get that deal.

I don't really know what prompted this daydream to start, but it now has a number of variations. For instance:
  • Having to buy a week's worth of food for $20 (this one is a challenge!).
  • Having to buy a full set of basic clothes / shoes for $100.
  • Having my luggage lost on a trip and having to buy all essentials at a single shop for $50.

Of course, I don't know the prices of every item I may want to daydream about, and so a certain amount of creative license is used. I can imagine specials if I need to. In my daydreams, packets of pasta never exceed $1, and I can buy a reasonable number of apples for $2. I can find cheap running shoes for $20 (when my real ones cost >$200...) and the 'single shop' helpfully stocks everything I want (which is never the case in real life...).



Am I the only one to entertain myself this way? (Please don't tell me I am!)

Do you have any daydreams, or soothing pre-sleep routines?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Muffin Mania

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I love the carrot, apple and sultana muffins I posted yesterday. So much so that I've already eaten several, and they only came out of the oven 24 hours ago.

However, I also like variety. And when I bake, I like to pair healthy options with chocolate.


It seems balanced that way.

After talking about cookbooks, I also wanted to allocate a whole post to this muffin collection:


It is much loved. The pages are well worn, with remnants of past baking mixtures stuck to some, and the binding is starting to come undone in sections.


It doesn't talk about health or nutrition, but it does start with an inscription from the authors, Canadian sisters Cathy Prange and Joan Pauli, who say that they hope their recipes will inspire baking and an enjoyment of baking in others.

My Mum received this book from her own sister, who lives in Canada, and it definitely has a friendly, family feel to it.

Whilst it doesn't include pictures, some of the recipes are also perfectly inscribed into my memory. Banana, Apple Cinnamon, and Orange Date muffins were regular favourites, and I can recall not only the muffins, but the baking experiences I shared with my mother. The mixing, the tasting, the cleaning up, the tasting...and pulling the warm muffins out of the oven, and eating one right there in the kitchen.

I feel lucky to have those memories. On googling this book, I also feel lucky to have a copy I can access. Although it has now been republished, for a while there were second hand copies going for over $100!

Maybe I should take it home with me, quietly...

Chocolate-filled vanilla muffins

Adapted from jam-filled muffins in Muffin Mania
Makes a half-batch (6), or double the ingredients for a full batch

Ingredients
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • Egg replacer to the equivalent of 1 egg (or 1 egg)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp soy milk
  • 3/4 cup soy yoghurt (I used vanilla, as it's the closest to plain I've been able to find)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ~50g chocolate squares, cut in half, or chocolate chips


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180'C fan-forced, and grease and line a 6-pan muffin tray.
  2. If using chocolate squares, cut them in half.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, prepare the egg replacer (or egg) and combine with the oil, milk, yoghurt, and vanilla.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until just combined.
  6. Fill each muffin tray ~2/3 full, and then add 1/2 a chocolate square (or a decent sprinkling of chocolate chips) to each.
  7. Cover with the remaining muffin mix, and sprinkle grated chocolate or extra chocolate chips on top.
  8. Bake for ~15 minutes.





The muffins will be slightly golden when cooked, and have a gooey centre.



I recommend serving them warm!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Carrot, apple and sultana muffins, and musings on cookbooks and health

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One of the things I love about my Mum's kitchen is this:


The cookbook collection. The ones balancing on top are my own, but there are plenty more of my Mum's in the pantry too. Many of them hold recipes that instantly conjure up childhood memories, and many of them are vegetarian, or contain decent vegetarian sections.

My Mum has eaten fish and chicken for as long as I can remember, but she has always favoured vegetarian dishes, with lots of legumes and pulses, and she introduced me and my siblings to this way of eating at an early age.

She also introduced us to carob as an alternative to chocolate, wholegrain bread and brown rice over the white varieties, and oats as a baking staple. My siblings haven't taken any of these foods into adulthood, but for my part - thank you, Mum.

Having her cookbooks at my disposal has allowed me to read over books in greater detail than I usually would. The result? I've marked a few recipes to make, but I've also been reminded of how far we haven't come in understanding health and healthy eating.

Consider this book, first published in 1993.



It's not a vegetarian cookbook, but it includes plenty of recipes with vegetables as the primary component.

It talks about health, and is based on the idea that fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, grains, legumes and seafoods should be the main contributing foods to our diets. It discusses the roles of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and outlines the different vitamins and minerals we need, and the foods in which they can be found.



It talks about the dietary needs of athletes, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, and gives example food plans for each.

It is balanced. There is nothing that seems odd, no fads, no feared or banned foods, and no extremes.

It was a refreshing read, and a stark contrast to some of the cookbooks on the market today.

This is just one example from my Mum's shelf, and I don't mean to promote the book excessively. It's simply an example of what healthy eating used to be about (and still is, in theory), and a delightful reminder of what I would like it to be about now.

This book also gave me the inspiration for the following muffins, which have captured my tastes quite effectively.


Easy, healthy, made with real ingredients, vegan, and delicious!


Carrot, apple and sultana muffins

Adapted from Rosemary Stanton's Healthy Cooking recipe for Carrot Muffins
Makes 10
Print recipe

Ingredients
  • 1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp agave (or honey if non-vegan)
  • Flax or egg replacer to the equivalent of 2 eggs (or 2 eggs if non-vegan)
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 2 tbsp apple sauce
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 1 medium apple, grated
  • 1/4 cup sultanas



Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180'C fan-forced, and grease and line a muffin tray to fit 10 muffins.
  2. Combine the flour, oats, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl.
  3. Grate the carrots and apple and set aside.
  4. Prepare the flax eggs or egg replacer (or eggs) and combine with the agar (or honey), soy milk, and apple sauce.
  5. Add the grated carrot and apple to the wet mixture, along with the sultanas.
  6. Add the wet mixture to the dry, and mix until just combined.
  7. Bake for ~20 minutes (mine took 20, but I would check after 15).



These could be deemed suitable for breakfast, snacks, or dessert.


Which is probably fortunate, because I can see myself eating them at all three of those time points!

Do you have any 'old' cookbooks that you continue to use and enjoy? Or favourite recipes from childhood?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons I have learnt from football, with random photos

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4 years ago, I had never been to a football match (or, for that matter, any sporting match).

Although my Dad follows the AFL, his team isn't a Western Australian one, and football was something that was on the TV rather than something we went to.

And then I met Mr Bite.

                                          


Whilst he doesn't usually attend AFL games, he does support one of the local WAFL teams. And by support, I mean that he goes to every game his team, Claremont, plays during the football season.

When we started going out, I started going along. I had no clue about the football. I didn't know the players or the rules, and when we kicked the ball at half-time (one of the features of WAFL games, along with sitting on grassy banks rather than hard chairs), I was anxious about embarrassing myself irredeemably in front of him or his brother.

No one wants to be looked at like this.

Over time, though, I started to enjoy the game in its own right. I started to learn the rules (sort of). I now know quite a few of the players. I care about whether or not Claremont wins. I am capable of getting quite caught up in the adrenalin that a close game brings.

I have also discovered that having 2 - 3 hours of "nothing" time is incredibly freeing. Because 4 years ago, I wouldn't have sat at a football match for 2 hours either, or if I did, I'd have been worrying about all the other things I could and 'should' be doing instead (I was doing my PhD at that time).

Never doing nothing can make your head spin. See?

Last year, Claremont made it into the WAFL grand final. We attended, of course, even though it meant we had to sit on AFL quality plastic chairs.

The supporters of the opposition riled me in a way I would never have thought possible. I wanted to kick the chair of the woman in front of me, who seemed to take great delight in swearing at our players, and the umpire, and any one else who didn't please her.

When we lost by 1 point, I was disappointed. And in the final minutes of the game, my heart was beating faster than it does on some of my runs.

It seems that in grand finals, my sympathetic nervous system likes to do this.

This year, my attendance at games has slackened a little. Living in the same house as Mr Bite means that I get to see him every day, and football has thus lost one of its drawcards. But I do still go most weeks, and I do still enjoy it.

We're in the grand final again this year, playing in just over a week. This year, however, I won't be going. One of my closest university friends is pregnant with her first child, and her baby shower is on the same afternoon. Whilst I don't fully grasp the concept of a baby shower (surely one should wait for the baby before celebrating it properly?), I will, of course, be attending that and not the football.

The point of this ramble? Well, the twinge of disappointment I feel at not being able to go to the final game, and the contrast with my lack of interest 4 years ago, has made me realise that I've learnt quite a lot from my attendance at sporting matches.


Truly.

Lessons I have learnt from football

1. If you are prepared to sit in the cold and/or rain for 2 hours, to watch a game you don't fully understand, you probably like the person you are sitting with rather a lot.

2. Doing "nothing" for 2 hours is sometimes the most productive thing you can do.

3. There is fun to be had in sport (I know this is not news for most people!).

4. Even if you're hopeless at sport, you can still take part. And if you're lucky, the people you are playing with will pretend that you're not as bad as you are.

If they don't, you should probably play with someone else.

5. Supporting a team means that you support them whether they win or lose. This applies to individual people too.

6. Never kick the chair of someone who swears at umpires. Or swears loudly in public. Or who you don't know. Never kick the chair of anyone.

7. Friends come before football.

8. Even though friends come before football, it's ok to wish, just a little, that their baby showers fell on different days to grand finals.





Do you follow any sports, or attend any games? 


Or can you explain the concept of a baby shower to me?!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rice paper rolls and grilled tofu

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Last week, my 5 Things I would Like to Make list brought us vegan chocolate mousse.

This week, I'm moving backwards, from dessert to savoury, from chocolate to rice paper rolls.




Before I do so, though, I hope you'll forgive me for pausing a minute to discuss tofu. The tofu that went in these rice paper rolls, to be precise.

This tofu:



It raised some serious questions. Why have I never grilled tofu before? Why do I not own a Scanpan stovetop grill? Why did grilling work so much better than stir frying, when I've always thought of tofu as a stir frying food?

You may be able to guess that I liked this tofu a lot.

The thing is, I didn't do anything particularly special to it. I marinated it in what was on hand in my parent's kitchen, which equated to sweet chilli sauce and a teriyaki marinade sauce that mostly consisted of soy sauce. Clearly, nothing fancy.



I am thus concluding that it was the grilling that was the key component, and only wish I'd caught on to this method of preparation sooner. I'm generally years behind other people with these sorts of discoveries, and I suspect this is no exception!

The Best Tofu I've Made To Date

300g pack of extra firm tofu, sliced

Pressed between tea towels and under heavy books for 30 minutes

Marinated in sweet chilli sauce (~3 tbsp) and teriyaki / soy sauce (~3 tbsp) for 4 hours

Grilled for ~10 minutes, turning regularly, until browned

To be eaten plain, added to stir fry, or used in rice paper rolls


Now that I've introduced the main ingredient, let me move on...


Rice paper rolls

As I mentioned in my original post, I made these once some years back. At that time, I found them to be quite fiddly, possibly as a result of my younger age, and possibly because I made 20 or so at once.

This time around, I made 6. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because of age, or perhaps just because, I found the process to be fairly easy. The only slightly fiddly aspect (which isn't really fiddly at all) is chopping the vegetables, and that's no different to chopping vegetables for any other dish.


Ingredients - to make 6

6 rice paper wrappers

2 carrots, finely sliced

1 small capsicum, finely sliced

1/2 - 1 cup lettuce, shredded

1/2 - 1 cup bean sprouts

A few mushrooms, sliced

Any other vegetables you like

Grilled tofu, as above

Mint and coriander

Soy sauce and/or sweet chilli sauce, extra



Instructions

Fill a shallow dish or curved dinner plate with warm water, and lay out a tea towel.

Place 1 sheet of rice paper in the warm water and allow to soften - approximately 30 seconds. Place on the tea towel and put the next sheet of paper in the water, to soften in advance.

In the middle of the softened rice paper sheet, place a strip of tofu and an assortment of vegetables. Add mint and coriander, and any other flavourings as desired.

Fold in the bottom end, the left side, the top end, and then the right side. Hold together and turn the roll over, so the rolled in sides are underneath. 

Repeat for the remaining rolls, and serve with extra dipping sauce as desired.



A lot of rice paper rolls include vermicelli noodles too, but I didn't feel the need to add them here.


If I do say so myself, they were delicious! I will definitely be making these again, and can't believe I put it off for so long.

It's really rather fun to think I can now do these at home, and experiment with fillings and flavours as I like. There are certainly advantages in self-preparing things, even though I'm all for easy / purchased lunches at times.

Do you make rice paper rolls? Or grill tofu? Do you have any favourite flavourings for either?