February 9, 2005
You say egg rolls, we say spring rolls. No matter what you call these delightful little packets of flavor, you’ll want to get a head start on making them if you want to have enough on hand to celebrate the Chinese New Year — the Year of the Rooster — today.
They aren’t hard to make, but you’ll need time to chop or shred the wonderful vegetables, meats and assorted ingredients.
Technically, "spring roll" is the term the Chinese use for egg rolls, and it’s what these wrapped goodies were originally called, because they contained fresh spring vegetables. Small and delicate, these fried rolls became popular year-round.
When they made their way to U.S. shores, they became larger, with a thicker dough and Chinese-Americans started calling them egg rolls. Cooks interested in cutting fat also started steaming or broiling them instead of frying them.
These days, the terms spring rolls and egg rolls are used interchangeably. Whatever the name, you can make them, and you don’t need a culinary degree to do it.
THE FRIED ROLL
Peng Jones, owner of Asian Cookery cooking school in Colorado Springs, Colo., gave us a step-by-step lesson on making Chinese egg rolls, the larger, fried version that people are likely to get at Chinese restaurants in the United States.
Jones notes that two types of wrappers are available: "One is a fresh noodle made with white flour and water. It’s flat and square in shape. Rice paper wrappers is another type, made with rice flour and water," she says. Chinese people use the fresh noodle type for their egg rolls.
Though fresh noodle-type wrappers are available at most supermarkets, Jones goes to the freezer section at Asian stores to buy the Menlo or Spring Home brand wrappers.
For the meat filling, she prefers ground turkey, though pork and chicken are acceptable.
It’s important for the vegetables and meat to be finely minced or shredded. Jones cooks the meat and vegetables before filling the wrappers, and says that if you don’t want to fry the rolls, you can eat them "fresh" — "uncooked."
"Like making dough, the filling should not be overmixed," she says. "It will become too dense. Use your hands or chopsticks to gently mix the ingredients."
Then it’s frying time.
"I use a deep wok filled about halfway with vegetable or peanut oil for frying them," Jones says. "Be sure the oil is very hot before placing them in it. That way they will fry quickly and not soak up too much fat."
THE NONFRIED ROLL
Ying Chang Compestine, a Boulder, Colo., cookbook author, offers suggestions for making steamed and broiled egg rolls in her book "Secrets of Fat-Free Chinese Cooking."
You start out making the rolls as you would for fried: Place a small amount of finely chopped ingredients in the wrapper and make your roll. To steam, place the rolls on a lightly oiled steamer set over boiling water. Cover and steam about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the wrappers are soft and translucent. Be sure they don’t touch each other.
To reduce the fat even more, skip the oil and use green cabbage leaves to line the steamer. Place the rolls on top of them and add about 3 to 5 minutes of steaming time.
For broiling, lightly coat a nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the rolls on the sheet, leaving a little space between them. Spray the rolls lightly with oil and broil 10 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown. Turn them over and broil 10 minutes more to brown the other side.
YET MORE ROLLS
The Vietnamese egg roll is becoming more popular. They differ from the Chinese version in a few ways: They’re made with rice paper wrappers; they are smaller — about the size of a cigar; and they’re served wrapped in lettuce leaves.
The rice paper wrappers are sold dry, so they have to be soaked in warm water for softening, then patted with paper towel. After frying they are cut in half diagonally.
"To enjoy a spring roll the Vietnamese way, always put it on a lettuce leaf, and top with cucumber and mint, and wrap it up," says Mai Pham, author of "The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking."
In the Philippines and Indonesia, you’ll find lumpia (LOOM-pee-ah), another version of the egg roll. According to Sharon Tyler Herbst’s "Food Lover’s Companion," the lumpia wrapper is made of flour or cornstarch, eggs and water. Like a traditional egg roll, it’s wrapped around a chopped vegetable and meat filling and fried. Lumpia wrappers can be found in the freezer section of Asian markets.
Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore also have their own versions of the egg roll, and any or all of the above would be perfectly suitable for ushering in the lunar year 4703.