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What's Cooking?: Let's Roll!
It doesn’t get any better than having a well-made Asian roll. A bite into this lightly fried crisp wrap filled with mouthwatering ingredients is positively addictive! We are not talking about the typical egg rolls that are filled with tasteless cabbage filling rolled into thick egg roll skins that appear in some American Chinese restaurant menus. What is called an “egg roll” has evolved and the authentic types are varied by the texture of the wrapper (skin). It is complemented by an infinite choice of flavorful fillings, both savory and sweet, reflecting both Asian and non-Asian cuisines.
The skin pastry crepes originated in China and brought over to other countries by Chinese immigrants. In the Philippines and Indonesia, they are called lumpia or loempia in Netherlands and Belgium. In the Chinese culture, it is called a spring roll because it is usually eaten during the Spring Festival. The spring roll wrappers are readily available in Asian and some American markets. I prefer the spring roll skin hands down over the egg roll wrapper. It is almost paper-thin, easy to fold, and lightly crisp when fried. The crunchy spring rolls are filled with succulent morsels of chicken, pork, or shrimp. Adding a mixture of sauté vegetables changes the taste altogether. How about making it vegetarian by lightly sautéing shredded carrots, celery, mushrooms, bean thread vermicelli, and lots of scallions with a splash of soy sauce?
The fresh Vietnamese summer rolls use rice paper wrappers where no cooking is involved. They are translucent sheets of rice flour dough dried in the sun on bamboo mats resulting in weave-like pattern embedded on each sheet. It is brittle but when soaked into warm water, it “magically” becomes opaque white and pliable. It is a perfect vehicle to wrap the fresh salad-like ingredients. One has to work pretty quickly to place in it cooked shrimp or thinly sliced pork, lettuce, rice vermicelli, thin strips of carrots, cucumber, scallions, and finally some mint or basil leaves. Properly aligned, it can become a work of art. In itself, the healthy summer roll has simple ingredients. However, dipped into outrageous sauces like the peanut hoisin sauce with hints of coconut milk, or the spicy sesame soy sauce with slivers of ginger and minced garlic, the sauce is as good as the roll. It is especially refreshing to have them ready made in the warm weather to enjoy.
Finally, the spring roll wrap’s versatility knows no bounds as it is used for appetizers and delicate desserts. Firecracker shrimp is an easy appetizer to make where strips of spring skin are wrapped around a jumbo shrimp with scallions and a julienned carrot to represent the lit fuse. It’s also a cinch to make bite-sized desserts. Just cut the wrapper into quarters and filled with a cream cheese mixture or a fruit pie filling. Fold diagonally and seal it; then fry or bake it. Thinking out of the box, I have enveloped spring rolls with macaroni & cheese or an avocado filling with red onions, cilantro, and red peppers. Delicious! I’ve even seen it rolled up with a Reuben filling with corn beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. There are so many other adventurous possibilities. Want to hear some applause? Try making some spring and summer rolls for your next gathering!
The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell
Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites by Jaden Hair
The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home by Diana Kuan
Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites from Dim Sum to Kung Pao by Bee Yinn Low
The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens by Patricia Tanumihardja