.....are freaking delicious. ever had one? they are like lighter, crispier egg rolls packed usually with tender meat and tasty vegetables. these irresistible delights made their way into our family history at some point, and i did some asking around to find out exactly how by talking to my mom and sister.
i've always known that the mere word "lumpia" caused a sparkle in the eye or a lick of the chops whenever it was muttered by a family member. apparently, in ketchikan, the small island in southeast alaska, where my parents were raising their four children (me being the youngest), had a fair-sized filipino population. my mom's comparison was that the lumpia to filipinos are like what a taco is to hispanics. she was introduced to them by her brother kerry's wife, teresa, who was half-filipino. what my sister and i remember was that finding the lumpia wrappers, the ultra-thin crepe-like piece that holds all the filling, was a special treat because the wrappers were not available that we knew of on the island. so if someone in the family, like my dad or aunt, were going to visit seattle, they would try and bring back the wrappers, and then a lumpia feast would ensue. my mom and i wondered if either we didn't know about the "local lumpia wrapper source" or if the local filipino families were just making them from scratch. hard to believe because they are so incredibly thin and delicate to handle. my mom told me that when her brother passed away, and teresa remarried she was kind enough to invite our family to the wedding. there teresa's filipino relatives cooked all the food for the wedding, including piles and piles of lumpias which they fried right there in front of the hungry guests.
this was all just a mere memory for me though since i was five when we left alaska and six when we settled in bend--and remained for over 20 year. by the time i was grown, i was aware of what had become really "the legend of the lumpia" but had never made them myself, i assume since no markets in bend carried that rarity of the wrapper. i recall once, on a road trip in my late teens, stopping at a cafe on the coast for brunch, and seeing, amidst the normal omelette and benedict fare, a special sheet announcing the available lumpias! i excitedly explained to my traveling companion about the elusive fried treat. i can't remember actually eating them there, so either i ordered them and they were unremarkable or i stuck to my french toast and tight budget.
fast forward to last year, here in portland, where i decided i wanted to start a chinese new years feast tradition and have all of my favorite chinese-american dishes, which i am unable to eat now due to The Allergy. (my basic approach to cooking foods that normally contain soy is substitute it with a fraction of salt.) this led to an exploration of the vast array of asian food markets along S.E. Powell Boulevard. i found this to be an awesome cultural experience, if not somewhat dizzying due to the huge selection of products with unreadable labels. blake and i realized that (if you don't care about whether your food is organic) a $20 bag of groceries gets you days of delicious meals, our favorite being our homemade seafood ramen that we've been prefecting over the last year.
back to my original plan, the best market we found is called An Dong Market on S.E. Powell and 55th, and it has everything from two aisles of noodles, a clean and exotic (to us) meat department, and fresh produce popular to chinese cooking. while shopping for my chinese new year feast, i meandered past the freezer section, and lo and behold, what do my eyes land upon but a box of lumpia wrappers! i was tickled and for only three dollars a box, i snatched one up. since my mom and dad were the guest of honors to our first attempt at this new tradition, i was excited to show my mom what i'd found. she helped me through the process of the delicate wrapping and gave me tips about stacking them so they don't stick together, and even fried them up. they were just as good as everyone had remembered--it was very hard to stop eating them!!
three nights ago, when we were preparing to satisfy another ramen fix, i decided to grab another box, and whip up some lumpias to go along. this time, feeling more free about what should go into them. i have both the recipe my mother has passed on from teresa, and the recipe from the back of the box (including the sweet and sour sauce which is so good for dipping!). the recipe i have settled on is somewhat between the two, but this is one of those things that really, once you are comfortable, is a flexible, whatever-is-on-hand type of food, and doesn't require specific measurements.
first i give you the original recipe that came through our family, from teresa:
-boil the breasts until done, then cool, and finely dice. set aside.
*vegetable oil for sauteing
*green cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
*green onion, chopped
-saute the vegetable in the oil. also add:
*dash of garlic salt
*soy sauce, to taste
-when soft, remove from heat, drain, add chicken to mixture, and let cool.
when the filling is cool, take your thawed wrappers, and one by one gently separate, fill with large spoonful of mixture, and wrap, wetting the last bit to seal. keep lumpias in single layers, using wax paper to add more layers, until you use up all the filling. deep fry in oil or fat on low controlled heat until golden brown.
teresa's sweet and sour sauce;
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
ginger root, julienned
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
--cook all ingredients in a pan until thick. serve warm with the lumpias!
and now my version, which is soy-free, and has the best part--a nice crunch inside provided by water chesnuts and also no pre-cooking required:
toss together in a large bowl the following:
*1 pound ground pork, sauted and drained
OR dark chicken meat, cooked and finely chopped
*1/2 cup carrots, grated
*1 cup mung bean sprouts AND/OR cabbage, shredded
*1/3 cup mushrooms, chopped
*1/3 cup yellow or white onion, finely chopped
*1/3 cup water chesnuts, chopped OR turnips, finely chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
mix in a small bowl:
*2 large eggs
*3 tsp tapioca starch
add to meat-veggie mixture. season with:
*1/2 tsp pepper
*1 teaspoon salt
toss well! then begin rolling (my lumpia wrappers have a nice diagram on the back of the box to help you along) basically: fill, fold sides, and roll, wetting the last bit to seal it closed. place on a platter in layers, using wax paper bewteen each layer to prevent sticking. i fry them in canola oil, using about 1/2 inch of oil in the pan, so when submerged the lumpias are not quite covered and can be flipped, until both side are golden brown. set on paper towels briefly to absorb excess oil, and serve with sweet and sour sauce.
3 Tbsp vinegar (white wine or apple cider both work well)
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp tapioca starch
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
place in a small sauce pan and heat until thickened.
so tell me, readers, have you ever had a lumpia? got another recipe to share? also let me know if you try one of these and, of course, the result....