Most Southeast Asian countries have a version of fresh spring rolls. Filipinos have adapted the original Fukien unfried spring rolls (lun bia) to one of their national dishes, fresh lumpia. They are usually made from fresh heart of palm, a delicacy unfortunately unavailable here. The wrappers are generally made of wheat flour, starch and egg, and are steamed and cooled before use. Vietnamese are famous for a wide range of uncooked spring rolls wrapped in “rice paper” — thin, round sheets of cooked glutinous rice that merely have to be soaked in warm water and rolled up around a filling. Here we have combined both traditions.
Vary the amounts of the vegetables or change them according to personal taste and what is available.
Yield: Serves 6
For the garlic sauce:
1 tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil
2 tbsp (25 ml) minced garlic
1 cup (250 ml) vegetable stock or chicken stock
½ cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
4 tsp (20 ml) soya sauce
¼ tsp (1 ml) black pepper
2 ½ tbsp (35 ml) rice vinegar or 3 tbsp (45 ml) lime juice
2 ½ tsp (12 ml) cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp (15 ml) water
For the spring rolls:
Half package (2 oz [50 g]) bean threads (optional)
3 oz (75 g) string bean
3 oz (75 g) pea pods (snow peas)
3 oz (75 g) bean sprouts
2 oz (50 g) carrot julienne
3 oz (75 g) jicama julienne
1 oz (25 g) red bell pepper julienne
12 sheets “rice paper” wrappers
6 leaf lettuce leaves, cut in half
¼ cup (50 ml) loosely packed Thai basil leaves (optional)
1. In a saucepan heat oil over low heat; cook garlic 2 minutes without browning. Stir in stock, sugar, soya sauce and peppper; increase heat to simmer and cook 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar; cook 1 minute. Stir in cornstarch mixture; cook 30 seconds or until thickened. Transfer to a serving bowl; cool to room temperature.
2. Soak bean threads, if using, in cold water to cover until pliable. Bring a pot with 4 cups (1 L) water to a boil. Blanch the bean threads for 20 seconds, the beans (2 minutes), pea pods (30 seconds), bean sprouts (5 seconds) and carrots (30 seconds), rinsing them all in cold water immediately after blanching to stop further cooking; drain and dry vegetables. Cut beans and pea pods into julienne by cutting lengthwise on a very oblique diagonal. Mix bean threads, beans, pea pods, bean sprouts, carrots, jicama and red pepper.
3. Fill a large bowl with warm water and soak 1 wrapper until soft. Place wrapper on dry cloth, put a lettuce leaf half over it, make a line of 3 or 4 basil leaves and cover with vegetables; roll into a cylinder, tucking in the edges as you roll. Put on a tray and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve with garlic sauce on the side to be spooned over just before eating or, if serving the spring rolls as finger food, to be dunked into.
Strips of cold boiled, roasted or Chinese-style barbecued pork make a very nice addition to the spring rolls, as does cold poached shrimp.
In North America, jicama is usually thought of as a Mexican ingredient, however it is very common in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, probably as a result of Spanish Asian trade routes through Acapulco and Manila. It is a large round tuber with a thick skin which must be peeled; the slightly sweet crunchy flesh is eaten raw. It’s a bit like a cross between an apple and a potato. It is often available at grocery chains, as well as Asian and Central American grocers.
Wrapping the spring rolls is an easily acquired skill; just don’t be too frustrated if the first batch isn’t perfect. Avoid trying to overstuff the wrappers; it is better to have extra filling to make more spring rolls than to struggle with overfilled rolls.