Or, call them egg rolls or spring rolls, these beauties are my mom’s claim to fame!
Egg rolls hold many treasured memories for me….
The other day I went to pick up some Chinese take out and smiled to myself because in the corner there were 3 teenagers peeling lumpia wrappers for egg rolls and chatting. I think most of my conversations with my mom during my teen years took place around the dining room table while she made egg rolls and I had to peel hundreds of lumpia wrappers. There was something very satisfying and soothing about teasing the delicate sheets of dough apart from each other without ripping too many and with my hands occupied it seemed that my tongue was loosened and it didn’t seem so strange to talk with my mother.
She made hundreds at a time for every potluck and gathering; weeks before the event people would ask to be sure that she was going to make them. When my FBLA chapter needed to raise money to go to the national convention, my mom made two hundred every week for a month and we’d sell out in minutes at a dollar a pop. We should have tried for two bucks, but we were only the future business leaders of America, you see and didn’t really understand maximizing profits.
I’ve tried my own hand at making egg rolls over the years and while mine are good, they pale in comparison to my moms. Hers are never greasy or heavy, but crisp and light and you can taste more than just a vague sense of “fried”. Here is the recipe as best we could pin it down, but it’s something that changes every time you make it, as you adjust for the subtle differences in the season’s produce or atmosphere or your own mood.
As frustrating as these sorts of vague recipes can be for the novice cook, remember that when there is no precise way to make something there is no way to really get it wrong. Your first ones will not be perfect, but they will be good and as your experience grows they will be better still. Feel free to experiment and substitute!
Also note, this recipe makes a lot. I think we got 90 egg rolls from this batch. You can scale it down quite easily. Any excess freeze beautifully; I’ll explain more at the end of the recipe.
Tracy’s Mom’s World Famous Egg Rolls
(note all amounts are approximate)
2.5-3 lbs of ground beef, cooked through and drained off all fat. You can even rinse it and dry thoroughly.
2 6 ounce packages of frozen salad shrimp, thawed and drained. You can omit or use larger shrimp chopped coarsely.
1 medium head white cabbage, shredded
2 medium napa cabbages shredded
5-6 carrots julienned
3 medium onions julienned
450 grams (about 1 lb) Korean sweet potato starch noodles, prepared according to package instructions, drained and cut into 2 inch lengths with kitchen shears
1 cup or more of oyster sauce
3 eggs beaten lightly
1 cup or more of plain breadcrumbs
90-100 lumpia wrappers, thawed if frozen
In a very large mixing bowl combine cabbages, carrots and onions and sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of plain table salt. Let sit for 30-60 minutes to allow the salt to penetrate the vegetables to release excess liquid. Rinse thoroughly and drain.
The most important secret to making good egg rolls is to squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the vegetables, otherwise the finished product will be soggy and heavy. In the past, my mother would put the vegetable mixture into a clean pillowcase and have my father wring it out, but this time we just took handfuls of it and squeezed as hard as possible with our hands. Put the squeezed vegetables in a large mixing container (we used a clean dishpan) and combine with the cooked and drained beef, the shrimp, the noodles, oyster sauce and about a tablespoon of pepper.
Mix well with your hands then taste for seasoning. If it seems bland, add a bit more oyster sauce and/or pepper. You can add a little salt but probably won’t need to as the vegetables will be a little salty and the oyster sauce is full of salt, too. Add the raw, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs and mix well with your hands again. The mixture should look like the picture.
Set the mixture aside, covered in the fridge, while you peel your lumpia wrappers. There are a few different brands on the market, we use Simex brand. If you can get it, they have a version that comes with the wrappers separated by waxed paper which is much easier to separate (you can save the paper to freeze the egg rolls later). If the only kind you can find is the one without waxed paper, it’s fine, too just a little more tricky. Any ones that are completely mangled can be set aside to provide patches for other torn ones.
Rolling the egg rolls takes practice, but after you do a few it should go rather quickly. It’s a lot like rolling a burrito. Put a few tablespoons of filling a couple of inches from the edge, leaving space at the sides. Fold the bottom up over the mixture, then fold the two sides in and roll. You’ll want to try and make it snug and tight but don’t fret if they seem a little lumpy at first. Place them seam side down in a container and go to town.
To cook the eggrolls, heat about half an inch of vegetable oil in a skillet over a medium hot burner (I use 6 or 7 on my range, but you know your stove best). When the oil is hot (I guess around 375 – I test by putting the end of a wooden chopstick in the oil and if lots of bubbles form around it, it’s good) put a few egg rolls in seam side down and fry until golden brown and then flip and fry the other side. Drain well on paper towels or do like my mom does and put them in a metal colander standing up on end to drain out the excess oil. Serve hot with dipping sauce of your choice. You can use store bought sweet and sour sauce, Chinese hot mustard or my favorite, soy sauce mixed with rice vinegar. In the picture, I have used sweet soy sauce (Ketsap manis) mixed about equally with rice vinegar. You can also use plain soy sauce mixed with rice vinegar, just combine to taste. It’s good with toasted sesame seeds floating on top, if you have any.
To Freeze Egg Rolls:
I have frozen egg rolls uncooked successfully by freezing them on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper until hard and then putting in freezer bags. When you’re ready to eat them, thaw and fry as before. You can also fry them frozen, but that tends to get really messy and dangerous with the hot oil splattering, even if I think they are crispier that way.
My mom freezes them after she cooks them. After they are cooled, wrap them in waxed paper and put in a freezer bag. You can also freeze them on trays as described above. Thaw and fry. She says they are less soggy if you cook them first, then freeze but I haven’t done a side by side comparison.
As I said above, this is a very flexible recipe. If you don’t want to use all ground beef, you can substitute some or all of it with ground pork or ground chicken. Even ground turkey, I guess but I don’t know how that would taste (I’m not a ground turkey fan). You could omit the shrimp or add more if you want a really shrimpy flavor.
For a vegetarian version you can simply omit the meat and shrimp and use vegetarian oyster sauce. I’ve made egg rolls for years without any eggs so you could omit those, too. If you want a bit of protein, you could add tofu but try to get as much moisture out as possible first. I like making tofu crumbles by freezing the tofu, thawing then wrapping it in a clean, lint free cloth and squeeze out all the water. Put it in a bowl and break into crumbles with a fork. You could also use baked or deep fried tofu cut into slivers.
The Korean sweet potato starch vermicelli is available at most Asian markets. If you can’t find it, I’ve substituted clear rice noodles in the past with good results. You could also leave them out.
Lumpia wrappers are available at most Asian markets as well and some supermarkets. I’ve only found them frozen. Regular eggroll wrappers will work, but will be much more doughy, like a Chinese food buffet egg roll. Once, in Ireland I couldn’t find lumpia wrappers and used frozen phyllo dough sheets! It worked, but the finished product tasted a bit floury – still good but if you can get them, use the lumpia wrappers.
I have no idea where egg rolls end and spring rolls and proper lumpia begin. I think it’s all good.
If you are making a ton of egg rolls for a large event, my mom used to fry them and drain them very well and then stack them in one of those large rectangular chafing dishes to keep warm. They are best right out of the pan, of course, but are still very good for quite a while after cooking. I am not expert in food safety, so use your common sense in how long to keep them at room temperature. Any leftovers are perfectly acceptable to eat heated in the microwave the next day, although not as crispy. You can also bake them in a 400 degree oven until hot and crispy. I find that this works best if you can put them on an oven-save cooling rack so that air circulates all around and the bottom does not get soggy.
Please note if you omit any ingredients, the volume of mixture will be less and the recipe won’t yield as many egg rolls.