Somewhere around the mid-1980’s, when football sized shoulder pads seemed like a good fashion choice for women and men were rolling up their white suit jacket sleeves (I’m looking at you Miami Vice); when we were all walking like Egyptians and the price of gasoline was a mere 89 cents a gallon… I was having my first nearly religious experience with lumpia.
Lumpia is a Chinese-style spring roll that comes in a wide range of varieties and can be found most predominantly in the Philippines, which is where my family and I were living during the mid 80’s. Generally speaking, lumpia is a mixture of veggies like cabbage and carrots, meat (usually pork, but I use chicken here), and/or seafood rolled into a thin wrapper (typically made from wheat flour).
Why I Love Lumpia
Looking back, I’d say that my introduction to lumpia is probably one of the more influential and pivotal culinary experiences in my young life and is in many ways responsible for establishing my abiding love of cooking (and eating!) ethnic cuisine. But this wasn’t just about it tasting so fabulous; for me, it was about experiencing the process.
At the time, my family and I were living in the Philippines, running a refuge and recovery home for young women who had escaped the sex trade (see a little more about that here.) There were about 25 girls living in the home with us and we quite literally shared everything.
One day we were preparing for a big celebration and there was a room full of us sitting at long tables making wrappers, chopping veggies, filling…rolling….more chopping, filling, rolling and….well you get the idea. Things weren’t moving too fast or too slow; the girls were laughing, telling stories and singing songs. Everyone was in sync, and right in the midst of this well choreographed chaos I had a moment.
I realized in that moment what incredible power there is in “process.” Power to share joy and teach about life; to heal brokenness and restore hope. There’s just something mystical that happens when you gather with people to work on something, a common project, and in my experience, there’s no more fertile ground for this kind of thing than cooking together.
It took us hours to roll enough lumpia for the large party that was planned and only a few short moments to eat the fruits of all that labor…..but it was worth every moment spent. Because when the lumpia was finally served, it wasn’t just something to fill our bellies. We had history with it. We had those shared moments; the smells, stories, textures and laughs that now culminated with us sitting down to enjoy, finally…..the taste. And that taste was all the richer because of the process we had shared.
Because of my dietary limitations I obviously don’t make the traditional recipe that we used to make all those years ago, but the essence of that moment and the deliciousness of the recipe are alive and well and I’m so glad to be sharing it with you guys today.
Paleo Style Lumpia (fried spring rolls)
Makes 9-10 rolls
2 tablespoons ghee or other oil
1/4 cup (30g) diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup (60g) diced carrots
1/2 cup packed (50g) shredded cabbage
1/2 cup (40g) chopped green onions
2 cups (8oz/225g) diced roasted chicken
1 tablespoon coconut amino’s
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
10 round rice or tapioca spring roll wrappers (8 1/2″/22cm)
Preferred oil for frying (I like to use THIS one)
*Click on green links to find out where to buy select ingredients. Although tapioca and rice wraps can generally be found at an Asian market.
Pre-heat a heavy bottomed frying pan with the 2 tablespoons of fat, over medium- high heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and cabbage and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring periodically.
The veggies don’t need to be cooked all the way through as they will be cooked again later when fried.
Remove from heat and and transfer to a large bowl. Add the chopped chicken, green onions, coconut amino’s, salt and pepper to the other vegetables and toss to combine. Set aside.
Rolling and frying the spring rolls: Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water. Dip one wrapper into the water for a few seconds to soften it. Lay the wrapper flat on a clean, damp towel.
Place about 2 rounded tablespoons of filling toward the one-third of the wrap nearest to you. Gently fold the top over the filling, tuck it under the filling and pull it snug.
Fold the sides inward over the filling (but not all the way to touching, or your roll will be too fat; see pictures), then tightly roll up the wrap. Take your time at first. Getting a tight roll is key to them not bursting in the oil. Be sure the end seam is secure and place them seam side down on another damp clean towel or plate. Repeat until all the filling has been used.
Note: Remember, You want these little guys to be skinnier than an egg roll (about 1 to 1 1/2 inch round) and tightly rolled so they will stay together once they hit the hot oil.
Fill a medium sized pot or deep pan with about 3 inches of fat/oil and heat till the oil reaches about 350F/176C degrees on a candy thermometer. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil steady at this temperature.
Carefully slip in one spring roll at a time into the hot oil, being sure the rolls do not touch each other or they will stick. I usually fry 2 rolls at a time in a 2.5 quart sauce pan, but you might fit more if using a larger frying pan. If they do stick together, it is best to leave them alone till they are done frying. Otherwise you will cause a tear in the wrap and the filling will burst out. They will separate once fried.
Fry for about 4 minutes, then remove with a metal tongs and drain on paper towels. If using a shallower pan, turn the spring rolls half way through the frying time or as needed to ensure even cooking.
Serve and enjoy!