There are eggrolls, and then there are eggrolls. While there’s a lot of crossovery-cousin-ish type similarities between many Asian foods, I have to say that lumpia are not just eggrolls; they are just what they are, a deep-fried wrapped stick of meat that could not go by any other name. LOOM-pya. LOVE it. LOOM-pya.
Some non-Filipino men seem to remember this about the Philippines and its people more than anything. They have gone up to me and said things like oh, do you eat/cook lumpia? and kumusta ka, maganda ka!. (Those phrases mean, in this order: hey you are cute, do you cook, too? and hi, I’m a dork, will you go out with me?) They kinda are spitting game and kinda want to sample your lumpia; unfortunately, they really want you to sample theirs.
(Pause for collective “ewwwwwww!”)
Everyone’s mom probably has a different recipe for this dish. Perhaps the biggest difference between lumpia and other eggrolls is that the wrapper is paper-thin, thus fries up very crispy. Re: the stuffing, it varies. Some use pork, some use shrimp, some add shredded carrot, some add corn (note: I do not like corn in lumpia!), others julienned green beans.
I didn’t make lumpia by myself until a few years ago. I wanted to make it for my bf Marcus; you don’t know how pleased I was when he so loved the garlic/vinegar dipping sauce, that he turned to me and said: I could drink this. Anyway, so I had called up mom and prepped all my ingredients and when the rolling began, I think genetics took over. Memories of relatives sitting at a kitchen table, each assembling dozens of these, just set my hands into motion. It’s sort of comforting, like snapping peas, like hanging out the wash on a summer day, something to busy the body and free the mind. All those years of helping the aunties in the kitchen had paid off, and I had a hundred stacked in the freezer before I knew it.
I’m going to share my mom’s recipe because I already foolishly handed out copies of it a bunch of folks at a book club meeting for Tess Urize Holthe’s When The Elephants Dance. I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe I felt the need to represent, but mother would probably not be happy – though it likely wasn’t all hers originally, anyway. Plus, I like to think that, recipes aside, each person adds their own culinary flair and love to their cookery. And that, dear Muffin-Top readers, is the one thing you must add yourself…
Mama Magdalena’s Lumpia Shanghai
1 bundle green onions, sliced thinly
1-2 cans water chestnuts (I like to use 2)
1- 1 1/2 lb of small pre-cooked shrimp (you know, the tiny kind in the cheap Vegas shrimp cocktails, but really any shrimp chopped up a bit will work)
A few shittake mushrooms, diced (either fresh or the dried-then-rehydrated kind)
1-2 eggs (depending on the amount of turkey)
garlic cloves, to your heart’s desire, chopped
oyster sauce if you have it
4-5 packages lumpia wrappers (see: your local Chinatown or the nearest Ranch 99. Round or square is fine, but they must say “lumpia”.)
Mix the ground turkey with the egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in the green onion, water chestnuts and shrimp. Finally, add the soy sauce and oyster sauce.
When you purchase the wrappers, they’ll be frozen, so you will want to defrost them (either a few hours in the fridge or pop them in the microwave for a minute) to make it easier to separate the paper-thin wrappers from one another. I recommend separating a dozen at time so you’ll be able to wrap in batches. They tear, they’re kind of a pain, so get extra packages just in case. Try cutting a bit of the edges too; it helps get them un-stuck.
Rolling lumpia kind of like making tiny burrito: Take a heaping teaspoonful of the filling and place near the bottom of the wrapper, in the center. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, then fold the sides in and finish rolling the whole thing up to the top edge. Seal with edge with you finger, dipped in a little bit of water, as you might with an envelope. Try to make as uniform as possible, and about the size of your finger. (If they’re too thick your raw ingredients may not cook thoroughly.)
Fry’em up: I like canola oil in cast iron, enough oil so they float a bit. Let drip in a colander or paper towels or a clean paper bag.
Serve with plain white rice (sticky is preferable) and a dipping sauce of vinegar, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Mom’s variation: add a touch of brown sugar.
This recipe makes approximately 120 lumpia. Tip: Make whoever is going to be eating it with you help you roll. Another tip: these freeze EXCEPTIONALLY well and you can enjoy these ages from now, unless you’re like me and Marcus and end up having lumpia for dinner 5 times in one month. (Hey, it happens.)