An American reader once commented that, in the States, spring rolls are fresh and, when fried, they are called egg rolls. The difference in terminology actually goes beyond the frying. In the States, spring rolls are dipped in beaten egg and dredged in flour (or starch) prior to frying. That’s something we don’t do with spring rolls in Asia. We don’t rely on flour and egg to give the spring rolls that delectable crispness. We rely instead on the proper preparation of the filling which, if pre-cooked, must be sufficiently cooled and drained to prevent moisture from making the wrappers soggy.
It is also inaccurate to claim that the term “egg roll” comes from the wrapper itself — spring roll wrappers are made with flour and water, and no eggs at all. Using egg wash to seal the filling in the wrapper doesn’t qualify the rolls as egg rolls either.
So, fried or not, spring rolls are spring rolls, and we don’t call them egg rolls because we don’t dip them in eggs prior to frying. In the Philippines, we call them lumpia which can be sariwa (fresh) or prito (fried).
These are fried vegetarian spring rolls. The filling is a mixture of chopped mushrooms, pechay (a variety of Asian cabbage that closely resembles bok choy), chopped bell pepper (pimiento or capsicum, to be more precise, because the bell pepper is not a pepper despite what its pervasive English name says), bird’s eye chili, garlic, scallions and grated cheese.
- ¼ c. of chopped mushrooms (any variety; even canned will do)
- ¼ c. of chopped bell pepper
- ½ c. of chopped pechay (bok choy can be substituted)
- 2 tbsps. of finely sliced scallions
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bird’s eye chili, finely chopped
- ½ c. of grated cheese (most varieties will do but not very soft ones)
- salt (the amount depends on how salty the cheese is)
- pepper, to taste
- 8 to 10 spring roll wrappers, separated
- 1 and ½ to 2 c. of cooking oil
- Mix together all the ingredients except the wrappers and cooking oil.
- Take a heaping tablespoonful of the mixture, wrap and seal (see how to wrap spring rolls). You may use egg wash to seal them or, if the wrappers are very fresh and soft, moistening the edges with a little water should be sufficient.
- Repeat until all the filling mixture is wrapped.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan. There is an ideal temperature for frying spring rolls so that they cook within minutes and they don’t soak up oil unnecessarily. Ideally, the filling should be cooked by the internal steam generated rather than by direct contact with the hot oil. There are many ways to test the temperature. Some cooks dip a wooden chopstick in the oil and if tiny bubbles appear, the temperature is right. Others drop a piece of spring roll wrapper in the oil. If it darkens within seconds, the oil is too hot; if the piece of wrapper sinks to the bottom of the pan, the oil is not hot enough. Me? I place my hand, palm down, about six inches above the surface of the oil and measure the temperature that way. I didn’t always do it that way but, after frying spring rolls for too many years, I’ve learned that it is the most accurate technique. For me, at least.
- Fry the spring rolls, in batches if your wok or frying pan is not large enough, making sure that the pan is not overcrowded and the spring rolls can be rolled in hot oil easily. Scoop out as they brown. Serve immediately.