This brings back memories of warm afternoons on the steps of the U.P. Law Library. There was this ambulant vendor who would come by almost everyday just as it was time for the traditional mid-afternoon merienda (snack) and we students would be pointing at one another as to whose turn it was to treat the rest to a bean sprouts spring rolls snack.
The English-speaking world calls them spring rolls although this Asian delicacy has nothing to do with spring. They are served fried or non-fried and fillings vary. The wrappers vary too depending on which part of Asia you are in. Spring rolls called cha gio are served as an appetizer in Vietnam using paper-thin rice wrappers sun dried dried on baskets. The Fujian style fresh non-fried spring roll with the flour-based wrapper is known in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia as Popiah (or Poh Piah). We call savory spring rolls lumpia. If the filling is sweet, we call them turon.
Although there are no strict rules as to what can be used as spring roll filling, it is curious that many Filipinos have subconsciously categorized lumpia into three. Lumpiang ubod when served fresh is wrapped in a crepe-like sheet. Lumpiang sariwa is the generic name for non-fried spring rolls with meat and vegetable filling. Probably with the exception of lumpiang shanghai, minced pork and togue (mung bean sprouts) are associated with pritong lumpia (fried spring rolls).
Bean sprout spring rolls, or lumpiang togue, as they are popularly known to the Filipinos, are so named because the bean sprout is the dominant ingredient in the filling. But that’s not really a strict rule. The proportion between the different vegetables can be changed. You can have more carrots and green beans. Or you can add more tofu and pork or some other meat. It’s all a matter of preference. Or budget. If you want to keep the cost down, then more bean sprout and less of everything else will do the trick.
Bean Sprouts Spring Rolls
- 250 grams pork or chicken, sliced thinly
- patis (fish sauce) to taste
- ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 cups vegetable cooking oil
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 tomato chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 250 grams spinach stalks discarded
- 1 block firm tofu (about 300 g.), cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 carrot julienned
- 100 grams green beans sliced diagonally into 1 inch lengths
- 1/2 kilogram mung bean sprouts rinsed and drained
- 1 egg beaten
- 18 pieces spring roll wrappers
- Place the pork or chicken slices in a bowl. Pour in 1 teaspoonful of fish sauce. Sprinkle with pepper. Mix well.
- Heat about two tablespoonfuls of cooking oil in a wok. Add the pork or chicken and cook over very high heat just until the color changes (about 30 seconds if the temperature is correct).
- Add the garlic, tomato, ginger and onion, and cook until the meat slices start to brown along the edges.
- Add the tofu, carrot, green beans, and spinach leaves. Stir. Season with fish and pepper. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes or just until the vegetables start to turn soft.
- Add the mung bean sprouts. Season with more fish sauce and pepper. Cook, stirring, for half a minute.
- Turn off the heat immediately so as not to make the vegetables soggy. Taste and adjust the seasonings one last time.
- Transfer to a strainer with a bowl underneath to cool completely and to allow all the liquid to drip. Don’t make short cuts with the straining part. You want to remove all the excess liquid so as not to soak the spring roll wrappers.
- Separate the spring roll wrappers. Follow the guide for making spring rolls but use about a tablespoonful and a half of filling for each spring roll (you’ll need the beaten egg to seal the spring rolls). With the given ingredients, you should be able to make about 18 medium sized spring rolls. By medium sized, I mean about four inches long and about two inches in diameter.
- Heat the cooking oil and start frying the spring rolls in batches. How many per batch depends on the size of your wok. As a rule of thumb, just make sure that they are floating in oil and barely touching one another. More importantly, you should be able to roll and turn them over easily.
- Rolling the spring rolls in hot oil is important for even browning. When the spring rolls are a uniform light golden color, scoop them out of the hot oil.
- Drain the fried spring rolls on layers of paper towels to remove any excess oil. Then, fry the next batch, and so on, until all the spring rolls have been fried.
- Serve the bean sprouts spring rolls while hot to make sure that the wrappers are crisp. A dipping sauce of spicy vinegar is the traditional accompaniment.