If there’s one thing that lives in my mind rent-free, it’s Lumpia Shanghai, the savory fried spring rolls of the Philippines. These slender, cigar-shaped finger foods typically consist of a mixture of ground meat (pork or beef), minced vegetables (including cabbage, carrots, and onions), and aromatics (like ginger, garlic, and chile flakes), enveloped in a paper-thin wrapper.
While there are two main kinds of lumpia—fried and fresh—it’s the fried variety that I love most. (And pretty much every other Filipino I know agrees.) Just the thought of the crispy-crackly exterior and the juicy, gingery filling inside of them makes my appetite go wild.
When I was growing up, lumpia was a staple at barbecues, birthdays, and every holiday I can remember. But we’d also eat lumpia on regular days, serving them casually for lunch with pancit bihon or steamed rice. The pro move is to prep at least a few dozen (honestly, prep more), put them in the fridge or freezer, and fry them whenever the craving strikes. So this year, I'm making a ton of lumpia for Thanksgiving. It'll be a small gathering—me, my boyfriend, and our neighbor—but that's okay. I'm really making them for every day that follows.
If you've ever wondered how to make lumpia, just know that the wrapping and rolling is easy—so easy that it’s the perfect task to hand over to any kids in the house (like my mom always did). But there are a few key tricks that'll make your homemade lumpia great. I asked chef Leah Cohen, author of Lemongrass and Lime: Southeast Asian Cooking at Home, to walk us all through it.
Make the filling
In Lemongrass and Lime, Cohen makes her lumpia filling with a mixture of ground pork and ground beef—to her, this combination makes the best lumpia—but you can stick with just pork if you prefer. If you're using both, put both types of ground meat in a large bowl and mix them together using your hands. Then, mix in chopped garlic, ginger, water chestnuts, carrots, and onion, seasoning with soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, black pepper, chile flakes, and scallions. (Make sure to finely chop the vegetables before adding them to the meat, so there aren’t any large chunks.)
Truth is, though, I usually make my lumpia without any meat at all, and you can make vegetarian lumpia using any vegetables you like. My go-to is a mixture of chopped cabbage, carrots, onions, and shiitake mushrooms.
According to Cohen, the trick to making great vegetable lumpia is to sauté any vegetables that have a high water content first to cook off any excess liquid. “Otherwise the lumpia won’t get crispy,” she says. “If you have a mixture of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and water chestnuts, cook the cabbage and mushrooms first and let them cool, then mix them with the other vegetables.” Once all of your ingredients are well combined, set the bowl aside while you prep the wrappers.
Wrap and roll
While you could make your own lumpia wrappers at home, Cohen says the process can be difficult, messy, and time consuming. There’s no shame in buying a packaged version: “There are great ones to be found,” Cohen says. Everyone has their favorite brand of lumpia wrappers—here’s Cohen’s (and here’s mine)—but you can use any kind of spring roll wrappers that you find at the store. If the wrappers are frozen when you buy them, make sure to slowly defrost them in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the process quick and seamless, set up a wrapping station before you get started. First, line a baking sheet with parchment and set it aside for the wrapped lumpia. Set out a small bowl filled with a beaten egg (plus a tablespoon of water) or vegetable oil for sealing your lumpia. Next, take the wrappers out of the package and separate each individual wrapper by gently peeling them apart. Stack them on a plate (don’t worry, once separated, they won’t stick together).
To start wrapping, take one of the wrappers and place it on your work surface (this could be a large plate or cutting board, or your clean countertop), so that a point is facing you. Think diamond, not square. Place about two heaping tablespoons of filling in the center of the wrapper, slightly below the middle, and spread it into a horizontal log, so that the filling almost reaches the edges of the wrapper.
Take the bottom corner of the wrapper and fold it upward. Fold in the left and right corners, and then roll the wrapper up, toward the top point of your diamond. Make sure to roll the lumpia tightly, so that there are no air pockets. The rolled lumpia should be about half an inch in diameter. To finish, dip your finger in the egg wash (or vegetable oil) and pat it on the remaining top corner to seal the lumpia closed. Place each wrapped lumpia on the prepared baking sheet.
Start frying (or freeze ‘em to fry later)
Once you’ve wrapped all of your lumpia, you can fry them right away—or save them to fry later, so you can have freshly-fried lumpia any time with almost no effort. You can put your wrapped lumpia in an airtight container to refrigerate for up to eight hours, or freeze for up to three weeks. There’s no need to defrost before frying.
To fry your lumpia, heat about a quart of vegetable oil in a wok or high-sided sauté pan over medium heat (the oil should be at least three inches deep). Cohen says the most important aspect of frying lumpia is making sure that the oil is hot—really hot. Use a thermometer to make sure it’s at 350° F before you even consider putting in any lumpia. While the oil heats up, line another baking sheet with paper towels.
Fry the lumpia in batches of four to six, cooking them until they’re golden brown and crispy. For fresh lumpia, this should take about four minutes; for frozen lumpia, about six minutes. If you’re making meat-filled lumpia, you want to really make sure that it’s cooked through, so be patient here. Remove the lumpia from the pan using a slotted spoon or tongs, and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Pull out a bottle of sweet chile sauce and start eating your lumpia ASAP. While they're fine at room temperature, there's nothing better than eating them hot and crisp, just minutes out of the pan. Now that you know how to make lumpia, prep as many as you like—but only fry as many as you want to eat today. If you're anything like me, you'll be frying lumpia again a few more times this week.Leah Cohen
Originally Appeared on Epicurious