Dim sum is one of my favourite ways of eating. It’s like Spanish tapas, in the sense that food is shared with everyone and it arrives at the table in small bamboo steamers or on plates for everyone to partake. There are literally hundreds of dim sum dishes; steamed, fried, boiled, roasted, served cold, sweet, savoury and salty!
For me, the most delicious one is the spring roll – so simple, but so delightful! And of course it’s fried… anything fried and crispy is a keeper, in my book! Fillings can be anything at all – I’ve tried dozens of different fillings; vegetarian, meat, noodle-filled, with yams, without shrimp, you name it. But it’s very rarely made with a spicy filling, or with fish or beef. Just a little garlic and soya as seasoning and that’s it.
My happiest memories of my mother’s kitchen are making spring rolls with her when I was very young, and feeling like it was a real rite of passage. My mother would make a huge batch of filling and then we would spend an afternoon wrapping the rolls and freezing them. Whenever my brother and I came home from school hungry, we could help ourselves to a few and fry them for an afternoon treat. This is great for little cooks helping mum out as their little fingers make light work of wrapping all those rolls, so prepare plenty, and rope in the whole family!
As I mentioned earlier, almost anything can be used so use your creativity! The most common fillings are any combination of pork, shrimp, Chinese shiitake mushrooms, carrots, green beans, onions, cellophane vermicelli noodles, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, taro, yam and chicken. Leftover filling is usually used up as a stir-fry with noodles or fried rice.
Makes between 20-30, depending how many sheets are in your spring roll packet.
- 500 grams of minced pork
- 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight
- 1 small carrot
- Half a packet of green beans, or roughly one large handful
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tin of bamboo shoots, drained, or roughly one handful
- 3 tablespoons of light soya sauce
- 1 pinch of sugar
- Egg wash for wrapping spring rolls
- Worcestershire or Thai sweet chilli sauce for serving
1. If using frozen spring roll sheets, remove them from the freezer to thaw. Marinate the pork with 2 tablespoons of soya sauce and sugar, then wash and finely shred or julienne the beans, carrot and bamboo shoots. Shred with a mandolin or crosswise on the diagonal of a grater until all the vegetables are like matchsticks. (This is time-consuming but necessary as the finer the cut; the more water will evaporate when cooking). The final mixture needs to be as dry as possible after being fried so the spring roll won’t get soggy.
2. Remove the stems of the Chinese mushrooms, and mince well.
3. Heat your wok or large frying pan. Fry the garlic off first in a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Then add the pork, frying on a medium heat until most of the water in the meat has evaporated and it is looking fairly dry and loose in texture. Remove from the pan and set aside in a dish.
4. Wipe the pan clean, then add your vegetables and fry until they are just tender and crunchy – this should only take a few minutes. Use a high heat, rather than a low flame.
5. Taste your vegetables for the right amount of crunchiness, then add your meat back into the pan. Add the remaining soya sauce, and fry for 1-2 minutes more, mixing well.
6. Place a sieve or fine colander over a big bowl, and drain your mixture through the sieve. Leave the filling for 20 minutes to an hour, to cool down and get as dry as possible.
7. Prepare your spring roll wrapping station. You will need a clean tabletop or flat board, and a small bowl of egg wash (1 egg whisked well with a fork). Make sure your hands are clean! Carefully separate your wrappers and have one platter ready for the wrapped rolls.
Wrapping and frying the rolls
Wrappers come in many forms; rice paper, round, square, made with flour… I usually go for the generic square, flour ones.
1. Using one wrapper, place it in front of you with one point facing your belly so that it looks like a diamond, or kite shape. Work from one corner.
2. Fill the wrapper with one teaspoonful of filling, then roll to the opposite end, tucking in the corners on either side like an envelope.
3. Use a finger dipped in egg wash to baste on the opposite end and roll the wrapper up tight. And that’s it! It takes a few goes to get into the rhythm and get them looking right, but you’ll soon be getting through a dozen without any problems!
4. If you plan to cook straight away, heat a wide flat pan and pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan well, but not so much that the rolls are swimming in oil. Heat on a high heat, then turn the heat down. To check if the oil is hot enough, put in a tiny square of wrapper in. It should sizzle and brown quickly.
5. Put the rolls in – but not too tightly packed – as you need to be able to turn them easily. Fry them for a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown, then remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve with Worcestershire sauce, Thai sweet chilli sauce or Chinese fruit vinegar, which is much sweeter than normal vinegar and pairs up well.
6. You can store the uncooked rolls in a box and keep them for up to a couple of months in the freezer. This makes great party food or starters for a nice meal with friends.
Happy wrapping, mama!