I am sure you are thinking, “Wait, what the hell, why is she posting a recipe for Lumpia on Thanksgiving?” Well, because I was asked to. I’m in Seattle for Thanksgiving this year and was invited for Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Karen’s home. I text her last week and asked what she wanted me to bring. After deliberating with her family, she texted me back with, “everyone wants you to bring your spring rolls”. Huh? Seriously? Well, okay, why not?! Is it really that unusual? I’m sure most of your families serve that one dish that doesn’t quit fit the Thanksgiving “theme”. However, if you were to dig a little, I’m sure you would find some back story as to why the dish shows up on the Thanksgiving table. If you notice something odd at the table this Thanksgiving, instead of judging, ask about it!
So why Shanghai Style Lumpia, as opposed to some other type of spring roll? It’s because of my fond memories of some wonderful Filipino people. Growing up in a military family has enabled me to meet and work with many people from the Philippines. They are some of the hardest working and kindest people I have ever met. They also tend to have HUGE tight knit families! Their family unit always extends far beyond blood relatives. If you know a Filipino woman for more than a couple of months and are in her good graces, then you become part of her extended family. I am serious when I say that I have more Filipino aunties than I can count. The honorary designation of “niece” means that you are automatically on the guest list when they are throwing a party. With such huge families, Filipinos are throwing either a birthday, Baptism, wedding, graduation, or holiday party almost every weekend (seriously — I’m not kidding)! This means that there is going to be copious amounts of delicious food. One food item that will always be present (and the first items to be eaten) at any Filipino party are Shanghai style Lumpia. These are little pork filled spring rolls that are complete gastronomic bliss! The filling for Lumpia are fairly straight forward and simple. However, the challenge is wrapping those little suckers up. Filipino women are simply masterful at it. I have always been in awe at how perfect they can roll these (Lumpia are very small and dainty, unlike Chinese style egg rolls) and they quantity they can churn out (for parties, by the 100’s). What is unique about Shanghai style Lumpia is that the meat is not cooked in advance, are small (the width of a cigar), and contains very little vegetables (heaven for children). If you have never had Lumpia before, then you definitely are missing out! You simply must give these a try!
The following recipe is inspired by my three favorite Filipino aunties of all time: Auntie Maria, Auntie Cindy, and Auntie Vivian. Auntie Maria is my mom’s good friend who can throw a HUGE party together with practically no notice — I swear the food just magically appears. She has a smile that stretches from ear to ear and has a laugh that can be heard from miles away (sort of like mine)! Auntie Cindy and her family were our next door neighbors when we lived in Hawaii. Her and Uncle Les are of Filipino and Hawaiian descent and had a MASSIVE family network — Kevin Bacon has nothing on them. I swear they are related in some way to everyone who lives on Oahu! Not only is she an amazing cook, but she is an amazing seamstress too! Her brother worked on the show Magnum PI and made it possible for me to meet and get a picture with my then heartthrob, Tom Selleck! Finally, there is Auntie Vivian. When I was getting my undergraduate degree in California, I worked part-time for some extra pocket money. Auntie Vivian and I worked together. She took me under her wing, always magically had extra food to share at lunch, was my fierce protector, and a fantastic confidant. The recipe for my Shanghai style Lumpia is an amalgamation from these three wonderful women!
Shanghai Style Lumpia (makes 30-35 little Lumpias)
1lb. lean ground pork (Note: If you can’t find lean ground pork, make your own. Take a pound of pork loin, chunk it, and pulse it several times in a food processor. It works great.)
½ lb. finely carrots, peeled and finely chopped (Note: us a mini food processor)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 inch fresh peeled ginger, sliced thinly into medallions.
3 green onions, roughly chopped
¼ cup Kikkoman (or other good brand) soy sauce (Note: NO CHUN KING brand soy sauce – that is an abomination and I will judge you)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (Optional) (Note: You can buy fish sauce in just about any grocery store these days. WARNING – Fish sauce is very pungent smelling (seriously). Your family may ask you if something died. However, it really enhances the flavor and is totally worth it. So open the windows, turn on the fan, plug your nose and suck it up.)
1 package Lumpia wrappers/spring roll wrappers (Note: These wrappers can be found in the frozen section of Asian grocery stores. Defrost the wrappers (still in the package) by placing the package in the fridge overnight. DO NOT use egg roll wrappers, they are completely different and way too doughy.)
1 beaten egg (for moistening the wrappers)
Oil (for frying)
1 bottle of Sweet Chili Sauce (Optional). (The use of a dipping sauce is not necessary but some people feel lost without some sort of dipping sauce.)
Combine ground pork, chopped carrots and onions in a large bowl. Put the garlic cloves, sliced ginger, and green onions in a food processor. Pulse them until they are very finely chopped. Add them to the bowl. Add the soy sauce and fish sauce to the bowl and then combine all the ingredients very well. Set in the fridge to cure for at least 6 hours but preferably overnight – after several hours I always (ALWAYS) take a small spoonful of mixture and form it into a patty and fry it in a sauté pan. I do this so I can taste the mixture. If it needs more seasoning I would add another 1/8 cup of soy sauce if needed).
Take pork mixture out of the refrigerator and set aside.
Beat the egg in a small bowl with 2 TBS of water and then set aside.
Take the Lumpia wrappers out of the package.
Cut the wrappers in half (diagonally) with a clean pair of scissors. Gently separate the Lumpia wrappers. They dry out quickly so cover the ones not immediately in use with a damp paper towel. Take one wrapper and lay it on a clean surface. Place 2 TBS of the pork mixture about ½ inch from the edge of the longest side of the wrapper. Roll the edge towards the middle of the wrapper, then fold both sides in, and then roll to the end of the wrapper. Moisten the end with a dab of the egg mixture. Repeat with remaining wrappers.
[Note: Lumpia can be frozen before they are fried. If you freeze them, lay them on a cookie sheet (lined with wax paper or parchment paper) so they are not touching and place flat in the freezer. After they have been in the freezer for several hours until frozen. After, you can remove them from the cookie sheet and put them in a plastic storage bag (or vacuum seal them). Freezing them individually first ensures that they will not stick together in the freezer.]
Heat several inches of oil in a pan to 350 degrees. Deep fry the Lumpia until they are golden brown (3-4 minutes per side). Drain the Lumpia on paper towels. Let them cool for a few minutes before tearing into them. Serve with the aforementioned sauce if you want.