Whoever came up with the line “One is the loneliest number,” clearly did not have relatives living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In our Spanish/Filipino household, turning one has never been sweeter! A few days before T & P reached their first birthday, their Spanish grandparents hosted a Valencian fiesta to mark this momentous occasion. In our part of Spain, a party is not a party without a Valencian paella to feed forty people! That was party #1.
In Prague, party #2 was a delicious picnic in the park, thrown by the girls’ fairy godmothers, for all of their close friends. The main attraction was the cupcake centerpiece. Tiers of four different flavored cupcakes sat pretty in polka-dotted liners for all to enjoy!
Last, but definitely not the least, it was the Filipino-New York family’s side to celebrate T & P’s First Birthday. Yes, you are reading this correctly. Not one, not two, but three birthday parties in one year. That’s what happens when you’re born in Prague and live in Prague, but one set of Grandparents live in Spain and the other in New York City.
Party #3 was a Filipino buffet with a 3 foot hero to remind us of NYC roots. On the menu was palabok (rice noodles in shrimp sauce), kare-kare (beef and vegetables stewed in a flavorful peanut sauce), Filipino BBQ (barbequed pork in a sweet filipino style marinade), dinuguan (filipino version of blood pudding) and of course a Filipino party isn’t a party without the ultimate Filipino Finger Food: Lumpia!
Inside our Filipino version of the fried egg roll, you’ll find a medley of sautéed vegetables, such as sweet potato, carrots, potato, celery and green beans, along with tofu and plenty of garlic. You can eat this crispy roll plain, but there is also the delicious option of dipping it into a side sauce of vinegar, soy sauce and crushed garlic. All of this just screams: “Comfort food!!!!”
Growing up, I can’t recall ever going to a Filipino hosted event without ever seeing lumpia on the table. I would definitely bet that if you ever visited a Filipino home, you would even find some rolls stored in the freezer. Lumpia is our party food staple and it can be addictive. Once you bite into one, it’s over. You will soon eat another and then another and then…. well, I think you get the picture.
For my daughters’ birthday party, Lola (tagalog for grandmother) cooked all the lumpia for the party. It’s not the easiest dish to whip up. There are hours and hours of preparation needed for these delightful rolls. All the vegetables must be finely chopped and then stir fried. Once they have cooled down, it’s time to wrap and then finally fry them up. It’s an arduous task, but one that will put endless smiles on the lucky eaters.
I was hoping to get a video of my mom wrapping the egg rolls up because there is definitely an art to this, but sadly with all the party preparations, we didn’t get a chance to do so. Maybe next year, when the girls turn two.
For the filling
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into chunks
- 8 to 10 ounces green beans, trimmed
- 10 inner ribs celery, trimmed, strings removed
- 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
- 1/2 large head green cabbage (outer leaves discarded), cut into chunks
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 5 large cloves garlic
- 4 blocks of tofu, drained
- 3 to 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- Pinch plus 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the lumpia
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 to 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
- 36 8-inch square, thin spring roll sheets, can be found in Asian grocery stores (in Prague too!)
- 3 cups canola oil, for frying
For the sauce
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
- Pinch sugar (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the filling: Chop the following ingredients into thin matchstick slices or use a food processor, placing the ingredients in separate bowls as they are done: the carrots, to yield 2 cups; green beans, to yield 2 cups; celery, to yield 2 cups; onion, to yield 1 cup; cabbage, to yield 6 cups; sweet potatoes, to yield 5 1/2 cups; garlic, to yield about 2 tablespoons.
Slice the tofu blocks into thin squares. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry a few slices of tofu together until golden. Stand them upright in a colander/strainer lined with a paper towel, to release excess oil and let it cool down. When ready, chop tofu into smaller pieces.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a well-seasoned wok or shallow pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant but not burned. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until it has softened. Add the cabbage and celery, cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Add the sweet potatoes and cook for 10 minutes or until softened, stirring often, then add the carrots and green beans; cook for 15 minutes or until softened, stirring often. Add the cooked tofu, some more oil if necessary, the remaining teaspoon of black pepper and the remaining 2 or 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (to taste). Mix well and cook until all the vegetables are tender and of the same texture. Let cool almost completely.
While the filling cools, make the paste and prepare the wrappers for the lumpia. Mix the warm water and flour/cornstarch together until you get a slightly thin pasty texture.
When you open your package of wrappers, you must separate the wrappers, one by one. Carefully pull them apart and separate them, stacking them alternately as square and diamond shapes on a plate. Cover with a clean, damp dish towel until ready to use.
Usually there are visual instructions on the back of every egg roll package that demonstrates how to roll lumpia, but just in case here’s how to assemble lumpia:
Place 1 wrapper on the table or counter in front of you, one corner should point towards you. Place a tablespoonful of the filling about 2 inches above the corner closest to you and spreading it out into a mini log. Lift and fold the corner pointing towards you, over the filling, tucking it snugly against the vegetables and tofu, so the corner lays flat.
Roll the filling twice, then neatly fold in the left-hand and right-hand sides of the wrapper. Roll once again, then dip your fingers into the cooled water-flour or cornstarch mixture and use them to dampen the remaining wrapper to be rolled. Roll the lumpia as tightly as possible, ending with the far corner of the wrapper. The lumpia should be about 4 inches long. Place the rolled lumpia in a single layer on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or wax paper. Repeat.
When you are ready to cook the lumpia, line a colander with several layers of paper towels. Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over high heat.
Fry a few lumpia at a time until crisped and browned. I recommend using tongs to help you turn them over. If the oil is heated properly, it should take about 2 1/2 minutes for the lumpia to brown on both sides. Transfer the lumpia to the lined colander when they are done. Repeat to cook all of the lumpia.
For the sauce: Whisk together the garlic, vinegar and soy sauce in a small bowl. Serve alongside the hot lumpia.
If you don’t want to cook all the lumpia at once, feel free to freeze them. You can do the same with if there is a lot of the filling left over. Enjoy! Ang sarap!