Wok & Roll by Peter Kwong

Spring roll or egg roll? I have been teaching cooking classes all over the place. What a great way to make new friends.

I teach community education classes in Spooner, River Falls, Amery and Balsam Lake. And each class has eight to 18 students. Tentatively, I have made over 100-plus new friends over the year. And how do I remember all their names?

Well, I cheated. I am known to be terrible with names, and on top of that, with no sense of direction. I would be lost even have my GPS on. It’s pathetic. Oh well, unlike Mary Poppins, I can’t be perfect in every which way.

It does bring a lot of joy in my teaching classes when students tell me how much they enjoy the classes:

  • “How can it be so simple in making those dishes, and they are delicious.”
  • “Wait, you mean that’s it? That’s all it takes?”
  • “What about those fancy gadgets I saw the chefs use on the food channels? I don’t need them?”
  • “My wife has a pantry filled with all kinds of sauces. Yet, these few are all I needed?”
  • “I’ve never liked potstickers, but these are delicious.”
  • “This is the best chow mein that I’ve ever tasted.”
  • “I made dinner for my family members who don’t like Chinese food. And they loved it!”

Yes, cooking is a passion, you’ve got to love it. I have tried to simplify the cooking methods and with the ingredients, so you don’t need to do a lot of prepping, nor need a lot of different special sauces or materials to make a delicious dish.

One of the most popular Chinese appetizers is the egg roll. And no one believes just how simple it is to make them.

Well, while most restaurants label them egg rolls on their menu, they should actually be called spring rolls instead. There is a product in Asia called egg roll, and it is made with a semisweet egg batter.

On a heated grill, the master would pour an ounce of batter on the grill and skillfully roll it to form a round biscuit roll with a single chopstick. In a minute, the master can roll over 100 of those egg rolls, and pack them neatly inside a gift box.

It is flaky and crunchy, but oh, they are delicate and delicious. Back to our egg roll.

There are two kinds of wrappers — the regular egg roll wrappers, which are thick and doughy.

But that’s what they carry in most markets. And another one is called spring roll wrapper.

Needless to say, that’s what I would use. It is light, crispy and crunchy, as a spring roll should be.

Usually, there are about 20-25 wrappers in each package, and you have to carefully peel them off one by one. So, what to stuff with? We can make the vegetarian version, or with any kind of meat that we desire — pork, beef, chicken or even venison. But the meat has to be sliced really thin, and cooked three-fourths through before we wrap them up.

Spring Roll

(Makes 20 spring rolls)

  • 1 package spring roll wrappers
  • 1 lb shredded thin cabbage
  • 8 oz shredded thin carrots
  • 4 oz soaked and shredded wood ear mushrooms
  • 4 oz bean sprouts
  • 8 oz sliced thin meat (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chicken base
  • 1 egg

In a heated wok/nonstick pan, add 1 oz oil, and all vegetables. Add 1 of chicken base, and 1 T of oyster sauce. Cook till three-fourths done. And set aside.

On a clean cutting board, put one piece of wrapper diagonally on board, brush the top edges with egg wash (an egg beaten with a little water).

Place 2 oz of the vegetable mix at the bottom, and carefully roll the wrapper up. Fold the wrapper ends toward the center and keep rolling until it forms a perfect roll.

Set them on a flat tray dusted with cornstarch (so it won’t stick). You can actually have a spring roll party and roll tons of these and freeze them for later use. Make sure you flash freeze them in the freezer first, in a single layer, and store them in a zipper bag — 15 to 20 in each bag.

The frozen ones should last six to nine months in the freezer. And they are just as delicious. You can add your favorite meat to the spring roll, but I usually just make them vegetarian style. And to cook them, it is very easy and simple.

Heat up a wok or frying pan with 1 inch of oil. Place spring roll six to eight at a time in heated oil. Flip each to the other side when one side is brown. On a separate plate, place some paper towels to absorb extra grease, and place spring rolls on top. And ready to serve when all spring rolls are done. But, not yet!

We’ll need our dipping sauce. While most Chinese restaurants would create their own sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, made with sugar, vinegar and No. 2 red dye, I’ve created a healthy and simple sauce. Ready?

Spring roll sauce

  • 8 oz orange marmalade
  • 8 oz crushed pineapple

Mix the two together, and there is our dipping sauce. Enjoy!

If you can’t find spring roll wrappers at your grocery store, use the regular egg roll wrappers instead. It is the fun and getting together that counts.

For those daring and adventurous, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste to your dipping sauce. And watch your guests go “oooh” or “ahhhh.” Yes, a simple pleasure in life that is rather inexpensive.