In case I ever get the Jones to roll up a few fatty spring rolls, I almost always have a package of store-bought Lumpia wrappers at the ready, hidden within the depths of my freezer. But after closer inspection, I found the following ingredients listed on the packaging of said wrappers:
"Bleached wheat flour (niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, reduced iron, mononitrate, folic acid), water, salt, glycerin, sorbital".
I have no idea what half of those ingredients are (isn't glycerin in soap?)! But up until very recently, the chemical make-up of spring roll wrappers was of little consequence to me. Store-bought lumpia wrappers could contain Soylent Green (mmm, soylent green) for all I cared; I was content as long as the end product resulted in crunchy and tasty lumpia.
But thanks to the help of Andrea Nguyen's newest cookbook, Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More, I had a spring roll epiphany: Lumpia wrappers can be made from scratch!
Crazy right? Aside from the crepe-like skins of Lumpiang Sariwa (fresh unfried lumpia), I never considered making my own wrappers for fried lumpia. But with Andrea's fantastic cookbook, a few simple ingredients that I already had in my pantry (no glycerine necessary), and a bit of patience, I was able to fashion my own stash of homemade lumpia wrappers--thin skins that, when fried, were just as crisp and golden as their store-bought counterparts.
Believe it or not, handmade spring roll skins.
Yeah, it's kind of a big deal.
To make handmade lumpia skins, a loose dough must first be created from a little bit of flour and some water (and a few other secret ingredients). Although not much goes into the actual dough that comprises handmade lumpia skins, there is a lot to be said about the technique and overall zen-calmness that is necessary to manipulate these few ingredients. To illustrate this point, here's a video of Andrea Nguyen making the spring roll wrappers from her cookbook:
I know, making your own spring roll wrappers looks damn near impossible, right? After I watched that video for the first time, I knew the task before me could be daunting (spoiler alert: the task before me was daunting). But armed with Andrea's video and with the easy-to-follow instructions in the Asian Dumplings cookbook, I was confident I'd soon have my own stack of handmade lumpia wrappers.
Handling my dough.
For me, the most difficult part about making spring roll skins was handling the loose and goopy dough (those are technical terms). I discovered that the gooey blob had a taste for flesh (my hand) and wanted to be everywhere (the counter, the stovetop, my shirt) but in the pan.
But after a few minutes of working the dough in my hand, and after a few failed attempts at "swabbing" my hot skillet with a handful of mess, I eventually got the hang of it all. With each pass of the blob over my nonstick skillet, an amazingly thin skin formed and clung to the hot surface of the pan.
Not a perfect circle, but success nonetheless!
Though things weren't perfectly perfect on my first go-around with spring roll skins, I was still dumbfounded by what took place in my kitchen--before I knew it, right there in front of me on a damp kitchen towel was a glorious stack of handmade spring roll skins. It was magic.
Though the finished skins appeared to be fragile, they proved incredibly resilient when I filled them with my usual lumpia fodder of pork and veggies--with every roll and fold, the wrappers resisted any tears or holes.
In addition to lumpia, I also made some Turon from the epic Asian Dumplings cookbook.
Hot banana napalm in a wrapper.
Turon, a favorite Filipino snack, is lumpia filled with banana and brown sugar. Once fried, the banana softens and the brown sugar caramelizes. My mother usually uses saba bananas or plantains in her turon, but regular bananas work well also.
After finally sitting down and enjoying my crunchy bounty of lumpia and turon, I still couldn't believe that what started as a blob ended up as beautifully golden and crisp spring roll wrappers.
Though I could have made my lumpia skins even thinner this first time around (it's all about temperature control), the wrappers still turned out wonderfully crisp when fried. I know I can do better next time (and there will be a next time!).
Truth be told, making your own spring roll wrappers from scratch can be a bit difficult, at first. But with practice, the exercise of making lumpia skins becomes second nature. Heck, I'd even venture to say that the whole thing gets easier, and fun, and addicting--all thanks to Andrea's wonderful and inspirational cookbook.
For the exact recipe for handmade spring roll wrappers, do pick up a copy of Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More. And for additional help and pointers on making spring roll wrappers, check out Andrea's video again on her helpful website AsianDumplingTips.com.
Besides spring roll wrappers, lumpia, and turon, the Asian Dumplings cookbook also has great Filipino recipes for Empanadas and Siopao--all with handmade doughs. And of course, the book has a variety of excellent recipes for most other Asian dumplings--everything from pot stickers, to soup dumplings, to wontons. I told you it was epic.