Lita’s delicate nimble hands make quick work of the task laid before us – rolling lumpia.
Lita is my mom, otherwise known to my kids and their friends as Nana Lita. I consider her the lumpia queen, and she is teaching me how to make lumpia, the Philippines’ egg roll. I have never learned to make lumpia, or any other traditional Filipino food dish for that matter. Well, it’s about time don’t you think? I mean, I am almost 50.
Making lumpia around the table is much like making tamales, baking biscotti, filling empanadas — it’s best to share the preparations with others. The practice is both a traditional and social gathering. (And I would love to learn any of those mentioned dishes, if anyone would like to teach me.)
Whenever people ask for lumpia at office gatherings, or potluck parties, I have always asked my mom to make them. And she loves to do so. It is the Filipino way to always, and I mean always, have lots of food for guests. She is constantly making sure everyone is fed, and no one is to go hungry in our home. So requests for her lumpia is a sense of pride for her I believe.
Now, making lumpia really isn’t that hard, and you can vary the ingredients as much as you would like. It’s the prep time. There’s lots of ingredients, and for the most part, everything has to be finely chopped up into teeny, tiny cubes with about ⅛ inch sides. (I like exact measurements.)
First, you should know where to get the wrappers, everything else can be bought at your local grocery store. Find an Asian market and look for lumpia or spring roll wrappers found in the freezer section. In San Diego, we will either go to 99 Ranch Market or Seafood City Supermarket. (Both places are excellent sources in finding exotic Asian foods, and they will fry fish for you so you don’t stink up your house!)
Now, getting started. I’ve prepared a recipe below, that you can follow, or adjust to your tastes. You will need to bring the wrappers to room temperature. Then take the time to finely chop all the veggies – onions, carrots, bell peppers, celery, green onions, and water chestnuts. My mom did it the old-fashioned way, by hand with a sharp knife. Me, I preferred using my handy dandy chopper. Her veggies did look neater. We mix them together after each veggie, in order to make sure all is well-mixed and everyone gets the full lumpia taste experience.
Then get into the mixing. I started to use a spoon, and I was quickly told, you need to use your hands. So I use my hands. Especially when mixing it all with the meat – ground pork, ground beef, chopped ham, and tiny shrimp (The ham and shrimp are my mom’s added ingredients, which makes her recipe tastier.). Season with salt, pepper, and option of MSG (Another of mom’s secret ingredients – it just makes it tastes better she says, and she was very hesitate to share this addition.) Add the raw scrambled eggs for binding. You feel the mushiness of the meat in your hands and squeeze it all together, making sure all the veggies get evenly mixed in. Gotta love the feel of raw meat.
Then the fun part starts. Rolling.
Get your table area prepared, as you will be sitting for a while. Bowl of meat filling in front. Pulled apart wrappers in between. Two plates for rolling (or more if you’re having a party). Bowl of flour and water paste for sealing. Wax paper lined platter for the finished product. Gallon freezer bags for storage. All ready.
My mom starts to show me how. Can you slow down please, and give me a step-by-step? Okay, place your wrapper on your plate like a diamond. Take a full tablespoon of mixture and place in the center, thin out side to side. (I am reminded it needs to be thin because it’s raw meat and needs to be fully cooked. Mom also says that some people pre-cook the meat, but it really just isn’t as good.) Fold bottom over meat and tuck in tightly. Roll once. Fold each side to center. Roll one time. Apply paste to edges of remaining wrapper. Continue to roll – tightly – until pointy tip is centered, apply paste to tip if needed.
Viola! One done, 99 more to go. It actually doesn’t seem to take that long. Of course, I’m told that I’m putting in too much meat, and remember to be tight. I need to be tighter. (Are there exercises for that?)
Making lumpia is actually calming. You sit and roll, and roll again. Prepping veggies is calming too. We are also preparing a vegetarian version, one with sweet potatoes, onions, green beans and bean sprouts. I’ve always loved peeling potatoes and chopping onions too – until I start crying because I forgot to do that lemon trick.
We sit and talk. Our conversation runs the gamut from catching up on friends, what is everyone doing for the holidays, health of relatives. We also talk about the past, and what we used to do during the holidays when we were younger. It’s nice to reminisce. And just sit and have a conversation. Even though kids and their friends were watching a show, in and out of the house, and dad was cooking in the kitchen too, we had a nice quiet time chatting.
During these hectic days, weeks, months, and years of our lives, a few minutes of one-on-one conversation is much more meaningful.
I should have learned how to make lumpia much earlier in life. My sisters make it, and my mom always made them for me, so I figured I really didn’t need to learn. But as I, and my kids, get older, I do start thinking about giving them some sort of cultural leanings. Forget trying to teach them the language. Food is always a great way to expose one’s culture. And there really is great Filipino food. I must say, I have always been a picky eater, which is probably why I never desired to learn how to cook Filipino dishes. But I do love the desserts…oh the desserts. You can’t imagine all the sweet things you can do with rice!
My mom says she will cook more FIlipino food in the next year. What are my favorites she asks? Pansit (rice noodles), Grilled Bangus (Milk Fish), Arroz Caldo (chicken rice soup), Chicken Adobo (chicken stew, which my Dad was cooking), and all those desserts. By the way, my family is known for their desserts. Once at a doctor’s appointment at Scripps Clinic, the Filipina nurse saw my last name and asked if I was related to the Samala’s of Cavite. I said yes, that’s my family. And she replied that she loves Bibingka Samala – a sweet rice and brown sugar dessert my family is known for. To be popular because of a dessert made an ocean away…who would have known…because me and desserts…well, you know.
Yes, mom will show me how to make all those desserts too. I can’t wait. I may have enough recipes for a tasty cookbook after this year.
I’ve enjoyed learning how to make lumpia from my mom. As a younger girl, okay last week, you don’t always want to listen to your mother’s advice, and you especially hate it later when she’s right. It’s that mother-daughter thing. But I like that she can pass on to me the intricacies of our family recipes. I’m learning from my Mom. When we are young, we tend to feel that our parents have nothing to teach us. I know my own sons think I know nothing – well boys, I know a lot of things you don’t think I know.
I’ve also learned from her that family comes first and sometimes you sacrifice for their benefit, you work hard for what you want (she worked two jobs at one time), you can do anything you set your mind to do, you take care of those in need, and everyone should have full stomachs. “Eat, eat,” she is always saying.
Being the role model that she is, is the best present a parent can ever give their child. During this holiday season and many more ahead, I hope to give my kids just as good of a present. Thanks for your time mom, I love you.
Lumpia: Makes about 100
- 4 packages of lumpia or spring roll wrappers
- 1 large onion
- 2 large carrots, skinned
- 1 medium bell pepper
- 2 stalks celery
- 3 stalks green onions
- 1 8oz. can water chestnuts
- 2 pounds each of ground beef and ground pork (ask butcher)
- 8 oz. cooked tiny salad shrimp
- ½ pound of sliced ham
- 4 eggs
- salt, pepper, MSG (optional)
Finely chop all vegetables and sliced ham. Mix all together with ground meats and shrimp. Add salt, pepper and MSG (optional) to taste. Add in raw scrambled eggs. Roll wrappers with meat filling. Fry in cooking oil until golden brown and crispy. Drain and eat. Serve with sweet chili sauce. Lumpia can be frozen until ready to eat. No need to defrost if frozen.
- 1 package lumpia or spring roll wrappers
- ½ garlic – chopped
- ½ large onion – chopped
- Large camote or sweet potato – one inch french fry cut
- 2 handfuls green beans – cut one inch
- 2 handfuls bean sprouts
- ½ cup soy sauce
Saute garlic with a little oil (don’t heat up oil first or garlic will burn), add onions until translucent. Add green beans, then sweet potatoes, then bean sprouts. Add pepper to taste. Add soy sauce. Cover with lid and simmer for about 5 minutes. Let mixture cool before wrapping. Roll in wrappers with about 2 tablespoons of filling. Vegetable lumpia can be thicker than meat lumpia. Fry in oil. Eat. Make a dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar to your taste. Can also be frozen.
Bonus recipe: Papa Elmer’s Chicken Adobo
- One whole chicken cut up in pieces, cut breasts into smaller pieces
- ½ garlic
- ½ onion
- 1 tomato
- ½ cup vinegar
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
Saute garlic, onions, tomatoes and chicken. Add vinegar, soy sauce, water, bay leaf, pepper, and salt, if needed (depends on type of soy sauce). Boil for about 20 minutes. Remove some of the sauce, and save in a bowl. Cook some more until chicken gets color like you’re frying chicken (my Dad’s instructions). Then return amount of saved sauce as desired. Serve with steamed rice. Fried eggs are a very tasty addition.
99 Ranch Market, 7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. #112, San Diego, CA 92111, 858.974.8899, www.99ranch.com
Seafood City Supermarket, 8955 Mira Mesa Blvd., Mira Mesa, CA 92126, 858.549.0200, www.seafoodcity.com