Sean has done it once again, creating something that I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and cook. He’s relocated to Beijing and I’d like to be by his side as he explores every nook.
These vegetarian spring rolls may be a bit of a departure from the traditional, but the warm filling and crispy exterior sound like pure heaven on a chilly winter’s afternoon–or anytime of year, really.
I’d wrap a pile of these in a clean flour sack towel lined with parchment, and cart them to an office gathering along with the simplest dipping sauce of soy, scallion, and sesame oil. A few cold beers would elevate it all nicely.
Asian cuisine is often seen as the answer to a quick dinner. Somehow, Chinese cooking has been marketed as quick and easy, but it’s neither of these things, really. Yes, the cooking times are much shorter than Western food, but the prep time is much longer; and yes, it often sounds easy – we stir-fry or steam the food – but balancing flavors in a dish with only a few ingredients is surprisingly tricky.
The Chinese method of ‘quick’ cooking was once a necessity. Historically, fuel was scarce and chefs couldn’t afford to run energy-intensive ovens or have stoves burning away for hours. Instead chefs exerted their own energy; they would break down meat, slice vegetables, or knead dough that all takes just a few minutes to cook. We can see the tradition at play in this recipe; the real work comes from us, the cook, as we julienne the carrots, chop the vegetables, and shape the spring rolls. The cooking takes no more than 10 minutes, but the whole process might take 40.
This recipe was born on the streets of Beijing. One cold evening in November, I ordered baozi from a tiny hole-in-the-wall and ate it whilst walking through a quiet street of the snowy city. The baozi was soft and warm and as I pulled it apart a billow of yeasty steam warmed my face. The filling was carrot and ginger cooked in a light soy sauce and Shanxi vinegar then folded into a cotton wool bun and steamed.
That filling is the inspiration for these spring rolls. Although Beijing cuisine would never deep-fry its rolls, the crispiness against the sweet, salty, satisfying filling works so well, I couldn’t resist. The trinity of good soy sauce, Shanxi vinegar, and young carrots is what these rolls are all about.
Carrot, Ginger, & Cilantro Spring Rolls
Makes: 6 spring rolls
- 2 teaspoons canola or cooking oil, plus more if needed
- 1 pound carrots, julienned
- 1 bunch scallions, green tops only, roughly chopped
- 3 1/2 ounces beansprouts
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shanxi vinegar (Chinese Black Vinegar)
- 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 large egg
- 3 sheets nori
- 2 1/2 ounces cooked glass noodles
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- 6 spring roll wrappers
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Heat oil in a wok over a high heat. Add 3/4 of the carrots and all of the scallions. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
- Add the beansprouts, ginger, more oil if necessary, and cook for 3 minutes or until the carrot starts to brown.
- Pour in the soy sauce and vinegar and toss until the carrot and beansprouts have absorbed all the liquid. You want the mixture to be quite dry so that it won’t seep through the spring roll wrappers. Remove the carrot filling from the heat.
- Add the remaining uncooked carrot to the filling, along with the cilantro and stir.
- Cook the glass noodles in a saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and wash with cold water to remove any starch.
- Crack an egg into a bowl and lightly whisk with a splash of water. Now create a mini production line with all your ingredients: your carrot filling, the noodles, the nori, the sesame seeds and egg wash.
- Time for the fiddly bit. Take a spring roll wrapper and lay it on a flat surface. Place half a sheet of nori on the wrapper. Add a tablespoon of carrot filling about 2 inches below the middle, and top with a chopstick pinch of noodles.
- To wrap, pull the bottom edge of the spring roll over the filling and roll away from you, making sure the filling is snugly inside. Once you’ve rolled half the wrapper, fold in the sides, as if wrapping a present. Try to make sure there are no gaps in the folds otherwise oil will seep in when frying, and leave the roll tasting greasy. Once the sides are in, finish rolling. Brush a bit of egg washon the edge of the spring roll to seal it.
- Brush the outside of the spring roll with the egg wash and then sprinkle the sesame seeds on either side of the roll. Repeat with the remaining rolls.
- Prepare a paper-towel-lined rack. In a deep fat fryer, or large saucepan, heat the olive oil to 320°F. Fry your spring rolls 1 or 2 at a time, always making sure the oil temperature stays hot. Turn them over halfway through cooking. When they turn a golden color, remove onto the paper towel and allow any excess oil to drain.
- These should be eaten when hot and crispy. If giving as a gift, do so before deep-frying.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista–shop girl, writer, author, and creative business coach. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is working to open her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food–as well as coaching women in food to reach life and business goals. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life, will be published by Roost Books on February 5, 2019.