Why do they call them 'spring' rolls?
With springtime officially here this week, I thought it would be fun to share a seasonally themed recipe. And the first thought that came to mind was spring rolls.
I've found that many people in Western cultures today aren't particularly aware of the connection between that particular dish and its name. Who knows? Maybe they think it's just another quaint descriptive Chinese food name, like "egg flower soup" (chicken broth with wisps of beaten egg) or "lion's head" (large meatballs with cabbage) or "ants climbing a tree" (ground pork served over bean thread noodles). After all, these crispy, deep-fried noodle wrappers are more or less shaped like springs, and their tightly packed fillings can all but spring out at you when you bite into them.
But while learning about Asian cuisines with my chefs, especially the teams working in my Asian-inspired restaurants (Chinois in Santa Monica, Calif., and WP24 in downtown Los Angeles), I found out the simpler explanation. In many Eastern cultures, such treats are customarily prepared for celebrations of the New Year, which by traditional calendars comes just before the vernal equinox. And, since this is the season of the earth's rebirth, such springtime rolls naturally have to include an abundance of delicious fresh vegetables.
Most spring rolls you'll find in Asian restaurants, the most familiar of which are Chinese or Thai, are typically filled with finely shredded vegetables alone, or with a mixture of vegetables and chicken or pork. But, while respecting the flavors and techniques of the past, my chefs and I also love to try new combinations of ingredients. That creative spirit led to my recipe here for Garlic Lamb and Vegetable Spring Rolls, featuring a spicy-sweet mixture of stir-fried ground lamb, thin rice noodles, four different kinds of vegetables, and fresh basil leaves. Feel free to use the recipe as a starting point for your own variations, trying different meats or vegetables in similar proportions. (Look for the mushroom soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, rice noodles, toasted sesame oil, spring roll wrappers, and Thai chili sauce in well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets.)
Whatever filling you use, the technique remains the same. First, stir-fry the filling elements and let them cool. Then, fill, wrap, and seal the spring rolls into neat little bundles, following the simple instructions in the recipe. Deep-frying can be made ultra-easy with one of the thermostat-controlled countertop models you'll find reasonably priced in appliance shops and online.
You'll be surprised how easy they are to make, and what delicious results you will get. So, what are you waiting for? Now is definitely the time to spring into action!
GARLIC LAMB AND VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar