I was clearing out an old ancestral house of my parents a few months ago and came across these great shots of my mom with a platter of her â€œfamousâ€ lumpiang ubod (fresh spring rolls with heart of palm). I put them away and forgot about them until last week when my daughter’s homework was do a family tree with photos. I pulled out my files and was able to reconstruct our family tree back five generations on my side and seven generations on my wife’s side. I found photos back five generations…not bad huh? Now that I think about it, there wasnâ€™t a major party or meal at our home while I was growing up that didnâ€™t have a Cebu lechon (roast suckling pig), some of my momâ€™s paella and a platter of freshly made lumpiang ubod. I wasnâ€™t particularly fond of vegetables or gulay so this dish was low on my radar screen. However, once you drowned the lumpia in the sweet sauce and peanuts, it tasted pretty good to me. As I got older, I realized this was one of the few things that was in momâ€™s party and entertaining arsenalâ€¦she liked to putter in the kitchen but didnâ€™t really cook serious meals that oftenâ€¦she more like directed or dictated to the troops. She made a very good lumpiang ubod in retrospect and I regret not learning it from her or getting her recipeâ€¦though I am sure my sister has it down pat from memory…since she makes a good one as well.
The photos are just stunning in that the lady is wearing a full blown terno (butterfly sleeved dress) complete with sashâ€¦geez, she never served ME a lumpia dressed like that! It turns out that these were professionally taken snapshots for a multinational companyâ€™s magazine that had asked that she be featured in it with her recipe for lumpiang ubod. Can you imagine, my mother came out in a global edition of this magazine in the 1960â€™s for thousands of foreigners to read about? She was doing the blogging equivalent thing long before I was out of diapers! Unfortunately, I couldnâ€™t find a copy of the magazine so I never got to read the story or see her recipe in print.
So when I spied some some fresh ubod or heart of palm at the market a few weeks ago, I decided I would attempt to recreate one of the key dishes that anchored special meals at our home. I had never made this from scratch before, I tend to order it at restaurants instead. And if I recalled correctly, the dish seemed to have an odd or off or perhaps fishy flavor that I always wondered about. Here is my version of lumpiang ubod, with help from the recipes in books by Reynaldo Alejandro, Virginia Roces de Guzman and Nora Daza. First make some wrappersâ€¦I used to see my mom make these with relative ease and any time I have tried this in the past, I ended up with pancakesâ€¦ At any rate, mix three whole eggs in a bowl with about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil with a whisk and add several pinches of salt. Dissolve 1 cup of cornstarch in 1.5 cups of water and pour that into the egg mixture while whisking. Heat up a non-stick pan and pour enough of the batter into the pan and swirl it with a flick of your wrist to make a wide circular thin lumpia wrapper. Turn it over to cook the other side and remove from the heat. You may burn a few fingertips getting this right but by about the 8th wrapper I was nailing it. Actually, I made two recipes of batter so I could keep at it until I was happy and just dumped the icky wrappers.
For the filling, take a heavy enamel pot and sweat about 1 kilo of pork fat, stirring constantly so that the fat doesnâ€™t explode and at the end of say 15-20 minutes you will have golden brown bits of fat and solids but a nice amount of pork lard in the pan. Remove the meat and fat bits and leave the lard. Chop up the crisped pork (should approximate a meaty chicharon). Shell about 1/2 kilo of medium sized prawns and remove the heads. Take the heads and shells and pound them in a mortar and pestle to extract the shrimp â€œliquor,â€ a heady fishy juice that I never knew formed the basis for the flavoring of this dish. Set this juice aside, discard the solids. Steam about 1 kilo of alimasag or blue crabs and extract the meat and set this aside. Back at the heavy casserole, heat up the lard, and sautÃ© 1 chopped or minced white onion, about 8 cloves of minced garlic, chopped prawns, the crab, a kilo of julienned ubod and the shrimp juice. The smell that emanates from the pan will tell you if you are on the way to lumpiang ubod nirvana.
Stir and cook until the ubod is just rightâ€¦not overcooked and mushy as most examples at restaurants seem to turn out. Season generously with patis (fish sauce), I also add salt if it tastes bland. Remove this from the stove and let it cool. Make sure you have clean lettuce leaves and some green onion for garnishing. Start assembling the lumpia by taking one wrapper, spooning some of the cooled ubod mixture on top of the lettuce and green onion in the center, sprinkling it with chopped fat (chicharon) and wrapping this all up. My mom used to individually wrap these in waxed paper so that they wouldnâ€™t stick to each other on her serving platters. Guests would then have to take one from the buffet and remove the wax paper before they sauced it.
To make the sauce, take 2-3 large pieces of panocha (palm sugar) and 2 cups of water and boil this down while stirring and add about 1/3 cup of soy sauce. Taste and adjust panocha or soy sauce to get the flavor that suits you. It should thicken up slightly as it reduces. Some folks just use brown sugar instead of panocha. Add a touch of cornstarch if the sauce proves to be too watery. Serve the lumpia and sauce and make sure you have some chopped peanuts and garlic for those that want to add these to the top of the lumpia. My first attempt turned out really well. I didnâ€™t scrimp on the prawns, pork lard or the crab meat so it really was packed with flavor and good stuffâ€¦not fillers and extenders. I think I ate nearly half a dozen lumpia for lunch that day! My mom sent an invisible two thumbs up from her resting place in lumpia heavenâ€¦ I am sure she will send me two thumbs down if she is mortified that I have “re-published” her 1960’s press photos…