After the less than successful results of the purple lumpia experiment, see previous post here, I headed back into the kitchen a couple of days later and tried three more variations of vegetable lumpia. The filling, with no purple kamote this time, was the same for all three lumpia versions. This experiment was really all about the wrapper. In the photo above, starting at the left, a classic, single wrapper deep fried vegetable lumpia, in the middle, a single wrapper lumpia but dipped in a slurry of cornstarch, water and egg, and the last version to the right, a DOUBLE wrapper lumpia, with a cornstarch slurry between the first and second wrapper. We also tried a double wrapper without the slurry in-between but I don’t have a photo of that one.
The classic single wrapper lumpia (with a relatively thick square lumpia wrapper rather than the thinner nearly transparent round wrapper) in photo above was easy to make and turned out with a relatively even golden brown color. I suppose that’s why it is perhaps the most commonly found home-made version.
But as we went through the motions of this batch of lumpia, I realized that “simple”, as usual, can be oh so deceiving. There are LOTS of things to consider when making the ultimate lumpia:
1. The balance of vegetables in the filling, and most importantly the seasoning. Use the vegetables you prefer (preferences differ from person to person or family to family) — but ALWAYS drain the filling in a colander over a bowl and cool the vegetables. Some folks will go so far as to chill the veggies for several hours to make sure they are cold, and less moist. The filling should be well salted.
2. Find the wrapper to filling ratio that you are most happy with. The lumpia in the photos above are a bit “bus-ok” or “buff” as it were, and could have done with a half a spoonful less of filling, in my opinion. The ratio of crackly shattering fried wrapper to hot, tasty vegetables can elevate the experience a notch up or two if done right.
3. Leave minimal “airspace” inside the lumpia. Having a lot of airspace means more fat enters the filling, and can burn the wrappers at the ends of the lumpia. However, if the filling is TOO tightly wrapped, the lumpia can explode when the chilled filling expands in the heat, so you need to gauge this as well.
4. The temperature of the oil you deep fry the lumpia in has to be roughly 350-375F, too hot and it will burn too quickly, too cool and you may get more oil in each lumpia than you bargained for. Watch the lumpia closely while cooking as it turns from pale to burnt in a few seconds.
5. Serve the lumpia HOT and seconds out of the deep fry for the crispest skin. Some folks suggest standing them on one end while draining in a paper-towel lined colander, so only one end will have a tendency to soften. I say just eat them as quickly as you can and soon after they are made.
The second lumpia, in cornstarch and egg slurry didn’t look very appetizing, and it wasn’t that much crisper than the first lumpia. This trick, used in the ngohiong of Cebu is understandable when the slurry itself is seasoned with five spice so it forms part of the flavor profile of the final dish. In this usage, it seems superfluous.
The third lumpia with double wrapper and slurry in-between the wrappers turned out quite handsome, with a nice golden color, and a skin that wasn’t slickly smooth, but with a few bumps that made it look “stronger” — this version instantly reminded me of chinese take-out versions of spring rolls in the U.S. This was hefty and chunky… No photo but the double lumpia wrapper without slurry turned out less chewy, but the outer skin wasn’t as nice as the version with slurry. I think without the “slurry glue” in between the layers, the fat seeped in and cooked the skins unevenly in places.
A cross-section of the double-skinned lumpia shows that crackle of the outer skin that was crisp and perfect. But there is a clear white “liner” of the second skin that was slightly chewy and gummy. Some folks might like this dual texture thing, I did not. Note how nicely filled the lumpia is, but again, it could have been narrower for a better crisp skin to filling ratio.
Close up, the slurry dipped lumpia looks pretty darned good (but you can’t see the burnt ends). The skin is blistered and crisp, like Zubuchon skin sometimes, and the filling is directly underneath it. The moist, tasty filling well juxtaposed against the crisp skin.
Finally, the original version. There’s a reason it is so popular. It seems to work really well. A single wrapper, nicely stuffed and perfectly fried. This is the lumpia of my childhood and so I suppose I have a bias for it. But after trying several other versions, I can see why this is the one that seems to appeal to me the most.
BTW, all versions got soggy on one side within minutes of frying. So the nature of the vegetable filling just lends itself to high moisture content and a very high likelihood of the wrapper getting soggy. If you have a cure for this last problem, I would like to read about it. Thanks. :)