Whenever I make or eat spring rolls, I always think of South East Asia. It was four years ago when my husband and I first learned how to make them. We were on a backpacking trip through SE Asia and our little guesthouse, Eagle House, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offered a full-day cooking course held in the hotel’s lush, tropical courtyard. We’d been enjoying the different cuisines of Asia immensely throughout our trip so we jumped at the chance to learn the secrets of the locals. We signed up with The Chili Club Cooking Academy to do a full-day course the following day.
The next morning, a small group of travelers gathered in the steamy, humid courtyard to meet our instructor, Mr. Visutt. He was a short, friendly man who was clearly very intelligent, and cared very deeply about teaching the traditional way of cooking Thai food. He’d learned his techniques from the elders of his village, his neighbours and his parent – knowledge passed down through generations. He did not believe in “instant” Thai food, and he wholeheartedly disapproved of microwaves.
We cooked five other dishes with him – Red Curry with Chicken and Eggplant, Chiang Mai Noodle Soup, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Mango Sticky Rice, and Red Curry Paste Dip – but the Spring Rolls are the one dish we’ve made again, and again. Each time we do, we think back to Mr. Visutt’s instructions. In his unique Thai-accented English he’d tell us, “You must control yourself, the amount of spiciness,” and “Fresh ingredients, mix together, fresh taste.”
Now that we’re back in North America, we often vary the ingredients we put in our spring rolls to include whatever we have in our fridge. Some great additions have been shredded chicken breast, chopped green beans, bok or sui choy, finely chopped broccoli, and ground peanuts.
Here’s Mr. Visutt’s recipe for spring rolls. You can vary the ingredients as desired.
Spring Rolls (Boh-Bia, in Thai)
4 tablespoons oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
80 grams minced meat (beef, chicken or pork)
160 grams onions, finely sliced & diced
200 grams carrots, finely sliced & diced
40 grams dried shrimp (optional), soak in water for 5 minutes and drain
80 grams tofu
200 grams cabbage, finely sliced & diced
200 grams bean sprouts
240 grams mushrooms (straw, Chinese, champignon), cut into 1 cm chunks
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons white sugar
4 teaspoons ground white pepper
24 grams glass noodles, soak in water for 20 minutes, then cut into 4 cm lengths
8 tablespoons water
12-20 spring roll wrappers
enough egg yolk to seal wrappers
oil for deep-frying
1. Heat oil in wok on low heat for 15 seconds.
2. Add garlic, minced meat, onion, carrots, dried shrimps and tofu and stir-fry for one minute.
3. Mix in the cabbage, bean sprouts and mushrooms.
4. Stir in the oyster and mushroom sauces.
5. Mix in the sugar and ground pepper.
Add glass noodles and water and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds.
7. Turn off heat and put on a plate.
8. Onto each individual spring roll wrapper, place 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture at one end of the wrapper and spread it to about 8 cm in length. Roll up the wrapper from the bottom to the middle and then fold in the left and right sides. Use the egg for sticking the folds. Roll up to the top and stick again.
9. Heat enough oil for deep-frying at medium heat. Put in the spring rolls.
10. As soon as they are golden in colour take them out, put on absorbent paper towel to drain off the excess oil, and serve with a sweet chili sauce, plum sauce, sweet & sour sauce or peanut sauce.
You can vary the sauces and ingredients to your taste. You may not like oyster sauce, but soy or teriyaki sauce work well too. You may also want to add ginger, though sadly, I’m allergic.
There are a variety of spring roll wrappers you can purchase. Some are made with egg and flour, but for those that are gluten-free you can use rice wrappers instead. We learned to use the flour ones in Thailand, but at home we stick to the rice-based wrappers. They’re a little more delicate to handle, and they’re often round instead of rectangular, but they produce a lighter crust on the finished spring roll.
If you’ve got one, save yourself the hassle of chopping and let your food processor do the work for you. I use my chopping, slicing and shredding blades to prep all my veggies, garlic, and occasionally meat (such as shredded leftover BBQ chicken breast) for this dish in less than 5 minutes.
Spring roll size can vary according to your preference too. If you’re making these as appetizers, then stick to the small scoop of mixture that the recipe suggests. However, if you’re making these for dinner, making them larger and longer works well too. Just be sure to crisp them enough on the outside first.
On the subject of deep-frying, I’m not a fan of completely submerging any of my food in bubbling oil. It just seems way too unhealthy. Instead, we use a non-stick pan with a few tablespoons of oil, instead of the 2 litres that Mr. Visutt recommended. If you use our lightly oiled approach, make sure to turn the spring rolls and crisp all 4 sides. You’ll need a good pair of tongs to accomplish this successfully.
If you’re traveling to Thailand and you’re interested in cooking courses, I would definitely recommend The Chili Club Cooking Academy at the Eagle House Guesthouse in Chiang Mai.