Alice was our au pair from China and, when she joined our family, she brought with her a slew of tasty dishes.
Our family fell in love with her complex fried rice, dumplings with juicy meat fillings and her crispy egg rolls with garlicky-meaty-mushroom fillings. The tricky thing is that Alice was one of those cooks who worked her magic without a recipe. I would watch, taking mental notes of the ingredients and quantities (writing it down felt, well, wrong), but replicating her dishes proved similar to me trying to capture the exact taste of my grandma's cooking — impossible.
Though we loved all of her cooking (well, except for her take on chocolate muffins, but that's another story), her egg rolls were the family favorite. And why not? Minced up goodies wrapped in delicate, fried (essentially) pasta? Yes, please!
So I took the liberty (since I was missing the mark anyway) to create my own version, one that managed to get most of the crispy goodness with far less fat. After experimenting with a variety of methods — from spraying the eggrolls with an oil mister or cooking spray as well as dry-baking — the clear winner was the pastry brush method combined with a hot oven while also using a baking rack to allow for full air circulation during cooking.
So what if these egg rolls are not completely traditional. I did capture the essence of Alice's cooking, and when the girls are missing her I know fond memories are only an egg roll away.
And by the way, my experimenting also proved that quickly sauteed bananas sprinkled with a little orange juice and a dark chocolate chip or two also make for a perfect dessert egg roll filling. Brush with coconut oil and dip cooked eggrolls in tangy Greek yogurt.
Baked Egg Rolls
1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 link spicy turkey sausage (about 1/5 pound), casing removed
8 ounces button mushrooms, finely chopped (or pulsed in a food processor)
3/4 cup finely chopped celery (about 2 medium stalks)
3/4 cup shredded carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage (or regular cabbage)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
15 large (5- or 6-inch) egg roll (wonton) wrappers
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack over it. Mist the rack with cooking spray.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high, heat 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Once cooked, transfer the sausage to a plate and set aside, leaving the residual oil in the pan.
Return the pan to the heat and add the mushrooms, celery and carrot. Cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and scallions, then cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the peas, cabbage and sesame oil and cook until the cabbage softens, another 2 or 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix together the soy sauce and cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Pour the mixture into the pan with the vegetables, then add the sausage. Stir, then cover and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool just until easily handled.
Set a wonton wrapper on the work surface. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the vegetable mixture onto the wrapper. Start with one side and roll up the wrapper over the filling, folding in the sides as you go. As you finish rolling, use a finger to spread a little water on the edge to help create a seal. Repeat with remaining wontons and filling.
Place the egg rolls on the rack on the prepared baking sheet. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to brush the egg rolls. Bake until golden and crispy, about 20 minutes. If you do not have a baking rack, place the egg rolls directly on the baking sheet and turn the egg rolls over halfway through the cook time.
Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (1 hour active). Makes 15 eggrolls.