The Dish: The Art of Spring Rolls


When talking about food, one debate never fails to arise: Is cooking an art or a science?’ The truth is that it is very much both. I’ve had friends assert that either you ‘get it’ or you don’t,’ insisting that understanding flavor is innate.

There are just some people who understand food intuitively. They can conceive of unique flavor combinations simply because they have the ability to imagine taste, much in the same way that a painter can envision the juxtaposition of certain colors. This is the art.

The science of it is a whole other animal, and one that can be easily learned. I’ve always struggled with the science part of cooking, due mostly to my reluctance to follow recipes. A great way to have fun with different ingredients, and to earn props at a dinner party, is mastering the art of the spring roll.

Though spring rolls are a staple in many Asian cuisines they are absent from the Korean repertoire, hence my obsession with making them at home. I am equally enthralled with the fresh (rice paper) and deep fried (pastry) spring rolls. They each have their merits, and they each require equal amounts of trial and error before being perfected. I find that getting a nice, compact wrap is easier with pastry spring roll wrappers, but there’s the added process of frying them – which can be messy. Not to mention much more fattening.

Vietnamese rice paper wrappers are available at almost every large mart, but pastry wrappers are hard to come by. The small imported foods store in the basement of Shinsaegae carries brand name, Spring House TYJ Spring Roll Pastries in the refrigerated section. As for the rest of the ingredients, I usually go for whatever veggies are about to go bad in my fridge.

Spring Rolls – Two Ways

Makes 15 spring rolls

15 round rice paper wrappers OR 30 pastry wrappers (double wrapping avoids them falling apart while frying)
2 bunches enoki mushrooms, roots cut off
1 large carrot, grated lengthwise
1 small zucchini, julienne (shoestring) cut
¼ head of purple cabbage, finely chopped
½ cup olive or grape seed oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Fresh cilantro and/or basil if you can find it
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2-3 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce (gochu-jang, or red pepper paste, is an appropriate substitute)
Salt and pepper to taste

For frying:
One egg
½ cup water
3 cups soybean or vegetable oil

Large cutting board or other surface for rolling, wok/sauté pan, grater
For fresh spring rolls: A large bowl of hot water
For fried spring rolls: A small pot, tongs and A LOT of paper towels
Like I’ve said, once you get the science of it down, it’s time to get creative. I’m thinking that the next time I do fried spring rolls, I might try eggplant and mozzarella with a marinara dipping sauce (my Italian grandma’s marinara recipe to come in a future issue).

Place all the ingredients in a wok and sauté for 10-12 minutes. Drain ALL the excess oil/juices out of the wok. Transfer to a bowl beside a large, clean, flat surface.

Fresh Spring Rolls:
Immerse a rice paper wrapper into a bowl of hot water for two seconds. Lay the paper flat and place a heaping tablespoon of the sautéed mixture in the center of the wrapper, arranging it in a horizontal line that leaves an inch on either side and two inches on the top and bottom. Fold all the sides while poking it to secure the wrap. This part takes some practice. Patience, grasshopper!

Fried Spring Rolls:
Make an egg wash (mix an egg and a cup of water). Peel two wrappers from the stack and lay as a diamond. Use a brush (or your fingers) to lightly coat the entire wrapper with the egg wash. Place a heaping spoonful of your sautéed mixture in the center, and follow the same instructions as above for rolling. Heat the canola or vegetable oil in a small pot until it is sizzling. Place 3-4 spring rolls into the oil. Fry for one minute on each side, using tongs to turn them. Place spring rolls on several layers of paper towel to remove excess grease.
For a no-brainer, yet killer, dipping sauce, mix:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Wasabi
1 Tbsp. grated ginger (powdered if you’re NOT using a food processor)

You can check out Jen’s recipe for the perfect tuna burger here.

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