Last week a very sick friend of mine turned eighteen. Actually, she’s the de-facto step-daughter of my good friend Dan, and sick might be an inadequate word. For over a year, she and her family have been struggling to fight her cancer. Then, like a dark joke, her mom—my friend Dan’s longtime girlfriend—got the news that she too would be fighting her own cancer this year.
It’s hard to know how to help sick and hurting friends. Most acts and words feel useless and at worst empty. I usually offer food, as a small way to communicate and share during tough times. I imagine, since you are reading a food blog, cooking might be something you offer as well.
For her birthday celebration, a group of friends met in my kitchen to help prepare the food for the approximately one hundred people planning to attend. Since the birthday girl loves asian food—particularly egg rolls—we were fortunate to have our friend Lisa, a master “chao gio” maker. She taught us how to make the crispy vietnamese egg roll treat. We lined up at the kitchen table and made piles of egg rolls.
Here’s what we did:
Making the Filling
Make a mixture of vegetables with shredded cabbage, sliced onion, and shredded or julienned carrot. Most Asian markets sell a vegetable shredder that looks like a wavy peeler. It works great for shredding green mango, diakon raddish, papaya, and in this case, carrots.
Boil cellophane noodles until tender, but not mushy, and then “shock” them, by plunging them into a bowl of cold running water. Strain the cooled noodles in a colander and, using scissors or poultry shears, cut the noodles into smaller pieces.
Make the filling using a rough ratio of two parts noodles to one part meat or tofu, and one part shredded vegetables, plus enough egg to make it all stick together. If you like a little heat, toss in some minced thai chilis and a squirt of Siracha hot sauce. We made two batches—one with ground pork and the other with “ground” tofu that the kids enjoyed squeezing into a messy paste in a large bowl.
Make a small “taster patty” and cook it in a pan. Adjust the seasoning and spice, as needed.
Assembling the “Chao Gio” Egg Rolls
Lay a spring roll wrapper diagonally in front of you and brush the upper three edges with egg. The brushed egg will help seal the roll. Fill the bottom third of the wrapper with the mixture and roll the bottom corner over the filling, pulling it tightly into a long roll, roughly 3/4 inch in diameter. Fold the sides over, creating an envelope. Finish by rolling it forward using the three outer edges to form a tight seal.
Making the “Nuoc Cham” Dipping Sauce
In a small non-reactive bowl, dissolve a 1/4 cup of sugar into a 1/2 cup of warm water and juice from 2 limes—roughly 6 tablespoons. Add 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, a crushed and pureed clove of garlic, and thinly sliced thai chilis to taste—1 or 2 is plenty for me.
Frying the Chao Gio
Fill a heavy steep-sided pot with enough vegetable oil to cover the rolls. Bring the oil to between 350-360 degrees and fry a test roll, until deep brown and well crisped. Continue frying the rolls in batches, letting them dry on a rack or paper towels, and serve immediately with small bowls of Nuoc Cham, lettuce leaves and herbs for wrapping, and a base of rice or rice noodles.