There’s no question that the most delicious, comforting recipes are the simplest, especially if they come with a bushel of history and soul. My Jewish husband Miki’s grandmother (Grandma Esta) made the best brisket I’ve ever tasted. I know that these might be fighting words, but hear me out. It was complex, sweet and tender — everything that Grandma Esta embodied. I was honored that she passed down her recipe to me, but also surprised that the world’s best brisket could pretty much be made only with carrots and onions.
My own Filipina mother makes the best lumpia. Hands down. World’s best, even. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll filled with meat (or vegetables) rolled skillfully and fried to golden perfection. My earliest food memories include platters of lumpia at family parties with relatives raving while inhaling as my mom basked in the compliments. Preparing for parties typically meant that my mom would make the filling ahead of time. Eventually, I would lose many of my weekend mornings to hours of rolling lumpia for her in front of that never-ending bowl of filling. I had no idea what was in the filling. It wasn’t until I was an adult, throwing my own parties, that I was able to pull back the curtain on the mysterious, world’s best lumpia recipe and call my mom to just ask.
After Rosh Hashanah, when I have leftover brisket in my fridge and guests coming over, my first thought is: Let’s turn this into lumpia! Lumpia is always a crowd-pleaser and easy to fry ahead and serve at room temperature. My brisket lumpia was merely a quick Filipinx/Jewish experiment, but it tasted so wonderfully familiar. I had forgotten that my mom’s lumpia’s recipe is really mostly carrots and onions just like Grandma Esta’s brisket. As I look forward to creating my own special Jewish home with my husband, I’m comforted by these unexpected connections between his family and my own.
Note: You can find spring roll pastry for this recipe in the freezer aisle at Asian food markets. It is similar to phyllo dough, but not the same as egg roll wrappers.
1 pound ground beef
1 cup raw walnuts
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
1 packet spring roll pastry (found in the freezer aisle at Asian grocery stores — similar to phyllo dough)
2 tablespoons neutral oil (i.e., avocado, grapeseed, vegetable) plus about ½ cup more for shallow frying
Store-bought sweet chili sauce for dipping
To make the filling:
1. In a food processor, add walnuts, onions and carrot. Pulse until finely minced.
2. In a large wok or sauté pan on medium high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. Add vegetable mixture and sauté for 2 minutes.
3. Add ground beef to the pan and combine thoroughly. Cook until beef is just about brown and there is no more red. Add salt to taste. Remove the filling from the pan and set aside to cool.
4. Roll the lumpia. Place a single pastry sheet onto a cutting board or clean counter. Point one corner towards you so that the sheet is positioned like a diamond. Add about two teaspoons of the cooled filling to the lower triangle that is closest to you. Use your fingers to shape the filling into a log. Pull the bottom corner up and over the filling and roll tightly, tucking in the sides like a burrito.
5. Use a dab of water on your finger to seal the final edge. Repeat and roll the rest of the lumpia.
6. To a large wok or pan on medium high heat, add enough oil so that it reaches about ½ inch from the bottom of the pan. Gently heat the oil and fry the lumpia until golden brown.
Serve lumpia with a side of sweet chili sauce for dipping. PJC