The most delicious, comforting recipes are often the simplest, especially if they come with a bushel of history and soul.
My Jewish husband’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 with only carrots and onions.
My Filipina mother makes the best lumpia. Hands down. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll filled with meat, or vegetables, skillfully rolled up and fried to golden perfection.
My earliest food memories include platters of lumpia at family parties, which relatives raved about 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 from 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 – simply by calling my mom and asking.
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 it can be fried ahead and served at room temperature.
My brisket lumpia was merely a quick Filipinx/Jewish experiment, but it tasted so wonderful and so 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.
This story was originally published in The Nosher, at www.myjewishlearning.com.
1 cup raw walnuts
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons neutral oil (i.e., avocado, grapeseed, vegetable) plus about ½ cup more for shallow frying
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon of salt (plus more to taste)
1 packet spring roll pastry (found in the freezer aisle at Asian grocery stores, see note)
Store-bought sweet chili sauce for dipping
For the filling, pulse walnuts, onions and carrot in a food processor until finely minced.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large wok or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add vegetable mixture and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add ground beef to the pan and combine thoroughly. Cook until beef is just brown and there is no more red. Add salt to taste. Remove the filling from the pan and set aside to cool.
To roll the lumpia, place a single pastry sheet on 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. Use a dab of water on your finger to seal the final edge. Repeat to roll the rest of the lumpia.
Add enough oil to a large wok or pan over medium high heat so that it is about a ½-inch deep. Gently heat the oil and then fry the lumpia until golden brown.
Serve lumpia with a side of sweet chili sauce for dipping.
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.