Monday, March 12, 2007

A Little Lovin from the Philippines

You know how there are some things that transport you to a moment? A bite of cake for some takes them back to their wedding day. The scent of a campfire can take someone back to days of camping, or of growing up with a wood-burning stove. Yesterday was one of these moments for me. One of my fondest memories growing up is all the time we spent with family. It seemed that quite often we would take a trip to visit cousins or grandparents, and all those trips were full of fun and adventure. As kids, one of our favorite places to go visit was to an Aunt and Uncle's in northern Illinois. We always had a blast playing with our three cousins, and we earnestly looked forward to every visit. Us kids would play together from sun-up to sun-down, squeezing in every activity we could possibly think of during our brief times together. But there is one thing in particular that instantly transports me to their household, and times of joy. And that is my Aunt Lita's Lumpia.

Lumpia is a Filipino-style of egg roll, and my aunt's specialty. A trip to their house was not complete without an all-you-can-eat lumpia feast. Simply dunked in ketchup, I could eat lumpia until I burst, and I still can eat lumpia until I burst, apparently. Lumpia is different from a standard egg roll in that the core ingredient is meat. Filipino cuisine is very different from other Asian cultures, and meat frequently is featured. In this case, ground beef is combined with ground up vegetables and seasonings before being lovingly wrapped up in an egg roll wrapper. The whole thing is then deep-fried to golden perfection. Lumpia is an art form. It can be tricky because the ground beef has to be wrapped up uncooked, and while the hot grease is cooking the outside of the wrapper, the fat in the beef is cooking the inside. It's a delicate dance, the roll has to be wrapped up just so or the hot outer fat meets the inner fat and hot grease spatters and flies.

The first bite of lumpia yesterday transported me instantly to my aunt and uncle's old backyard, sitting around a picnic table with my cousins while we all eagerly devoured lumpia after lumpia. It was such a pleasure to share that lumpia with friends last night, where we all ate lumpia until we were near bursting. A true treasure of Filipino descent, but not nearly as precious as the aunt who introduced us to this delicacy.My Aunt Lita's recipe for Lumpia is in The Recipe Trove. Do make it exactly as written, and don't be fooled into thinking that you could use a leaner ground beef. Use the 80/20 stuff or 75/25. If you try and make lumpia with leaner beef, the inside will dry out before the outside is fully cooked and it just won't be good. Trust me. Aunt Lita's Lumpia is worth every scrap of fat.

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