A is for Adobo

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Everybody loves Lumpia

And why shouldn't they? Savory meat and veggies fried in a crispy egg roll wrapper. What's not to love?

This weekend, I set out to make everyone's favorite Filipino party food along with two friends of mine. It was a team effort: One friend chopped the cabbage and grated the carrots, another separated the egg roll wrappers (a task my mom always gave me as I was a kid), while I sauteed and browned the meat.

It was a lumpia party of sorts, the three of us sitting around the table, scooping up portions of the meat and veggie mixture onto our wrappers, rolling and wrapping and talking. And drinking lots of vodka and cranberry juice. Good times.

Then we divided the finished lumpias up among the three of us and fried up a few for dinner.

Now that's good eatin'.

There are many different styles of lumpia. We made lumpiang gulai---literally, "vegetable lumpia," because out of all the different kinds, this was by far the easiest and, in my opinion, the tastiest. As always, there's going to be some variation in the recipe depending on the family and what region you come from. Some people in the States add anything from that frozen mixed vegetable mix (peas, green beans, corn, etc.), potatoes, to raisins, which I consider a high crime and misdemeanor.

Raisins have absolutely no place in lumpia. If anyone puts raisins in their lumpia, they must be beaten with their own shoe.

A vegetarian version is absolutely doable, too --- just substitute the meat for tofu, or seitan, whatever the hell you want. Or throw in more vegetables. The beauty of this is that this is more a method rather than a recipe, per se. All quantities can be adjusted according to your own personal taste.

Lumpiang gulai (vegetable lumpia)
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped - reserve 1 chopped clove for dipping (see below)
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons
3-4 carrots, peeled and grated
Egg roll wrappers (about 30 or so - buy extra)
salt and pepper, to taste

To make the filling, sautee the onions and garlic in a large pot until the onions are translucent. Add the ground beef, and cook until browned.

Salt and pepper the ground meat mixture to your taste, then take off the heat.

Add the carrots and cabbage and stir until well incorporated. Spoon mixture into a colander placed over a large bowl to catch the drippings - you don't want soggy lumpia!

Lumpia wrappers come in two shapes: square and round. Use whichever one you have available. I prefer the square egg roll wrappers because they're not as delicate as the round ones, making them easier to work with.

To wrap. Oh boy. This is going to be hard to explain, but I'll give it my best shot.

Place the square wrapper in front of you so that it looks like a diamond shape. (If you use the round wrappers, a) you're a masochist, and b) Jah bless ya.) Spoon some of the meat and veggie mixture (not too much, maybe about 1.5 spoonful) closer to the bottom end of the diamond (or circle) and fold the bottom of the diamond up and over the meat. Pull it back against itself to tighten up the roll, and fold it over itself again. Fold the right, then left corners of the diamond over the roll, and um, roll until you run out of wrapper.

Visualize a burrito. But ... different.

If you want, you can seal the flap with some water, or a mixture of flour and water to keep it closed. But it's not necessary.

Have a tray ready for the finished lumpias. Many Filipino families save the styrofoam trays that meat comes in (well-washed and sanitized, of course) just for this purpose. Separate the layers of lumpia with wax paper or plastic wrap, then wrap and cover the tray (plastic bags are just fine, but whatever fits), and freeze.

According to my Dad, you must a) wrap the lumpias while the meat/veg mixture is still warm, then b) freeze the lumpia once you're finished - otherwise they'll spoil. I think this has something to do with the fact that there's onions in the mixture. For some reason, if food has onions in it, it spoils faster. Maybe it's another one of his superstitions, but you know how sometimes pancit can go bad the next day after making it? Onions, man. Tellin' you.

Fry the lumpia in a skillet with enough oil to come up the sides of the lumpia. You can deep fry as well, but it's not necessary. Lumpia should be golden brown. Drain upright (not flat) in a colander lined with paper towels to keep them crispy.

Serve with dipping sauce and rice, if you are so inclined.

Dipping sauce
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Vinegar (apple cider, red wine vinegar, etc.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and serve alongside the lumpia. Use a spoon to pour bits of the vinegary, garlicky goodness into the lumpia after you take your first bite.

(Photo credit: The Jersey Girl)


Saturday, November 11, 2006


The first Filipino dish I learned how to make. It’s pretty simple, really – just some meat simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices – but what you are left with is a magical, flavorful stew. Some people crave macaroni and cheese; I crave adobo.

Pork is the best for this dish. It gets a bad rap for some reason, but, to paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, pork just tastes goooooood. Chicken works well, too.

My dad always told me not to touch the meat while it’s simmering until the vinegar is “cooked.” Vinegar? Cooked? I didn’t get it either. But if you smell the adobo just as it begins to simmer, you’ll notice this acrid, sharp, sensation in the nose and a vinegary aroma. As the adobo continues to simmer, this aroma begins to mellow. Then – and only then – can you even begin to touch it.

That was the secret to yummy adobo, he says. And now, I'm sharing his secret with you. Thank me later.

It may sound like a silly superstition, but it really works.

If you’re reading this, and you’re Filipino, you may have a different version. Some people, once the meat is cooked, fry the meat until it’s dry or something. I say, why bother? The mixture of meat, rice, and adobo sauce is nothing short of heaven.

1 pound or so of chicken, pork, or a combination thereof (pork is best)
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2-3 whole, dried bay leaves
½-cup soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman or Aloha Shoyu brands)*
½-cup apple cider vinegar*
Lots of freshly ground pepper

Place meat in a non-reactive soup pot. Sprinkle with garlic cloves, bay leaves. Pour soy sauce and vinegar over the meat and liberally sprinkle with black pepper.

Simmer on high until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce to medum-low heat and cover. Do not stir until meat is tender and sharp, vinegary smell mellows out.

Serve over white, steamed rice, of course.

Makes awesome leftovers.

* Amounts of vinegar and soy sauce are approximate; depending on the amount of meat you use, you may need more or less than ½-cup. The rule of thumb is you want the soy sauce/vinegar mixture to come up to no more than halfway up the side of the meat. Don’t cover the meat with the mixture – your adobo come out too salty.