Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spring Roll Casserole

Replace wonton wrappers with filo dough and skip the rolling to make a crispy, low-fat treat that will satisfy your take-out spring roll cravings.  This recipe cuts out the labor of individual rolling and the drama of deep frying.  A spring roll filling of sautéed cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and scallions in a soy-rice vinegar sauce in layers of filo moves the spring roll from appetizer to main course as an appealing side dish that may get your family eating a few more vegetables tonight.  Add tofu to serve this as a vegetarian main dish.

Spring Roll Casserole
Filling:
1/2 pound cabbage (1/2 head), thinly sliced (1/4 inch)
2 carrots, peeled and grate
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (fresh or reconstituted dried)
1/4 cup sliced onion or scallion (about 4)
optional: 2-3 ounces firm tofu, cut in a 1/2 inch dice
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons dry sherry or sha xing cooking rice wine

Sauce:
1 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon Asian chili sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Filo:16 sheets filo dough, defrosted (about 1/2 package)
cooking spray oil

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add sliced cabbage, carrots, onions and mushrooms.  Saute stirring frequently.  After a minute or two of cooking, add grated ginger and black pepper. Once cabbage is wilted and cooked through and mushrooms are soft and tender, add soy sauce and sherry.  Continue to cook over medium heat until liquids are well absorbed.  Remove pan from heat and stir in any additional cooked items including leftover cooked vegetables, shrimp or tofu.  Set pan aside to cool. 

In a separate small bowl, make the sauce.  Combine the additional tablespoon of soy sauce with rice wine vinegar, sugar, chili sauce and cilantro.  When cabbage mixture has partially cooled, stir the soy-rice wine vinegar sauce into the cabbage mixture, coating all ingredients.  The recipe may be prepared a day ahead up to this point.  Store covered in the refrigerator or proceed to the next step.

When ready to assemble casserole, preheat oven to 400˚F.  Lightly spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with cooking oil.  

Working calmly and quickly, layer eight sheets of filo in the baking dish, spraying each sheet with a bit of cooking oil after it is placed in the dish.  A light touch here will yield a light and crispy result.  If you need to stop, even briefly, cover the filo with plastic wrap and a damp towel to preserve its flexibility.  If the sheets break or are hard to separate, just lay the broken pieces together in a layer.  All missteps vanish during baking and you will get better the more you handle filo.  By the time you are layering the top, you will be a pro.  

Top the bottom eight filo layers with the filling.  Check that there is no extra liquid by draining or by lifting the filling with tongs from the pan to the baking dish.  Layer the last eight filo sheets, each sprayed with some cooking oil on top.  Using a sharp knife, cut through 3-4 of the sheets to form a wide diamond or rectangle pattern. This not only looks nice, it provides a cutting guide for serving and prevents the dough from buckling unevenly while baking.  

Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes until filling is hot and filo topping  is crisp and lightly browned.  If using a metal baking dish, filo may crisp more quickly.  Serve immediately.  This reheats well in the oven.  (Reheating in a microwave is not recommended.)

The casserole does not need a sauce but if you would like a quick sweet and sour sauce add 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder and a dash of soy sauce to 1/4 cup warmed apricot or peach jam.  Thin with a little hot water to create a simple sweet and sour sauce.  Drizzle on top of each serving.


Ingredient notes: Like most filled doughs around the world, egg rolls, spring rolls and pot stickers were originally a way to use leftovers so don’t despair if you don’t have every ingredient in the house.  Feel free to add any vegetable to the mix. I’ve added shredded zucchini, thinly sliced bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, even leftover cooked and sliced Brussels sprouts to this recipe.  Cooked shrimp will make this company-ready.  Add cooked vegetables and seafood after the cabbage has been sautéed.  If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar diluted with a bit of water (2:1 ratio) and if Asian chili sauce is hard to find, add a dash of cayenne or skip it entirely. The list of ingredients appears long but many of them can be stored in the pantry (dried Chinese mushrooms, dark sesame oil)  or freezer (fresh ginger knobs, filo) and cabbage and carrots keep well in the refrigerator so once you've made this, it can be pulled off in a snow storm next time (as we did here). 


Is it an Egg Roll or a Spring Roll?
There is much confusion over the difference between egg rolls and spring rolls.  Based on the fillings we see in this country, many curious diners surmise that the difference is based on the filling.  Vegetarian rolls with ingredients like bamboo, Asian mushrooms and carrots are thought to be spring rolls while ones with pork and seafood are called egg rolls.   In fact, the difference between egg and spring rolls is the wrapper not the filling.  Spring roll wrappers are thinner and more delicate (sometimes made with rice flour) while egg roll wrappers use a wheat-based egg noodle dough that blisters a bit in the deep fryer.  Some sources point to Vietnam or Thailand as the source of spring rolls and China for egg rolls.  Others claim they both come from China and that spring rolls are served for the Chinese New year (late winter to early Spring- thus the name). Still others insist that Spring rolls are Chinese and egg rolls are unheard of there and may in fact be a Chinese-American invention.  For many the confusion is frustrating but for me it allows a certain amount of relaxation that can translate into a home spring roll in a casserole.