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October 10, 2006

Out to Lunch—October 10, 2006

I, for one, am a huge fan of Hyde Park. I love that our grocery store is a self-proclaimed “love affair with wonderful foods.” I love that there is always an animated and friendly group of men playing chess in that convenience store on 53rd Street. I love that the guy in front of Hyde Park Produce asks for “any kinda change” and goes on to specify that he only accepts quarters, nickels, and dimes. This neighborhood is exploding with character, and I find it a welcome change from my suburban hometown.

I do, however, see a few of the shortcomings in our beloved Hyde Park. One of my principle complaints is the striking lack of good Chinese food. I find it rather disappointing that an establishment called Wok N Roll serves the best Chinese food in a 10-mile radius. So although I am happy to call Hyde Park my new home, I have brought with me a little bit of my old home in the form of my mother’s mouthwatering egg rolls.

Although this recipe brings back childhood memories, especially on holidays like the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival that was celebrated last Friday, the filling for egg rolls can include just about anything. Many restaurants use shredded cabbage and carrots as the base for the filling, a decision based more on cost minimization than taste or tradition. This recipe contains larger pieces of the ingredients, and I prefer it because it makes each individual flavor more pronounced. The Chinese mushrooms give the egg rolls an authentic and distinct taste, while the bean sprouts and white mushrooms add diverse textures to the mix.

If you want to try your own recipe with shredded vegetables and meats, be sure to add one beaten egg to make the ingredients stick together. The process is essentially the same no matter the ingredients, so be creative and experiment with your own favorite flavors.

Mama Chen’s Egg Rolls

1 package egg roll wrappers

2 pounds pork

4 cups bean sprouts with the stringy ends picked off

20 dried Chinese mushrooms

1 16 oz. package whole white mushrooms

6 blocks (1 package) dried tofu, rinsed

salt

soy sauce

corn starch

vegetable oil

1. Let the wrappers defrost at room temperature. Do not defrost in the microwave! The Wei Chuan brand “Spring Roll Shells” are the best.

2. Soak the Chinese mushrooms overnight. After rehydration, cut off the stems and slice each into thin strips. (You will be slicing from the top of the cap toward the stem, not horizontally from one side of the cap to the other.) Cut the white mushrooms similarly, but do not cut off the stems.

3. Slice the pork and dried tofu into thin strips. These pieces will be about a quarter-of-an-inch by a quarter-of-an-inch and about two-and-a-half to three inches long. (Obviously the exact measurements don’t matter. Just make sure the pieces are thin so they cook easily.)

4. Mix enough soy sauce into the pork so that all of the meat is covered, and there is no excess soy sauce at the bottom of the bowl. Mix in about one or two teaspoons of corn starch.

5. Cook the meat, bean sprouts, Chinese mushrooms, white mushrooms, and tofu each separately in a pan with a little vegetable oil. Then mix all of the ingredients together, adding salt to taste. Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for about an hour, and then drain any moisture that accumulates.

6. Mix about half a teaspoon of corn starch in a cup of water. Carefully separate one wrapper from the package. (The wrappers tend to stick to each other.) Lay the wrapper with one corner facing you.

7. Put about half a cup of the filling two inches in from the corner of the wrapper that is facing you. Roll that corner over the filling, and then roll the now-packaged filling once more towards the opposite corner. Fold the right and left sides of the wrapper tightly inwards towards the filling. Continue to roll away from you until you reach the end of the wrapper.

8. Dab some of the corn starch and water mixture along the corner that was originally opposite you. (This is the end of the wrapper. The corn starch helps the egg rolls stay intact.)

9. Heat a pan containing enough oil to completely cover an egg roll. This will be about an inch. When the oil is heated, place the egg rolls into the pan and cook until the wrapper is a golden brown.