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The Three Layers of Popiah
Every Asian country has its version of the spring roll. In Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore, the spring roll is called popiah.
Popiah has three layers of flavors and textures inside: the sauces, the vegetable filling, and the garnishes.
Here is a list of what you need to make a dozen popiah:
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- 12 large spring roll wrappers (thawed, if frozen)
- Vegetable and meat filling (described in detail in the next slide)
- 2 cups mung bean sprouts
- 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
- 1/3 cup chili sauce
- 12 lettuce leaves
- 12 tablespoons crushed peanuts
- 12 tablespoons fried onions
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For the Popiah Filling
To make the popiah filling, you will need:
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- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 shallots (roughly chopped)
- 1 cup julienned jicama
- 1 cup julienned carrot
- 2 cups julienned cabbage
- 1 cup thinly sliced green beans
- 1 cup (or more) of chopped cooked pork or chopped raw shelled shrimps, or a combination of the two
- Fish sauce (to taste)
- Cracked black pepper (to taste)
- 1/4 cup meat or shrimp broth (you can make shrimp broth by boiling the shrimp heads and shells)
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Cook the Popiah Filling
Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Saute the garlic and shallots until fragrant.
Add the vegetables and meat. Stir-fry until the vegetables start to go limp.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over high heat until steaming. Cover, lower the heat and cook over medium-low heat for about twenty minutes or until the vegetables are soft.Continue to 4 of 13 below.
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Cool and Drain the Popiah Filling
Transfer the popiah filling to a strainer set over a bowl. Allow to cool and drain completely. Still warm and too wet filling will make the popiah soggy.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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Blanch and Drain the Mung Bean Sprouts
There are several garnishes you can use for the popiah. Mung bean sprouts, julienned cucumber, cooked tofu, crushed peanuts, and fried onions are some of them.
If using mung bean sprouts, rinse first then blanch in boiling water for ten seconds. Scoop out then plunge in ice water. Drain completely.Continue to 6 of 13 below.
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Separate the Spring Roll Wrappers
First, a note about spring roll wrappers. There are many kinds of spring roll wrappers. The Vietnamese have their rice paper, the Filipinos have a crepe-like wrapper and there's the generic spring roll wrapper made from wheat flour that's ready to eat when bought.
In Southeast Asia, we get the spring rolls wrappers fresh. Outside Asia, spring roll wrappers are often sold frozen. There is a huge difference in texture between fresh and frozen spring roll wrappers.
Fresh spring roll wrappers are pliable and subtly chewy to the bite.
Frozen spring roll wrappers that had been thawed are more brittle.
If using frozen spring roll wrappers, get the pack with the farthest expiry date.
To use, separate all the sheets before wrapping your first popiah.Continue to 7 of 13 below.
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Smear the Sauces on the Spring Roll Wrapper
Start wrapping the popiah.
Lay a wrapper flat. Smear half a teaspoonful of hoisin sauce down the middle. Add a drizzle of chili sauce.Continue to 8 of 13 below.
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The Lettuce in the Popiah
Lay a lettuce leaf on top of the sauce. A tip about the lettuce: choose a variety with thin soft leaves that are pliable enough to be rolled. Iceberg lettuce is definitely not a good choice.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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How Much Filling Per Spring Roll?
Spoon the drained filling on top of the lettuce leaf. How much depends on the size of the wrapper. If you are able to get large ones, about two heaping tablespoonfuls are enough. A good spring roll is as much about how tightly wrapped it is as it is about how much filling there is inside. And remember that you will still be adding garnishes on top of the filling so it's not a good idea to overdo it.Continue to 10 of 13 below.
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Garnishes on Top of the Popiah Filling
It's time to garnish your popiah. Add all your garnishes now. A little of everything is the way to go as you want everything to blend together rather than have one or more garnish overpowering the rest.Continue to 11 of 13 below.
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Crushed Peanuts or Peanut Powder?
A tip about the peanuts. You can use crushed roasted peanuts or if you can get it, peanut powder from Asian stores. Peanut powder is mixed with sugar and it makes a wonderful garnish for fresh spring rolls.Continue to 12 of 13 below.
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Fried Onions: Store-bought or Make Your Own
Malaysia exports fried small red onions all over the world. If you can get a pack, you can store the content in a tightly covered jar for a month or longer.
You can, of course, use home fried onions. Choose small red ones, thinly slice and deep fry until crisp. Some cooks oven dry (200 F) the sliced onions to remove excess moisture before frying.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Properly Wrapped Popiah
Wrap the popiah. A well-wrapped popiah is firm. When cut in half, the filling should not easily fall off.