Asian appetizers may be within range

October 30, 1994|By Michele Santos | Michele Santos,Knight-Ridder News Service

You make a beeline for the egg rolls at Chinese restaurant buffets. You relish the crunch of the crispy Crab Rangoon served with your lunch special. You wonder why you can't make these appealing appetizers at home.

L Well, you can. And it's not as difficult as you might think.

Even if you don't take a class, a good recipe and a willingness to experiment are all you need to learn to make many Asian appetizers.

By doing it yourself, you can also make these foods more healthful. You can use low-fat cream cheese in the Crab Rangoon, fry the egg rolls in canola oil or just stick with fresh spring rolls, which aren't fried. Use vegetables instead of meats, and you have an appetizer that's low in fat and high in fiber.

To make most Asian appetizers, from Indian samosas to Filipino Lumpia, you'll need a few basic ingredients from an Asian market.

And once you've learned to make the appetizers, you'll be ready to tackle more complex Asian dishes, or vary the recipes to fit your tastes.

Some tips to remember: For fried appetizers, timing in the deep fryer is crucial. You can fry them in a wok, Fry Daddy or just a deep pan, but you need to watch closely, so your golden-brown roll doesn't turn into a blackened chunk. Four or five minutes at high heat should do the trick.

When wrapping spring rolls, be careful with the rice paper. These circular, shiny sheets can be bought at any Asian market. You dip them in warm water to make them flexible and easy to roll. But they rip easily, and you may have to double-roll them to keep them intact.

Spring Rolls Vietnamese-Style (Fresh)

6 12-inch rice paper sheets

2 cups mung bean sprouts

2 pounds black tiger shrimp, peeled, deveined, steamed and chopped

1/2 cup fresh mint, shredded

1/2 cup fresh basil (or cilantro), shredded

1/2 cup sliced cucumber

1/2 cup julienned carrots

Assemble all ingredients. Fill bowl with hot water, then dip a rice paper into it. Place on damp towel and let rest about 30 seconds, until pliable. About 2 inches from bottom, place about 1 tablespoon bean sprouts. Add shrimp (same amount), 1/2 teaspoon mint and 1/2 teaspoon basil. Add 1 tablespoon cucumber and 1/2 tablespoon carrot. Fold bottom of wrapper over filling. Fold right and left sides over. Roll up like a burrito.

Suggested dip: Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla), 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup sugar.

Crab Rangoon

Makes about 25

1/2 pound crab meat (or imitation crab meat)

1 pound cream cheese

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, optional

1 package wonton wrappers

1 egg, beaten

2 cups vegetable oil

Chop crab meat into small, fine pieces. Beat cream cheese until soft. Combine cream cheese, crab meat, sugar and garlic powder in large bowl and mix.

Separate wonton wrappers. Turn each wrapper so a corner points up. Put one teaspoon of mixture in center of wrapper. Moisten edges with beaten egg. Fold one corner up until wrapper is shaped like a triangle. Crimp corners so wrapper forms a "sailboat" shape. Make sure all air bubbles have been pressed out.

Deep-fry in 2 cups of vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve with hot mustard and sweet and sour sauce.

Mandu

Makes about 20

1/2 pound lean ground pork

1 chopped onion

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

2 pinches five-spices powder

1 package wonton wrappers

1 egg, beaten

3 cups vegetable oil

Brown ground pork; drain oil. Mix with chopped onion, oyster sauce, sesame oil, sugar, white pepper and five-spices powder (you can buy this at any Asian market). Mix well.

Separate wonton wrappers. Moisten edge of wrapper with beaten egg. Put one teaspoon of mixture in center. Fold wrapper in half so it is shaped like a triangle. Make sure air bubbles have been pressed out.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil at high heat until golden brown. Serve as an appetizer with sweet and sour sauce.

Fresh Lumpia

2 pounds boneless pork or chicken breast, minced

1 quart chicken stock

1-inch piece fresh ginger

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh garlic

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup celery, sliced

1 cup carrots, julienned

1 cup sweet potato, minced

3 cups Napa cabbage

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

2 ounces glass noodles (Nice brand is best), soaked and chopped

1 package Banh Trang rice paper wrappers

1 head romaine lettuce, shredded fine

Simmer pork or chicken in broth containing ginger, pepper, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and garlic until well done. Drain. Set meat aside. Heat oil and stir-fry all vegetables until sweet potato is nearly done. Add brown sugar, soy sauce, lemon or lime juice and peanut butter. Cook for 2-5 minutes more.

Add cornstarch, stir and cook until thickened. Add glass noodles and meat. Cool.

To roll: Dip each wrapper in warm water briefly, until soft. Shake off gently. Lay wrapper on a warm damp towel. Add about 2 heaping tablespoons of filling to center. Cover with about 1 tablespoon of shredded romaine lettuce. Fold bottom of wrapper over filling. Repeat with right and left sides, so it looks like an envelope. Roll up like a burrito. Eat immediately.

Sauce suggestion: Combine 1 cup chunky peanut butter, 1 cup hoisin sauce and 1 cup brown sugar. Cook over low heat. Cool.

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