Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin has been busy this year, albeit not in the pool. The 36-year-old former swimmer gave birth to her first child, Zennie Mae Hall, in October. Her name is a sweet tribute to Coughlin’s mom, Zennie.
Coughlin, who loves to cook and was even featured as a judge on “Iron Chef,” shared the holiday recipe she gets excited about each year. It’s her grandma’s lumpia — a Filipino appetizer.
Day and time: Christmas
What I’m eating: Lumpia, a Filipino version of a Chinese spring roll
Why I’m eating it: When I think of holiday get-togethers with family, the dish I look forward to most is my grandma’s lumpia. I’ve spoiled my dinner plenty of times eating too many of them, which is why Grandma rations them out now.
Whose recipe: There are countless versions of lumpia, and while I’ve tried and liked quite a few, my grandma’s are the best (naturally!).
1 pound lean ground pork
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons Maggi seasoning, or soy sauce (Maggi seasoning is what my grandma uses to season her lumpia and it is usually available in the International section of most grocery stores. If you can’t find it, substitute soy sauce.)
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
30 to 45 lumpia wrappers
Note: If you can’t find lumpia wrappers, the wrappers labeled “Chinese spring roll” will work too. They are similar, but the latter tend to be less delicate than the traditional Filipino lumpia wrappers. (Make sure to get the Chinese variety, which are wheat flour-based, versus other spring roll wrappers or skins that are rice flour-based.)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil, for frying
Sweet chili sauce, for serving
In a large bowl, combine the pork, onions, water chestnuts, garlic, Maggi seasoning and white pepper. Using your hands, mix thoroughly.
Gently separate the lumpia wrappers (they’re very delicate), arrange them on a clean work surface and cover with a clean, damp dish towel to prevent drying.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/3 cup water.
Keep the wrappers covered with the dish towel while assembling the lumpia. To assemble, place a wrapper on a cutting board. Using a pastry brush or your finger, moisten the top edge of the wrapper with the cornstarch mixture. Place 2 tablespoons of the pork mixture along the center of the wrapper, forming a log. Bring the bottom edge up over the log, pulling it tightly, and then fold both the left and right sides of the wrapper towards the center over the log.
Tightly roll up the lumpia and press to seal the edge. Place the lumpia on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Resist the urge to overfill them; if they are too full, they won’t cook evenly inside and out. Lumpia are much smaller than Chinese spring rolls and should not be any bigger than 4 inches long and just shy of 1 inch in diameter.
Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and place several layers of paper towels on top of the rack.
Heat 3 to 4 inches of oil in a large wok or pot to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If bubbles immediately appear, the oil is ready.) Working in batches, deep-fry the lumpia, using tongs to flip halfway, until they are a deep golden brown all over, about 3 minutes total. Using a spider strainer or slotted spoon, transfer the lumpia to the paper towels to drain.
Serve warm with sweet chili sauce for dipping.
You can also “oven fry” the lumpia. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange lumpia on the baking sheet with an inch of space in between. Spray the lumpia with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
Since assembly is somewhat labor intensive, often we make two or three batches at a time, freezing the extra for later. Put the lumpia on a baking sheet, with space in between, and freeze overnight. The next day, transfer to a plastic zip-top bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months. To cook, there’s no need to defrost; just add 1 to 2 minutes to the frying time.