Way back around fourth century, many battles were fought in China, some of them won and some lost. With that many battles, you’d have to have a whole lot of generals. Is it any wonder, then, that the names of some army commanders got – ummm – lost? That’s what happened to a linguistically talented general who first won whatever battle he had been engaged in (exact information is also lost – are you surprised?) and then decided to express his gratitude to his troops. No, he didn’t award a heap of medals, nor did he give out monetary rewards. He simply ordered residents of the neighboring villages to cook and bake various finger food appetizers – cakes, buns, and such – to be sent to the front line. Gratitude in Chinese is 點點心意; diǎn diǎn xīnyì, which was later shortened to 點心 (dim sum) (Wikipedia). This is, of course, a legend, one of many, as the exact origin of the term dim sum, which today means small appetizers, is – you guessed it! – lost. One thing is certain, though: the ubiquitous spring rolls, popular in many varieties throughout the world, firmly belong in this category.
It may come as another surprise to many of you, Beautiful People, but Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of Spring. It is otherwise called The Festival of Lights or Spring Festival. Since the little rolls, either savory or sweet, are among the most popular dim sum sold by street vendors during the festivities, they are also known as spring rolls. As such, they are already mentioned in The Old Book of Tang compiled in 10th century that contains, among its 200 volumes which cover every minute historical detail, 6 volumes on ceremonial matters, such as temple design, sacrifices, and festivals (Twitchett, 2009).
To bring good luck and prosperity in the upcoming year, Lion and Dragon dances are performed. The lion is believed to symbolize power and wisdom, and bring wealth. The dragon, on the other hand, is supposed to scare away evil spirits and bad luck associated with them. In effect, you are neatly covered on all sides with your happy future wrapped in one pretty package, just like the scrumptious filling of spring rolls is wrapped in its shell. In a quote from The Old Book of Tang, the phrase 「治妝未畢, 我未及餐, 爾且可點心」 “Zhì zhuāng wèi bì, wǒ wèi jí cān, ěr qiě kě diǎnxīn” means “I have not finished preparing myself and been ready for a proper meal, therefore you can treat yourself with some small snacks”. In this particular context, however, 點心 (dim sum) literally means “to lightly touch (your) heart” (ibid.).
I invite you, Beautiful People, to experience some of this excitement by mixing shredded cabbage with grated carrots, scallions, peppers, meatless ground beef, ginger and turmeric, marinate all this in soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and wasabi powder, add sesame seeds and yellow mustard seeds, and let it sit for a couple of hours. Then wrap small portions in spring roll wraps and fry or bake. Dip into Hoisin sauce and let it touch your heart with the light of wisdom, happiness, and prosperity!
INGREDIENTS (makes 15 – 16 rolls)
- 4 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 3 – 4 chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (alternatively, chili pepper)
- 1/2 cup meatless ground beef
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) grated ginger
- 1/2 inch (1 cm) grated yellow turmeric
- 3 tblsp soy sauce
- 3 tblsp sesame oil
- 3 tblsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tsp white sesame seeds
- Pinch of wasabi powder, if not using chili peppers
- 1 package Spring Roll Wraps
For homemade Hoisin sauce:
- 1 tblsp soy sauce
- 1 tblsp agave or honey
- 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1/2 tsp (or more to taste) wasabi powder
- Combine all ingredients except Spring Roll Wraps in a bowl, mix thoroughly, put aside for at least 2 hours, mixing occasionally.
- Prepare small bowls with warm water. Place one spring roll wrap on working surface with one corner facing you. Dip fingers in warm water, lightly wet borders of wrap.
- Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling on wrap close to you. Start by folding corner closest to you, then fold side corners and roll. Wet top flap again before sealing. Continue.
- For crisp finish, fry on medium until golden brown on both sides, remove to a plate covered with paper towel to blot out excess oil.
- For soft finish, place on lightly misted with oil baking sheet, bake on 350 F for 8 minutes, flip, bake for 6 – 8 minutes.
- Serve hot with Hoisin sauce on the side.
- To make Hoisin sauce, mix all ingredients.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.