Cha gio: Vietnamese Egg Rolls

My family LOVES cha gio. Cha gio were present at every gathering–birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weekend dinners–and I always avoided them. As a kid I never liked the fried, greasy foods and cha gio were so ubiquitous that I found them boring. My mother even once overnight FedEx’d me a package of frozen cha gio, all the way across the country from LA to Providence, RI. I kid you not.

It’s taken a couple decades for me to recover from my family’s obsession and to my delight, I find that the Soup Lady in her 40s enjoys these fried little vessels of yumminess. My kids like them too, and I’ll try to sustain their enthusiasm by not making them too frequently.

Unlike the ones in restaurants where the wrapper is doubled up for a thicker looking roll, my version below goes light on the wrappers for crispiness with the focus on the pork and shrimp filling. For the luxury version use only crabmeat and shrimp.

1 package spring roll wrappers
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 cup vegetable oil

1 lb ground pork (add 1/2 a lb if not using shrimp)
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped
1 large carrot, thinly julienned or grated
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch of bean thread noodles, soaked in lukewarm water for about 5 minutes and roughly cut with kitchen shears
1 oz wood ear mushrooms, soak in lukewarm water until soft (about 5 minutes)  and coarsely chopped 
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fish sauce

Nuoc cham
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 Thai bird chili, minced (use more if you like spicy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup fish sauce
2 radishes, thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1 small head butter lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed and dried
1 cup sliced cucumber
1 bunch mint or Thai basil, washed and dried
1 cup bean sprouts

Combine all the ingredients (except for the wrapper) and one egg in a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut the wrappers in half diagonally; you can peel of a stack of 5-8 pieces at a time and cut the whole stack.

Place one triangular piece of wrapper on a plate or cutting board. Arrange a heaping tablespoon of the filling along the long edge of the wrapper, then fold the two adjacent corners over the filling and roll tightly toward the third corner. Brush some of the egg/water mixture on this corner to help seal.

Heat oil in heavy wok or deep pan until hot. Fry egg rolls in oil being careful to not crowd them or the oil will lose temperature and rolls will be greasy. Remove rolls when they float and are a golden color. Place on baking sheet lined with paper towels to cool. Cooked rolls can be frozen and reheated in the oven at the 350F for about 15 minutes.

To make the nuoc cham, combine all ingredients and stir until sugar dissolves. You can also heat up the water, add the sugar to melt, then add the other ingredients when the mixture is cool. If desired, you can add thinly sliced onions and radishes.

Serve with platter of lettuce, cucumber, herbs and bean sprouts. Wrap an egg roll with veggies and herbs and dip into nuoc cham.

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