Singapore-Style Filled Pancakes (Popiah)

Popiah (Photo by food_in_mouth/flickr)
Popiah (Photo by food_in_mouth/flickr)

This is a version of a fresh spring roll, sold at every open-air eating center in Singapore.

Makes about 25 rolls.

Ingredients

5 eggs
375 ml/12 fl oz/1 1/2 cups cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
125 g/4 oz/1 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
Filling
4 tablespoons oil
2 cakes yellow bean curd, cut into strips
500 g/1 lb belly pork, boiled and diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons salted soy beans, mashed or bean sauce
250 g/8 oz raw prawns
800 g/1 3/4 lb can bamboo shoot
drained and cut into matchstick strips
250 g/8 oz Chinese sweet turnip, peeled and cut into matchstick strips
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Garnishes
1 large crisp lettuce
185 g/6 oz canned or frozen crab meat
250 g/8 oz bean sprouts
1 small cucumber
6 lap cheong (Chinese sausage)
3 eggs
5 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
small bunch fresh coriander leaves
chilli sauce
dark soy sauce, sweetened, or kecap manis

Egg roll wrappers

Beat eggs and water together until well mixed but not frothy. Add salt, oil and flour and beat until smooth. Allow to rest for 30 minutes while preparing a filling. Lightly oil a heavy frying pan or pancake pan with a piece of paper towels dipped in oil and rubbed over the heated pan. Pour in a small ladle of batter, swirl the pan quickly to make a very thin coating and pour any excess back into the container of batter. Cook over low heat until underside is cooked and pale golden. Turn and cook other side for a few seconds only. These wrappers should not be allowed to brown. Pile one on top of the other on a flat plate as they are cooked.

Note: Batter may be made in an electric lender, putting in the liquid ingredients first, then the flour. Blend for just a few seconds, stop motor and scrape down sides of blender container, then blend for a further few seconds. This batter must be allowed to rest for a longer time. If there is still froth on top when ready to cook the wrappers, spoon it off before starting to cook.

Filling

Heat oil in a wok and fry the strips of bean curd until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Cut into small dice. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok, add the diced pork and fry, until the fat begins to run. Add the garlic and mashed soy beans and fry, stirring, until the garlic begins to smell cooked. Add the shelled, deveined and chopped raw prawns and toss until the prawns change colour. Add the bamboo shoot and sweet turnip and fry, stirring and tossing, until cooked but still crisp, then add the bean curd. Sprinkle with salt and mix. Simmer uncovered in the wok until filling is almost dry.Taste and add more salt if necessary. Invert a small bowl inside a larger bowl and put the filling on this so that any liquid or oil can drain away under the small bowl.

Garnishes

Wash lettuce well, separating the leaves. With a stainless steel knife remove the thick leaf rib and cut each leaf into 2 or 3 pieces lengthways. Blot lettuce gently on paper towels and pile leaves on a plate. Flake the crab meat, removing any bits of bony tissue. Put into a small bowl. Pinch straggly 'tails' off bean sprouts, wash well, scald by pouring boiling water over, and refresh in a bowl of iced water. Drain well, pile into a bowl. Peel and seed cucumber, then cut into strips. Steam the lap cheong in a colander for 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices. Put into a bowl and keep warm. Beat the eggs, season with salt and pepper, and fry in a lightly oiled frying pan to make 4 or 5 very thin omelettes. Do not fold. Turn onto a plate as they are done. When cool, roll up and cut into thin strips. Put into a bowl.

To make crisp fried garlic which is one of the important additions, finely chop garlic, or bruise using a mortar and pestle. Rinse garlic in cold water, drain well in fine sieve, then wrap in paper towels and squeeze gently to remove as much moisture as possible. Heat about 4 tablespoons oil in a small pan and fry the garlic over low heat, stirring constantly, until it starts to turn golden. Remove pan from heat at once, before it starts to brown. Garlic will finish cooking in the stored heat of the oil. When cool remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Put into a small bowl.

Wash fresh coriander leaves very well, dry on paper towels, then chop fairly fine. Put into a small bowl. Put chilli sauce into a small bowl. In another bowl mix dark soy sauce with a little sugar to sweeten.

Have all the garnishes ready before starting to cook the egg roll wrappers and the filling.

To serve: Each person puts an egg roll wrapper on his or her plate. On this goes a piece of lettuce leaf, which is spread with chilli sauce or sprinkled with the sweetened soy. Roll up the egg wrapper, turning in the sides so that the filling is completely enclosed.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)