I’ve always been fascinated by the idea – and the process – of preparing, from scratch, things that most of us purchase and take for granted as prepared foods. Pasta, for example. Pickles. Jarred tomatoes. Bread, of course. And I’ve always been this way: I’m pretty sure it was my obsession with books about pioneer life and a subscription to Harrowsmith magazine that inspired these experiments, some of them less successful than others. I recall a particularly ill-advised and discouraging attempt to make, of all things, fortune cookies at home. I was lucky enough to be raised by a mom who was an early adopter of the farmers’ market mentality and saw nothing strange in wanting to learn, say, the best way to make pie crust (shortening and butter? Vinegar?) but even she was exasperated and disgusted by the greasy results of my fortune cookie experiment.
Now, I know that there have always been subsets of people who would never…ever purchase canned tomatoes or the stuff that comes jarred and is referred to, loosely, as “tomato sauce”. I also know, from watching Come Dine with Me, that serving store bought ice cream or flour tortillas is a form of unpardonable sin for which there no plenary indulgence can be purchased. I’ve made both of those things, at times, so this doesn’t have a significant impact on my self-esteem nor does it make me worry that I’m headed directly to the cook’s circle of hell when I die, but it does make me wonder just how far one can take “from scratch” one-up-personship. For example, I once knew someone who ground all of her flour herself because store-bought flours were, a) limited in scope and b) unfresh. She encouraged me to buy an extremely expensive and powerful blender and, thusly, equip myself to grind amaranth into a delicious and much more healthy flour. I’d be healthier and I could feel superior. Because I was raised to be competitive and allow no one to get the better of me I was tempted, briefly, to purchase said expensive blender and begin grinding my own flour and, indeed, begin grinding up all kinds of things (meat, tofu, abandoned single socks, dry dog food) as grinding things yourself was, clearly, the superior way to be. Luckily, I was a student at the time and on a limited budget, plus it sounded like way too much work, so I never got around to it. It’s not impossible that, some day, I will grow grains in my backyard and grind them in my expensive blender, although I have, so far, resisted this somewhat extremist activity.
It’s easy to impress most people with scratch foods, even if you don’t grind your own flour or grown your own grains. Take bread, for example. Bread is an easy magic trick to serve to people who don’t bake or don’t bake with yeast and will, as a result, think you are a genius baker. Activate your dry yeast in warm water and sugar, mix it with some flour, salt, and oil – add some eggs or milk if you want to get fancy – knead it until it isn’t sticky anymore, let it rise, shape it and bake it, and voila. You have your bread, homemade.
But, back to my original point, which was the making of things homemade that are generally store-bought. Inspired by hunger and the fact that we are at the cottage and a good 15-minute highway drive away from a store, I decided I should make egg rolls to accompany the vegetable and egg rice bowls I was making with locally grown cabbage, peas, and spring onions. Even if I had the energy to make it to the grocery store in town, there is no guarantee, in fact there may be little hope, that they would stock egg roll wrappers, although I probably could find plum sauce, brown and gooey in a squeeze bottle.
The following recipe yielded enough egg roll wrappers to make eight egg rolls (or six, if you mess up the first one, as I did). The plum sauce resulted in approximately one cup for dipping the egg rolls into it.
Egg Roll Wrappers
1 large egg
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup cold water
3/4 cup unbleached white flour (grind it yourself if you want!)
Directions: Beat the egg with the salt and cold water until smooth. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time and combine. Make sure it is quite runny, something like crepe batter. Let it sit for about 20 minutes.
Heat an 8-inch non-stick pan and pour in a dollop of vegetable oil. Swirl it around until it coats the whole pan. Pour about 1/4 of the batter into the pan, tilting the pan to make an even circle, or as close as you get. Use a spatula to spread batter out if you’re not quick enough. No one will ever know.
Cook each wrapper for about 2 minutes, flipping carefully halfway through. Layer them in paper towels on a plate to cool thoroughly before using. To use them, cut in half, fill with your favourite egg roll mixture (bean sprouts, mushrooms, pork, whatever) and fry them in a few inches of vegetable oil, kept at 350 degrees F, or brush them with a nice coat of oil and bake them at 425 for about 15 minutes, turning them once.
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
6 – 8 medium sized red plums, chopped with cores removed
1 tsp fresh ginger
1/2 cup water
2 tbsps vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
Salt and pepper
2 spring onions chopped
Directions: Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and add garlic and onions. Saute for a few minutes, then add plums, ginger, and salt. Cook everything in the oil for a couple of minutes, then pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, liquify the ingredients. Add the vinegar and sugar and bring back to a boil. Simmer for another 45 minutes until the mixture is very thick. Serve in a small bowl, sprinkled with the chopped spring onions.