By my second trip to Singapore, I was no stranger to the various Night Markets, Pasar Malams, with all of their energy and, well, chaos. I had visited the established markets during my first visit. Now it was time to find the more traditional Pasar Malams that were generally hidden from the main streets. A few convincing conversations with the hotel staff directed me to areas which turn daytime quiet streets into nighttime activity centers of food, merchandise, and games.
While I enjoyed the noise of the merchandise stalls where the Hawkers attempted to compete for my attention by calling “Lelong! Lelong!” (roughly translates to Cheap Sale) for all manner of wares, it was the food stall area which commanded the majority of my free time. I found myself judging the worth of the Pasar Malams based on the aromas and sights within the food stalls.
I quickly learned a genuine smile garnered special treatment especially since I was willing to “try” just about any culinary concoction. Then again, it could have been continually asking questions and more questions and more questions about the food and ingredients. Generally, the response was more of a smile, nod and “you try” than actual answers.
Then I met Zhang Jie. His stall and methods of selling his culinary offerings were just a bit different. His staff, which included his grandson, was not as loud at calling to the gathering, but the line was just as long. What drew me, though, was his quiet, unassuming manner with each buyer. Zhang Jie gave a smile, a quiet word and a small nod to each individual person. I was impressed. I got in line and ordered the spring rolls. When he brought them to the counter, I received the smile, quiet word of thanks and a slight bow. I responded in kind.
Each night during this trip, I returned to Zhang Jie’s stall to order another item and each time I received the same treatment. Then came the night that as I sat down at a picnic table Zhang Jie and his grandson joined me. With the grandson translating, Zhang Jie told me his story of opening his stall in the 1950’s. It was his livelihood and how he supported his family as well as gave his eldest grandson the ability to learn the trade. His pride was evident in both his business and his grandson.
From the beginning, Zhang Jie believed if he took time to show gratitude to his customers, created food that contained one non-traditional ingredient and worked hard, his stall would be successful. I learned this was not the only stall he owned in the city. For every grandchild born, Zhang Jie opened another stall in a different night market. He had seven grandchildren and each managed a food stall, but the pride he held for this particular stall was evident. It was his first; now managed by his first grandchild.
From that moment on, whenever I visited Singapore, Zhang Jie would answer all of my culinary questions about his creations. And on one special night, I worked beside him and his grandson offering a smile, a quiet word of thanks and small nod. It was a long, wonderful night.
This recipe is was inspired by Zhang Jie’s spring rolls which I enjoyed on my initial visit to his stall.
The non-traditional ingredient is the minced jalapeño pepper. It provides just the right amount of heat and by mincing before adding, it becomes spread throughout the spring roll avoiding an unexpected hit of heat.
Rather than deep fry or fry in heavy oil, the rolls are brushed with toasted sesame seed oil then seared over high heat. It crisps the outside quickly without overly warming the filling resulting in a softened wrapper.
½ c green onions, sliced ¼ inch thick, divided
1 ½ t garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1 c Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1/3 c mixed wild mushrooms, can also use shiitake or portabella
½ c carrots, finely shredded
½ c green bell pepper, finely sliced
¼ c bean sprouts
2 t cornstarch
1 T soy sauce
3 T toasted sesame oil, divided
2 t dry sherry
pinch freshly grated black pepper
8 spring roll wrappers
¼ c water
¼ c soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 ½ t dry sherry
1 t orange blossom honey, can substitute regular honey plus ½ teaspoon orange zest
Combine ¼ cup green onions, garlic and ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.
Combine cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, green pepper and sprouts in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the green onion mixture. Sauté 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until garlic and ginger is fragrant.
Add the vegetable mix and sauté for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until slightly softened. Remove skillet from heat.
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, soy sauce, remaining sesame oil, dry sherry and black pepper. Return skillet to medium high heat. Add cornstarch mix and cook, stirring constantly until thickened, about 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Soften wrappers according to package directions. Place a softened wrapper on a kitchen towel. Spread ¼ cup of filling mixture down the center of the wrapper.
Fold the bottom of the wrapper over the filling. Fold each side to the center, across the filling. Brush the top edge of the wrapper with water and roll the filling of the top of the wrapper. Place seam side down on the edge of the towel and continue with remaining wrappers. Place the rolls on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Remove the rolls from the refrigerator. Brush the seam side of each roll with sesame oil. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add four rolls, seam side down, to the skillet. Brush tops with sesame oil. Sear for 4-5 minutes until browned and crispy. Turn and sear an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan. Repeat with remaining four rolls
Place the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
Place 2 spring rolls on each of 4 serving plates. Place a small bowl of sauce on each plate. Evenly divide the remaining ¼ cup of green onions between the plates.