Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lumpia Made Sweet: A Taste of Turon

Next week, I'll have a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Filipino food. It's a rich and complex cuisine much overlooked for some reason and I hope to help urge San Diegans to turn that around. I want to give you a bit of a preview of it here, mostly because I want you to meet someone special who helped me with an addictive dish that will be featured in the story.

The person is Rosario Cruz. She's the grandmother of the very talented Evan Cruz, Arterra's executive chef and my recent and ongoing guide through Filipino cuisine. Evan, who was born in the Philippines, invited me to visit his family's little market, JNC Pinoy Food Mart, in Chula Vista recently and made sure his grandmother was there to demonstrate how to make his favorite childhood snack, turon.

Evan Cruz, grandmother Rosario Cruz, and aunt Nora Cruz, who owns the market with her husband Felix
Now the market, which is literally across the street from Southwestern College, is really less a market than a family-style cafe. Yes, you'll find a freezer packed with lumpia wrappers, frozen casava root, and beef empanadas; shelves filled with packages of noodles, bottles of vinegar and fish sauce, condiments; and some produce--but really, you want to go there for the prepared food.

Evan's Aunt Nora plied me with a spread of wonderful distinctly Filipino dishes that are made in house, introducing me to their version of pancit and lumpia, kare-kare and beef steak, crispy pork belly served with liver sauce, and taro cooked in coconut milk. There was atsara, a pickled papaya and vegetable condiment eaten like salsa with fried fish. And skewers of very tender and juicy grilled chicken.

Clockwise from upper left: Kare-kare, beef steak and onion in soy sauce, turon, longaniza (Filipino sausage), and grilled chicken skewer
Clockwise from upper left: fried pork joint, sweet rice, taro cooked in coconut milk, pancit and lumpia
Then there was turon. Okay, so what is turon? Think of it as a sweet lumpia, or spring roll. It's the kind of snack, known as merienda, you'd find in front of elementary schools that has kids flocking around the vendor.

Turon is a very simple dish--just slices of plantain or pear banana, a slice or two of jackfruit (usually the canned version), and a generous helping of sugar rolled in a lumpia wrapper that's held in place with a slurry of water and cornstarch, then fried in canola oil and tossed in caramel. The result is an irresistible sweet and crispy pastry.

At the market, the family has a large dedicated wok for making turon. At home, you can use a wok or a frying pan. I won't post the recipe here because it will be included in my UT story, but I wanted to share a video I took of Mrs. Cruz making the dish so you can see how simple it is.

From there, you can put the turon in the freezer for a day so that the sugar stabilizes when it's fried. Evan showed me how to fry them off at his kitchen at Arterra.

Fill a frying pan with canola oil and add the turon.

Let them brown on both sides and remove the rolls. Drain off most of the oil and add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to make a dry caramel. Swirl the sugar around.

Once you have the caramel bubbling, add back the turon rolls and roll them in the caramel.

Then remove them to a baking sheet lined with silpat to keep them from sticking. Let them cool a little so you don't burn your tongue.

Then enjoy!

JNC Pinoy Food Mart is located at 943 Otay Lakes Road in Chula Vista. 

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