Eating for Life

Ellen Changho-Roxas’ Filipino egg rolls reflect a melting pot of cultural influences

Ellen Changho-Roxas prepared one of her special dishes called Ellen’s Egg Rolls.
Ellen Changho-Roxas prepared one of her special dishes called Ellen’s Egg Rolls. jledford@kcstar.com

Far East meets Midwest in Ellen Changho-Roxas’ Leawood kitchen.

Born and raised in Santa Cruz in the Philippines, Changho-Roxas moved to Kansas City in 1985 to obtain her master’s degree in business administration from Rockhurst University and now works as a financial analysis manager for a major telecommunications firm.

The Filipino food Changho-Roxas prepares for her family — husband, Ed; daughter, Michaela, 17; and son, Matthew, 15 — incorporates traditions from her heritage that can be traced back to the Xiamen region of southeast China.

Changho-Roxas’ recipe repertoire isn’t just limited to Asian food. She is also at home preparing Japanese, Italian and Spanish dishes for not only her extended family but also many friends who regularly tuck in around her table.

Q: Can you describe what typifies Filipino food?

A: The Philippines are a melting pot of many cultures, and all those influences show up in the food. The Chinese bring a love of soy sauce, the Vietnamese bring chilies, the Thais bring curries and coconut milk, and the Spanish bring herbs, such as oregano and bay leaves, to their cooking. For more than 300 years, until 1898, the Philippines were a Spanish colony — and I am just as comfortable making paella as I am making egg rolls.

Q: Speaking of which, these egg rolls don’t resemble the more typical wider and rounder Chinese variety.

A: That’s true. They are about as wide as a finger and cut into crispy, tasty bites. This is my favorite recipe, which is also known as Lumpiang Shanghai or Filipino Spring Rolls. The meat mixture can also create several dishes: Wonton or Pork Dumpling Soup (Pancit Molo); Stuffed Mushrooms and meatballs.

I roll several batches and freeze egg rolls before they are fried. These come in handy when you need something quick and easy — especially with our busy schedules. I will also make and freeze wontons, too, using this pork filling. There are days we feel like eating soup, and having the wontons already prepared comes in handy when I’m feeding the crowd that usually shows up for dinner.

Q: What are the biggest differences between how people from America and the Philippines eat?

A: Americans have taste buds that like cheese and sugar. I try to pass along good eating habits to my children and get them to develop a taste for vegetables. I will make simple things like crepes filled with vegetables, such as carrots, cabbage, yams and tofu.

I like to make eating vegetables fun and tasty, because I want my family to stay healthy. Dinnertime is very important in my house, and I like to make the food, because I like to know the ingredients that are in the food my family eats.

Q: The way in which you serve food seems to be as important as the food you prepare.

A: There is something about Filipino hospitality. This is how we welcome you into our home — we feed you. The bottom line is that food is important, and we want you to be happy and satisfied when you leave.

I have learned that America is a land of opportunity — get a good education, work hard and by God’s grace you can share the abundance. That is why food is so important. It takes time and patience to make good food, but it is a selfless act when given freely to those who find themselves around your table.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Ellen’s Egg Rolls

Packages of super-thin spring roll shells can be found in Asian markets.

Makes 75 (approximately 3-inch) servings

1 (1-pound) package ground pork

1/2 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup finely minced onion

1/2 cup finely chopped water chestnuts

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

1 (11-ounce) package of 25 super-thin spring roll shells

Canola oil for frying

In a large mixing bowl stir ground pork, carrots, onion, water chestnuts, salt, pepper, garlic powder and soy sauce together until well combined.

Place pork mixture into a disposable pastry bag. Cut the end of pastry bag to leave an opening that is about  1/2 inch in diameter.

In a small bowl whisk cornstarch and water together. Set aside.

Place 1 egg roll wrapper onto a flat surface, rotated so one corner of the square wrapper is nearest you. With pastry bag in hand, squeeze out a line of pork filling about 3 inches above corner nearest you, leaving about a 2-inch margin on the right and left side.

Fold the corner nearest you over the filling, toward the center of the wrapper. Then fold the right and left sides of wrapper (burrito-style) over filling. Continue to roll the entire wrapper up, until about 3-inches of the top corner remains. Brush a small amount of the water/cornstarch mixture onto the top corner to help seal and finish rolling.

Place onto a platter and continue in same way until all wrappers and filling have been used.

Fill a large pot or deep-fat fryer with enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches and heat until it registers 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, fry 3 to 5 egg rolls at a time (depending on size of pot) about 5 to 6 minutes, turning with tongs, until deep golden brown on all sides. Remove from oil onto a platter covered with paper towels to drain. Continue frying until all egg rolls are done, allowing the oil temperature to return to 350 degrees between batches. Using clean kitchen shears, cut each egg roll into thirds.

Serve with dipping sauce of choice, if desired.

Per serving: 30 calories (41 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 56 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

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