A growing familiarity with other cuisines, most of which would have been classified as "exotic" 10 years ago, has made modern cooks both daring and experimental. We now have choices not dreamed of even a few years ago.
Consider "wrappers," for instance.
Crepes, the delicate French pancakes that one used for special desserts or, if one were really daring, in serving a heavily sauced casserole, were acceptable wrappers of their era. We used them so much for special occasions they became boring.
And tortillas, which provided a choice of either flour or corn as a base, were used in traditional Mexican dishes . . . enchiladas, burritos, tacos, etc.
Then, as our tastes and knowledge of other cuisines became broader, we discovered that the Orient offered us won ton, egg roll and lumpia wrappers, all different in taste and texture and all easy to manage. At the same time we discovered the beauties of transparent filo dough and robust lavosh, plus many others.
What really happened is that we discovered that wrapped foods could be both delicious and fun. We learned to like wrapped foods--ethnic sandwiches, if you will, although no true peanut butter and jelly fan in this country would ever willingly give up white bread that bends at will as a carrier for our basic sandwich ingredients.
If the truth were known, our zeal for something new has brought us to the point where mixing and matching wrappers and their fillings has created a cross-cultural experience in which almost anything goes.
What if we like the flavors and ingredients used in a true burrito, but hate flour tortillas? Fine. So dump the tortilla and substitute an egg roll wrapper. Or we'd like a bit of crab meat dim sum, but would prefer it in a more substantial holder. Fine. The same filling in a softened, malleable circle of lavosh would make a marvelous snack.
There are so many different types of wrappers available today, it really is a shame not to experiment. All one needs to do is to start with the thought, "Why not?"
With that in mind, The Times' food staff decided to try certain ethnic fillings with other ethnic wrappers, just to see if they were compatible. Not surprisingly, most were. After all, good ingredients produce good food when handled with respect.
Some of our experiments were bummers. The wrapper proved too heavy or too light for the ingredients. But most were remarkably successful.
When trying an experiment like this, you need to consider the ultimate goal. Are you looking for a sturdy wrapper that will hold ingredients suitable for a main dish? Or are you looking for something that will provide you with a light appetizer?
Whatever your choice, a small amount of shopping around will provide you with the perfect match. And most wrappers are available on the commercial market in varying degrees of delicacy. You may prefer to make your own crepes and lumpia wrappers, but few have time to make filo dough, or egg roll or won ton wrappers at home these days.
So the next time you hanker for a burrito, but prefer that it be lighter, try using an egg roll wrapper for the traditional filling. Or if you're a char siu bao fan who really hates all that steamed dough, try using the same filling in filo dough.
That's the beauty of having so many ingredients from so many different cuisines handy. This is no time for purism. Eat what you like . . . and enjoy!
FRIED CINNAMON-APPLE WRAP-UPS
1 large apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 to 6 square lumpia (spring roll) wrappers
Oil for frying
Place few apple slices about 2 inches from edge of each square wrapper. Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons (or to taste depending on tartness of apple) granulated sugar over apple. Add dash cinnamon. Fold bottom edge of wrapper over apple, then fold 2 sides over. Lightly moisten tips of top edge of wrapper with water, then fold towards center and press lightly to secure. Repeat with remaining fruit and wrappers.
Heat about 1 inch oil to 360 degrees and fry apple fritters to even golden brown color, turning to brown other side. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm. Makes 4 to 6.
Variation: In place of apple slices, use other fruit such as mango, peach, banana or ripe plantain slices.
TURKEY-VEGETABLE CREPE STACKS
20 Basic Crepes
10 thin slices cooked turkey
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese
Place as many crepes as possible flat in bottom of 1 or 2 baking pans. Top each crepe with 1/3 cup Vegetable Salad. Cover with another crepe, then 2 slices turkey. Cover with another crepe and top with another 1/3 cup Vegetable Salad.
Cover with fourth crepe layer and spread with 1/4 cup Fresh Tomato Sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to taste. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 5 stacks, 1 to 2 servings per stack.
Note: Filled and chilled crepe stacks may be microwaved to reheat.
1 cup flour
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine flour, water, milk, eggs, 2 tablespoons oil and salt in blender or food processor. Process until batter is smooth. Chill covered, for at least 1 hour. Stir before cooking.
Lightly oil crepe pan or 6-inch skillet and place over medium heat. Pour just enough batter to make thin coating to cover entire bottom of pan. Tilt pan to spread evenly. Cook about 1 minute, or until crepe is set (small holes will be visible on top side). Turn and cook other side, about 45 seconds. Transfer to sheet of wax paper. Cool before stacking. Makes about 20 crepes.
Note: After cooling, crepes may be stacked and wrapped in foil. Store in refrigerator up to 5 days or freeze up to 2 months.
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 green onions, chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup green peas
1 cup small cauliflowerets
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
In bowl combine garlic, green onions, hard-cooked eggs, celery, zucchini, green peas, cauliflowerets, broccoli, mushrooms, mustard and Jack cheese. Add mayonnaise and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 4 cups.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic
6 plum tomatoes, minced
Heat olive oil in medium skillet. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Stir in tomatoes. Simmer until tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer about 15 minutes or until thickened. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
SPANISH RICE EGG ROLLS
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced green pepper
1 cup cooked rice
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 (1-pound, 12-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and cut up
3 dozen Chinese egg roll skins, about
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add ground beef and cook until meat loses red color. Stir in green pepper, rice, chili powder, salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce and tomatoes. Simmer until most of liquid evaporates.
Fill each egg roll skin with tablespoonful of filling. Roll up egg-roll style, moistening edges with wet fingers to seal.
Heat oil to 375 degrees in deep fryer. Fry egg rolls, small batch at time, until golden brown. Makes about 3 dozen.
CHINESE SAUSAGE-ASPARAGUS TORTILLA ROLL-UPS
Bottled hoisin sauce
Blanched asparagus spears
Chinese sausage, split lengthwise and steamed
Green onion tops, steamed
Spread each flour tortilla lightly with hoisin sauce. Fill with asparagus spear and sausage half and tightly roll up. Tie middle section with 1 green onion top. When ready to serve, place few tortilla roll-ups in microwave-safe dish and microwave on HIGH about 45 seconds to 1 minute to heat.
FRESH SPRING ROLLS WITH CRAB
4 medium shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup julienned bamboo shoots or canned hearts of palm
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 cups flaked cooked crab meat or imitation crab meat
Green bowl or red leaf lettuce
Fresh Lumpia Wrapper
Sweet and Sour Ginger Sauce
Garlic Brown Sauce
Toasted sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
Soak mushrooms in warm water until softened. Drain and chop. Melt butter in skillet. Fry garlic and mushrooms 5 minutes. Stir in bamboo shoots or hearts of palm, green onions and crab meat. Stir-fry until heated through, about 5 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Wash and drain lettuce. Cut in halves, removing hard middle veins. Place lettuce half on center of wrapper with curly edges extending over. Fill with about 1/4 cup crab mixture. Roll up 1 side, fold in 1 end and continue rolling, leaving other end open with lettuce tips exposed. Serve with Sweet and Sour Ginger Sauce or Garlic Brown Sauce. To serve spoon sauce over and if desired, sprinkle ginger sauce with toasted sesame seeds and garlic sauce with chopped peanuts. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Whisk eggs with cornstarch, salt and water until smooth and blended. Strain if bubbly. Heat 5 or 6-inch square or round non-stick skillet over medium low heat. Measure scant 1/4 cup batter and slowly pour onto skillet, tilting skillet until bottom is evenly covered. When edges start to get dry around sides of skillet, loosen wrapper out from pan with non-stick turner, starting from around edges towards center and remove onto plate. (Do not heat other side.) Repeat with remaining batter. Cool and stack wrappers like crepes. Makes 16 to 20 wrappers.
Sweet and Sour Ginger Sauce
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup catsup
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cider or rice vinegar
Combine ginger, water, catsup, cornstarch, sugar and vinegar in saucepan. Mix until smooth and blended. Bring to boil over medium heat. Simmer 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Garlic Brown Sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Combine garlic, water, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Mix until smooth and blended. Bring to boil over medium heat. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes, just until thickened, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
FILO GORGONZOLA-APPLE-NUT APPETIZERS
16 sheets filo
1 1/3 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3/4 cup finely chopped, peeled apples
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
Brush 2 filo sheets with melted butter. Stack 1 on top of other and cut sheets in 4 lengthwise strips. Place 2 teaspoons cheese, 1 heaping teaspoon apple and 1/2 teaspoon pecans at 1 end of double-thickness strips.
Fold 1 corner of filo over filling, forming triangle and then continue folding strip flag-style to form triangular package. Brush tops with more melted butter. Repeat with remaining filo sheets and fillings. Place triangles on baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes. Makes 32 appetizers.
Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane