Lay down a pastry wrapper and a world of flavors unfold. Whether a Mexican taquito or Indian samosa, a wrapper encasing a filling is a staple in a variety of cuisines that’s making headway on menus.
Wrappers and the way they’re shaped post-filling vary. From paper-thin phyllo, thicker-skinned wonton skins or even buttery puff pastry, the wrapper can be shaped in many ways, including squares, triangles, half-moons or cigars. Chefs say it’s personal preference, but all agree it’s about shareability and crunchiness, made even better with a dipping sauce.
The least labor-intensive and most economical riffs, chefs say, are versions that consider cross-utilization of ingredients, with an eye toward reducing kitchen waste. Decide on the wrapper and, from there, the possible fillings are truly endless.
MAKE IT LOCAL
Last year, Baltimore-based H3irloom Food Group launched a pop-up, King of Eggrolls. It enjoyed success in part by combining global flavors and favorite local ingredients encased in a wonton wrapper, like a lump crab egg roll with aioli and hot sauce. A Caribbean vibe comes through in the jerk chicken egg roll with fried cabbage and jerk barbecue sauce.
RIFF ON A SANDWICH
Ball & Chain in Miami has a long history as an entertainment venue in the Little Havana neighborhood. The menu has familiar favorites, such as jerk-roasted wings and camerones enchilada, but the Cuban spring rolls have become a signature. Described as the classic Cuban morsel with a twist, the dish aims to provide the usual flavors of a Cuban sandwich in a new form. Sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese and pickles are wrapped in a spring roll and lightly brushed with egg wash to seal. The roll is then lightly fried for about three to four minutes to get everything warmed and crispy, and served with a side of mustard sauce.
BASK IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
Ayesha Nurdjaja, chef/partner at Manhattan’s Shuka and spinoff Shukette, has made a splash with her Soho gems featuring market-driven Mediterranean fare. Items such as samboosa – baharat-spiced lamb and saltanas wrapped in phyllo – and Turkish cigars can be found on her menu. They’re popular, she says, in part because of their shareability and crunch factor.
The same can be said of Greek-rooted spanakopita. As Greek cuisine experiences a moment, the classic dish is branching out beyond its expected preparation. Feta and spinach are wrapped in phyllo and folded into triangles at Lyra in Chicago and purses at Nerai in New York City, but they also can be cylindrical – just by rolling them differently.
SWAP IN AND OUT
The beauty of a wrap, fill and roll starter lies in its versatility and ability to adapt any cuisine just by changing up the filling. Funky Fresh Spring Rolls in Milwaukee serves four standard egg rolls – including a meatless rendition stuffed with sweet potato, black beans, cilantro and Southwestern spices. For a Central American twist, swap in plantains for the sweet potatoes, and cumin and coriander for spices.
TAKE A CUE
At K’Far in Philadelphia, a section of the menu is dedicated to bourekas, an Israeli-Jewish bakery mainstay. The three choices include enriched dough filled with potato; cream cheese and olives; and artichokes and brown butter. The dough is cut into squares, filled and folded to form a triangle before it’s brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sesame and nigella seeds. In San Francisco, Latin-American Cavana serves pastel de carne, Brazilian flaky pastry filled with braised beef and served with rocoto aioli. The bourekas and the pastel de carne can easily be rolled into cylinders, or folded into squares or half circles.
FILL WITH THE FAMILIAR
O’Shaughnessy’s in Chicago serves two versions: Irish egg rolls stuffed with corned beef, cabbage and Swiss cheese accompanied by mustard aioli and spicy mustard; and Shepherd’s Rolls stuffed with Shepherd’s pie and served with mashed potatoes and onion gravy.
At Flanigan’s in South Florida, an egg roll has become so popular that it’s a signature dish. Baby back ribs, pulled pork, cheddar cheese, onions and barbecue sauce are rolled in a wonton wrapper and deep-fried. While such an appetizer would have overall appeal, those who want a lighter choice might go for the Southwest Egg Roll at Hilton Head Health, a wellness resort in South Carolina. Chicken, cheese, black beans, corn, onion and red bell peppers are wrapped in phyllo, rolled and baked instead of fried.