Saturday, February 26, 2011

Southwest Egg Rolls: A Homemade Take on a Restaurant Favorite

My friends Dan and Jennifer went to Bennigan's for dinner the other night, and it turned out they had one of my favorite things as part of their meal: Southwest Egg Rolls. I love Southwest Egg Rolls. And because of Dan's Facebook post, I've been thinking about them. A lot.

I decided I should search the Internet for copycat recipes, since I've had pretty good luck with that route in the past. I found these and this, but none seemed quite right. So, I consulted those recipes for ideas and made up my own (below). And I wanted to bake them instead of fry them.

Of course, I also wanted the sauce. If you've ever had these egg rolls, you know what I'm talking about: the cool, creamy sauce with pineapple and peppers.

I actually started by making the sauce early in the day so it would have the day to sit in the fridge and let the flavors come together, which turned out to be a good decision. However, if you decide to make the sauce at the last minute, it probably would probably taste just fine.

It's a simple sauce: mayo, salsa, crushed pineapple, a bit of the juice from the pineapple and a pinch of sugar.

For the egg roll filling, there are several ingredients, but none are complicated. The one thing you should do a bit in advance is cook the chicken so it has time to cool before you dice it and start making the filling. A plain chicken breast would work just fine, but I opted for a salsa-marinated chicken breast I picked up at a local market, and I cooked it using the parchment-

The filling is loaded with tasty stuff: chicken, corn, jalapeños, red bell peppers, scallions, spinach, spices, black beans and cheese. You have to make it in two phases to keep the beans from getting mushy and the cheese from melting, but it's worth the extra step. Besides, you don't want to try to assemble egg rolls with hot filling anyway!

When it comes time to assemble the egg rolls, the keys are working on a flat surface that the egg roll wrappers won't stick to, having a small dish of egg whites handy for sealing the egg rolls and cutting off two of the four corners of the wrappers (it makes them easier to fold). And don't overfill them, or they'll be hard to close.

Oh, and be sure to leave yourself a little time for this part. It doesn't take a long tine, but it takes longer than you might expect.

As you finish assembling the egg rolls, put them on a foil-lined baking sheet (I suggest Reynolds Non-Stick Foil) that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (such as Pam). This helps the bottoms of the egg rolls crisp up without sticking to the baking sheet.

Also important: Before you put the egg rolls in the oven, spray them with cooking spray -- generously, on all sides. I used butter-flavored Crisco brand cooking spray, but others probably would work, too.

The cooking spray and a short, high-temperature bake help these egg rolls get brown, bubbly and crispy. They won't be as crispy as they would if you fried them, but they are better for you this way and still have a nice crispiness to them.

One batch of filling is enough for about 20 egg rolls (I made 18 because that's what my pan would hold).

While this type of dish is served in restaurants as an appetizer, I find a few of them to be enough for a perfectly satisfying dinner. And when you think about what's in these egg rolls -- meat, veggies, beans, cheese -- it's no wonder that they're as filling as they are.

(Yield: About 2 cups of sauce)

· 1 cup canola mayonnaise
· 1 1/2 cups crushed pineapple (in juice, not syrup), drained (reserve juice)
· 4 Tbsp. fire-roasted salsa
· 2 Tbsp. pineapple juice (from crushed pineapple)
· Pinch of sugar

· Combine all ingredients; mix well.
· Refrigerate.
· Serve with Southwest Egg Rolls.

(Yield: About 20 egg rolls)

· 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1/2 lb.), cooked and diced
· 1 12 oz. bag frozen corn
· 1/2 of a small red bell pepper, diced
· 5 scallions, sliced
· 2 Tbsp. diced jalapeño peppers
· 1 Tbsp. chili powder
· 1 Tbsp. cumin
· 6 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
· 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
· 1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
· Salt to taste
· Liquid egg whites (or the white of one large egg)
· 1 pkg. egg roll wrappers

· Preheat oven to 425°F.
· In a large frying pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat.
· Add corn and saute until corn begins to brown; stir often to keep it from sticking.
· Add scallions, red bell pepper, jalapeños, chicken, chili powder, cumin and spinach; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
· Remove from heat; let sit until cooled to about room temperature, stirring often to aid in cooling.
· Add beans and cheese; mix thoroughly.
· Place stack of egg roll wrappers on a flat surface in a diamond shape and cut 1 inch or less off the left and right corners.
· Scoop about 3 Tbsp. of filling into the center of a wrapper, then fold up the bottom point and fold in the trimmed edges. Moisten the top point with egg white and then finish rolling up the egg roll from the bottom up.
· Place completed egg roll seam side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil (preferably non-stick) and sprayed with cooking spray.
· Repeat until filling is gone.
· Spray egg rolls with cooking spray, making sure to spray all exposed sides of the egg rolls.
· Bake for 18 minutes or until egg rolls are brown.

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