Many popular Indian appetizers, while delicious, are often deep-fried. As you might have noticed, I post a variety of both classic Indian and unconventional-yet-Indian-style hors d’oeuvres and starters. When I was asked to provide cocktail bites for the launch of Harlem’s new acupuncture studio Harlem Chi, I began thinking about the menu and reflecting on the fact that after an unusually long and harsh winter in New York City, I wanted to create a menu that would usher in Springtime.
I decided to make baked chicken samosas, but suddenly thought about turning the recipe into fresh spring rolls instead. Sean and I love the light, tender samosa filling of ground chicken combined with sweet red onion, garlic, ginger, crushed red chilli, and freshly roasted whole coriander seeds. Thinking about Thai appetizers like lettuce wraps and spring rolls, we figured it could be a terrific idea for a light Indian appetizer. Making anything into a “fusion dish” has its risks, so Sean and I were a bit nervous — a) we love any kind of Asian-style fresh spring rolls in restaurants, but have never dared make them at home and b) we wondered, would an Indian-style spring roll even work? We liked the taste, but would other people? Yes! The thin, clear rice paper wrapper was ideal for holding a small bundle of ground spiced chicken dotted with fresh mint leaves, which we then served with a tamarind sauce and mint chutney — classic Indian flavors but delicate at the same time. Our menu was a success at Harlem Chi on April 12, where nearly 60 people celebrated the official opening of a “community acupuncture center” by lawyer-turned-acupuncturist Johanne Picard.
Fresh Indian Spring Rolls
Yields 30-35 rolls
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, dry roasted (see step #1 below)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1-1.5 lbs ground chicken
- 2 large red onions, chopped
- 2 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (or one heaping tablespoon each fresh garlic, minced and fresh ginger root, minced)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon red chilli flakes (crushed red pepper)
- Handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1-2 packages of rice spring roll wrappers, 15-17 per package (I used a brand called Three Ladies Spring Roll Rice Paper Wrappers)
- 1 cup of warm water in a bowl or dish wide enough for the rice spring roll wrapper
- Tamarind sauce, for serving
- Mint chutney, for serving
- Heat whole coriander seeds in a small non-stick frying pan or skillet over a medium flame. Stir frequently, and as soon as the aroma is released, remove from heat and set aside in small mortar and pestle, crushing gently. Set aside.
- In a large, wide skillet heat oil over medium-high flame. Add onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add ginger-garlic paste (or fresh garlic and ginger) and continue sautéing. Once the mixture is golden and glassy, add the ground chicken and cook until chicken turns color. Add salt, cumin powder, garam masala, and red chilli flakes and continue sautéing for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, after which, add fresh mint leaves and mix gently to combine. Now your filling is ready.
- Set up a small station to form the spring rolls, with a large cutting board, damp kitchen/tea towel. With kitchen scissors, cut each wrapper in half so you have two half moons. Dip the wrapper in the warm water for 15 seconds to make it soft and transparent. Lay the wrapper on the cutting board with the straight edge towards you. Place a couple of tablespoons of the chicken filling along the straight edge, then begin rolling it away from you, covering the filling once and then pulling up the wrapper on the left and right sides tightly, and continue rolling until you cover the filling entirely with the rest of the wrapper. TIP: they key is to roll it tightly and neatly by moving quickly and doing so in one swift move. If you get a little frustrated, just take your time — the result should be a beautiful little bundle, with bits of chicken, red onion, coriander seed, and fresh mint peeking through the rice paper.
It was a special evening, one of those New York moments when I remember the unique way that Manhattan attracts a dazzling number of interesting and worldly people from all over the globe. Given our nervousness over trying a new recipe that could easily be a hit or miss, I was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t an Indian spring roll left at the end of the evening!