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