Why It Works
- Ripe Saba bananas have a sweet flavor profile and a soft, tender filling after frying.
- Cast iron holds heat well, which leads to less temperature fluctuation when frying.
- Adding the brown sugar to the hot oil allows it to liquefy quickly into a caramel consistency that sticks to the turon.
Even casual fans of Filipino food are familiar with lumpia, the egg roll-style snacks typically filled with savory ingredients like ground pork, ground chicken, or vegetables. However, this sweet lumpia rendition, called banana lumpia or turon, isn't as well known, despite the fact that it's a popular merienda (snack) and dessert that’s commonly sold by street food vendors. Ripe, slices of Saba bananas are coated in brown sugar before being wrapped in spring roll wrappers and fried twice: First until the wrappers are golden brown and the bananas are meltingly tender, and once again in brown-sugar-spiked oil for a crispy, caramelized finish.
Saba bananas are the traditional choice, as they're a banana cultivar that originated in the Philippines and are readily available there, used both in sweet and savory dishes alike. Unlike your average US supermarket Cavendish banana, they're plump and stout, with a firmer and starchier texture and a complex flavor that has hints of tangy peach and lemon. It may be challenging for you to track down fresh Saba bananas in the US, although frozen ones can sometimes be found at Asian supermarkets. However, while testing this recipe, I found that ripe plantains are a good substitute, as they have a similar flavor profile, firmness, and starchy texture. Given that plantains are much larger, you do have to cut them into more manageable pieces (see the note for instructions). I did test Cavendish bananas in this recipe, and while the results weren't catastrophic, they don't stand up to the cooking process well; they become unpleasantly mushy.
Saba bananas aren’t all that sweet, so coating them thoroughly in brown sugar is an important step. Sometimes cooks boost the sweetness even more by adding ripe yellow jackfruit, or langka. Fresh jackfruit are very large and you only need a couple strips of flesh for each turon, which is why I like to use the jarred variety; the jarred jackfruit is also packed in a sweet syrup that adds some more flavor. Frozen langka is a viable option, too, provided you can find it.
Once you’re finished rolling the turon, you may notice moisture accumulating underneath the lumpia wrapper. This is perfectly normal, but don’t wait longer than an hour to fry the turon or they may get too soggy.
After frying the turon, you can dig in right away, but I like to take an extra step and make a crunchy caramel coating, which adds another layer of sweetness and an ultra–satisfying crackle. It's a quick, last-minute step, since I like to make the caramel with the same hot oil used to fry the turon; you'll have to work fast and carefully.
Turon are delightful any way you serve them, whether you choose to give them the crackly caramel coating or not. Eat them all by themselves, dunked into caramel or chocolate sauce, or with a scoop of your favorite ice cream.
- Twelve 8-inch square spring roll (lumpia) wrappers (see note)
- 5 ounces light brown sugar (2/3 cup; 140g)
- 6 ripe Saba bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise (see note)
- 2 pieces ripe jackfruit in syrup (2 ounces; 70g), patted dry with paper towels and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices (optional)
- Vegetable oil or other neutral oil, for frying
Fill a medium shallow bowl with the brown sugar and a small bowl with water. On a work surface, position one spring roll wrapper so it resembles a diamond with a point facing you.
Toss one banana slice in the sugar until coated on all sides. Set the sugar-coated banana slice horizontally in the center of the wrapper. Top with two slices of jackfruit, if using.
Starting with the point closest to you, fold the wrapper over the banana, tucking the point underneath the banana. Fold the right and left points of the wrapper over the banana like an envelope (they will overlap slightly) and roll tightly away from you, leaving about 2 inches of the top point exposed. Dip your finger into water, moisten the point, then finish rolling to seal. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and banana slices; do not let rolled turon sit for more than 1 hour before frying. Reserve remaining brown sugar (you should have about 4 ounces; 115g left).
Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil over medium heat to 350°F (177°C). Using tongs, add half of turon rolls to the oil in a single layer. Fry turon, flipping occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes; adjust heat as needed to return to and then maintain a frying temperature of 350°F (177°C). Transfer turon to prepared wire rack. Return oil to 350°F (177°C) and repeat with remaining turon.
Adjust heat to increase oil temperature to 375°F (190°C). Add reserved brown sugar to the oil, stirring with tongs to spread it out evenly (it will begin to melt and turn slightly darker in color). Working quickly, use the tongs to return turon to the skillet, moving them around constantly and flipping once halfway through, until turon are glazed all over in caramel, about 1 minute.
Using tongs, return turon to the wire rack and cool slightly until the caramel has set, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
12-inch cast iron skillet, rimmed baking sheet with wire rack, instant-read thermometer
Spring roll wrappers can be found at most Asian supermarkets. They're made with wheat flour and are often labeled as “spring roll pastry.” Chinese or Vietnamese wrappers will work as long as they are meant for frying. Do not use dried rice paper wrappers. If you cannot find square wrappers, round wrappers work well, too. To defrost the spring roll wrappers, transfer to the refrigerator the night before, or let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to using.
Fresh or frozen Saba bananas are sold at most Asian supermarkets; if using frozen Saba bananas, defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Fresh ripe plantains ("maduros"), that are primarily black with spots of yellow, can also be used as a substitute. Peel 2 plantains and cut them in half crosswise; after this, cut each half lengthwise into thirds for a total of 6 pieces.
Make-ahead and Storage
Freeze uncooked turon on a parchment-lined baking sheet until firm, then transfer to a zipper lock bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Fry frozen turon for about 5 minutes.