A focus on providing healthy, homemade food to students has a University of Nebraska–Lincoln dining crew rolling into the spring semester.
For the second academic year, a team led by Thom “Emily” Tran is handcrafting egg rolls served in the Willa Cather Dining Center. In the week ahead of the Jan. 13 start of classes, Tran and Cather Dining workers rolled nearly 5,000 of the crispy pockets stuffed with veggies, rice and spices.
“Those might last two or three weeks,” Tran said. “When they are on the menu, students line up for them. They really love them.”
At the end of last summer, the Cather Dining Center team crafted 16,000 egg rolls ahead of the start of the 2019 fall semester. Hungry Huskers cleaned out that stash within two months.
The homemade egg roll idea was first proposed by Tran ahead of the 2018-19 academic year. Using one of her recipes — with slight variance in spice level — she showed how making from scratch would be less expensive and healthier than purchasing frozen egg rolls from an external vendor.
“We were having difficulties finding egg rolls that were as clean — that means in terms of the level of MSG and other additives in them — as we wanted, so Emily stepped forward with this idea of making our own,” said Dave Annis, director of University Dining Services. “It made sense because we’re able to serve a product that is healthier for students and saves money.
“When students started telling us they were better than others we used to serve, we knew this was the right decision.”
Each one is hand rolled, using purchased spring roll sheets and a homemade filling. The egg rolls are then deep fried briefly before being packaged and frozen for future use. Final prep includes a brief bake in an oven followed by a second fry.
“They come out perfect, very crispy,” Tran said.
All egg rolls served in the Cather Dining Center’s World Fare station have been vegetarian, featuring a mix of tofu, bamboo, mushrooms, vegetables and spices. Tran hopes to branch out in the future, possibly offering a chicken variety that was tested during a Jan. 9 retirement party.
She said being able to provide homemade items to Huskers is a point of pride for Dining Services employees at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“It usually means extra work — especially for the egg rolls — but, for each of us, I think it is worth it,” Tran said. “To me, it means a lot to be able to make food from scratch, especially when it is based on a traditional, family recipe.
“I love that the university allows us to do this because it provides a necessary taste of home for many students.”