Vegetarian Crispy Beggar’s Purses

I was invited to cook at John Cleese’s final cast party for his film Fierce Creatures. He requested a vegetarian treat, so I adapted my Crispy Beggar’s Purses into something fiery and fierce, but without any creatures!


  • 1 packet spring roll skins, preferably Shanghai-type
  • 25 g (1 oz) cloud ear fungus or Chinese black mushrooms
  • 100 g (4 oz) beanthread (transparent) noodles
  • 100 g (4 oz) carrots, coarsely grated
  • 100 g (4 oz) mangetout, finely shredded
  • 100 g (4 oz) celery, coarsely chopped
  • 50 g (2 oz) fresh red chillies, seeded and finely shredded
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 8 spring onions, green parts only, blanched

Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour with 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes or powder
  • ½ teaspoon chilli oil
  • 600 ml (1 pint) groundnut or vegetable oil, for deep-frying


If frozen, thaw the spring roll skins throughly. Soak the fungus or mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes. If using the fungus, finely shred, cutting off and discarding any hard ends. If using the Chinese mushrooms, squeeze out the excess liquid. Remove and discard the stems and finely chop the caps. Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. When soft, drain and discard the water. Cut into 7.5-cm (3-in) lengths.

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, mangetout, celery and chillies, add the salt and pepper and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients, noodles and fungus or mushrooms (except the spring onions) and stir them to mix well. Wrap the bowl with clingfilm and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Place all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce, except the cornflour mixture, chilli and chilli oil in a pan. Bring to the boil, stir in the cornflour mixture and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chilli flakes and oil. Cool and set aside.

When you are ready to stuff the wontons, put 2 tablespoons of the filling in the centre of each spring roll skin. Bring up the sides of the skin around the filling. Pinch the edges together at the top so the dumpling looks like a small filled bag. Tie with a spring onion. Continue until you have used up all the filling.

Heat a wok or large frying-pan over high heat. Add the oil and when it is moderately hot, add a handful of dumplings and deep-fry for 3 minutes, until golden and crispy. If the oil gets too hot turn it down slightly. Drain them well on kitchen paper. Continue to fry the dumplings until you have finished with all of them. Serve them immediately with the sweet and sour sauce.