In this burgeoning, melting pot of a nation, most of us have cross-cultural buddies who, if prompted, are at least conversant in a foreign cuisine. My friend Graciel, for example, spent only the first four years of her life in the Philippines, but as the granddaughter of an established Filipino restaurateur, her ancestral fare remained salient across the Pacific…lucky us!
Cooking an unfamiliar cuisine is like speaking a new language; the ingredients, a vocabulary of tastes that when strung, tossed or whipped together, create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. And, as with language, the best way to learn is immersion. So, enlist a pal who’s fluent in anything from a single heirloom recipe to an entire gastronomy and dive in.
This past Sunday, Graciel and I met at the home of a fellow foodie for a hands-on dumpling tutorial and by day’s end, my knowledge had expanded nearly as much as my waistline.
2 cups minced shiitake mushroom caps
1 package (14 ounces) firm tofu, crumbled
½ cup minced baby spinach
½ cup minced watercress leaves
1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped garlic chives
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. In a large bowl, combine mushrooms, tofu, spinach, watercress and cilantro. Working over the sink or garbage bowl, squeeze the excess liquid from a handful of the mixture and place the squeeze-dried filling into a clean bowl; repeat with remaining filling mixture.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic chives and sauté until just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk to combine soy sauce, hoisin and sesame oil; stir into the filling along with cooked chives.
For any meat dumpling:
Add 2 teaspoons fish sauce to the filling.
Mix ground meat with silken tofu to keep meat moist.
For pork dumplings:
Replace mushrooms and tofu with ground pork and add a splash of lemon-lime soda (like Sprite) to the filling.
For beef dumplings:
Replace mushrooms and tofu with beef and add a splash of coca-cola to tenderize the meat.
Round wonton wrappers
4. Use your pointer finger to crimp the edges. Don’t let crimping cramp your style! Practice makes perfect and, as long as the edges are well sealed, a dumpling by any other shape will taste as sweet!
Steam-Fry: Place dumplings in a large skillet with about 1/4 inch of water and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and cook, covered, over medium heat until plump, about 3 minutes. Uncover, increase heat and cook until the water has entirely evaporated and the dumplings are brown and crusty on one side.
Although not the healthiest preparation, it’s my favorite for the irresistible combo of crisp and doughy.
Boil: Working in batches of 6-8, place dumplings in a pot of simmering water, or broth for dumpling soup. Cook for about a minute longer than it takes for the dumplings to float. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve hot with dipping sauce or directly in cooking liquid.
Steam: In a steamer insert or basket over simmering water.
Dumpling Dipping Sauce
Sauté cilantro, scallions and garlic in vegetable oil until fragrant, 2 to3 min; transfer to a medium bowl; add soy sauce, black vinegar and sesame oil to taste.
Quick and Simple: Combine lemon juice and soy sauce.
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