vegetarian dumplings


Almost always, my previously non-vegetarian days included, if we were to order take-out from the local Chinese restaurant, or the many times we all crowded into a booth at the downtown China Wok, where the sweet proprietor would always serve up free sugared doughnuts and wontons, I have been known to ask for a plateful of vegetable dumplings, steamed or fried, and sometimes both. I'm unsure if it's the perfectly folded corners or the salty, tangy dipping sauce. Personally, I think the scallions on top are what make it sing.

So the other day while perusing the local grocery store, when cute Colin stumbled across refrigerated wonton wrappers, of course I was excited to attempt our own version of the dish, sauce included. And yes, fine, we did not make our own dumpling wrappers. If you, like us and everyone, don't want to make them either (or for whatever reason, can't), you can find them in the produce section of your grocery store. Conveniently, they are located right next to the super firm tofu, which you will also need.

We adapted this recipe from my new favorite food blog, and apparently everyone's favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. I totally enjoy Smitten Kitchen's writer (and chef!) Deb for her obvious passion for food, her knowing voice, her attempts to perfect everyone else's recipe, and her dedication to what is undeniably delicious yet devoid of highbrow ingredients or methods. I mean, carrot cake pancakes? Come to ME. We will have to try those next or soon.

Anyway, Smitten Kitchen took her dumpling inspiration from Alton Brown, and her remix (and ours) can be found here while Alton's [slightly different one] can be found here. See that? And the ingredients are:

1/2 pound of firm (we used super-firm) tofu
1/2 cup coarsely grated carrots
1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons freshly minced ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
35-40 small wonton wrappers (See, she didn't make hers either!)
1/3 cup of water

The first thing to do is press the tofu, to get as much of the moisture out as possible. Deb notes that this recipe comes out very liquid-y, which has potential for a big, ol' mess when it comes time to steam: sticking everywhere. SO, press away with this method: put the tofu on a plate lined with a paper towel. Place another paper towel and another plate on top, using a weight of some sort (can of tomatoes, we used) to push down. It should be ready in about a half an hour. But you, busy doing other things, will hardly notice.

In the meantime, you could be grating the carrots, chopping the peppers and scallions, measuring out soy sauce, or admiring the delicate green color of the Napa cabbage. Such an interesting and beautiful vegetable, that particular cabbage, with its curly yellow and white stalks.

When the tofu is de-liquified (not entirely, of course, but you get the point), cut it up into quarter-inch cubes. Gently combine in a medium sized bowl with the carrots, peppers, cabbage, scallions, ginger, cilantro, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, egg, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Whew.

It's now time to set up your steamer on the stovetop so you can start forming dumplings! (I hear these can also be pan-fried, though I claim no authority on that particular method.) You'll need about a 1/2 an inch of water simmering over medium heat. The folding step is a little bit of a process, so don't jump the gun too early if you want to take your time in getting the perfect creases. One word of advice: it's harder than it looks BUT, by about your tenth try you should start seeing a method forming, however clumsily. I speak for myself only.

The two most important tips in forming your dumplings: 1. Brush the edges of the wonton wrappers with water (or egg white) in order to ensure they hold together and 2. Don't overfill them! About half a teaspoon of mixture is just enough for each dumpling. And yes, that is exactly how you come out to having about forty of these little guys.

About 8 to 10 dumplings will fit into the steamer (or pan) at once. Though Smitten Kitchen's Deb noted the dumpling's tendency to stick to the surface, we took Alton's advice and lightly sprayed the steamer with non-stick vegetable spray. They will, however, stick to each other no matter what, so do your best to keep them from touching in both the steamer and during preparation.

The dumplings should be fully cooked in about 10 to 12 minutes. While Alton suggests that you keep them in a preheated oven (at 200 degrees) between batches, we came up with a different solution: eat them! I have to say, these came out really, really good. Perhaps not the most bee-yoo-tiful dumplings you ever saw, but once they met with the steam and the sauce, it was almost difficult to tell if they came from our kitchen or a white take-out box. Yum!