The problem with keeping a food blog is that the internet doesn't forget.
In speech, an offhand comment concerning my low opinion of a given dish, or a wry remark about how I'm never going to be so stupid as to prepare such-and-such a meal again is subject to the fallibility of the listener's memory, and otherwise disappears into the ether.
Not so on the blog. I've discovered that if I say "never" in a blog entry, it will come back to haunt me.
Last year, at the urging of a reader, I made dumplings for Chinese New Year. It was a good blog post (if I do say so myself), but it wasn't a cooking experience I wanted to repeat.
Not again, I said. Never again, I swore. (Quoth the Basil Queen, "Nevermore.")
Which is, of course, why I ended up helping JJ figure out a vegetarian dumpling recipe for O.N.C.E. in the New Year a year later, and - despite all my protestations that I order takeout when I want Chinese food - leading the resulting dumpling-folding marathon. The dumplings were well-received, but worrying about whether or not they'd actually work was the kind of stress I didn't want to put myself through again.
Enough, I said. I'm done, I swore. (Quoth the Basil Queen, "Nevermore.")
And yet, after concluding that I'd run out of interesting alternative holidays to observe on February 14th, and learning that Chinese New Year happened to fall on that date this year, well, I made vegetable dumplings. Again. It might be time to stop making absolute declarations.
(Quoth the Basil Queen "Nevermore, nevermore.")
Cheerfully Inauthentic Vegetable Dumplings
I can't say this is really my recipe. I rattled off a list of ingredients during our brainstorming session; JJ turned them into a workable whole.
(Makes four servings. Uncooked dumplings will freeze.)
The easier method is to make a soft dough (two cups of flour to a cup or so of water), let it rest for an hour, run it through a pasta maker on the second-thinnest setting, and cut out three-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or drinking class. Be warned, though. It's softer than your usual pasta dough, and it sticks like crazy unless it's very, very well-floured. (Keep the wrappers under a damp tea-towel, but don't stack them. They'll weld themselves together.)
The recommended (easiest, no-fuss) method is to buy the premade ones from the nearest Asian supermarket. You'll find them right next to the fresh noodles.
For the filling, use a food processor fitted with a shredding blade to slice up two carrots and half a head of cabbage. Finely mince two onions, three cloves of garlic, and a couple of shiitake mushrooms. Grate a two-inch chunk of fresh ginger.
Heat vegetable oil in a wok or a large saute pan. Add the onions, garlic and ginger, and cook until the onions look translucent. Add the carrot and mushrooms; cook until softened. Add the cabbage. Cook until the cabbage is slightly softened, but still retains most of its crunch.
Remove from heat. Season the vegetable mixture with white pepper and sesame oil. Salt to taste. Spread the mixture on a big baking tray and leave to cool.
When you're ready to assemble the dumplings, ready a few floured trays to put the dumplings on. Set out a small bowl of water. Set out your wrappers and the tray of filling.
Pick up one wrapper and put a generous tablespoon of filling on it. Dip a finger into the water and wet the edges of the wrapper. Fold over the wrapper and press the edges to seal. Set the dumpling on one of your floured trays. Repeat until you run out of filling or wrappers, whichever comes first. The completed dumplings may be frozen at this point.
(Leftover filling can be turned into vegetable pancakes, a la scallion pancakes. Leftover wrappers can be cooked like pasta and eaten with soy sauce and sesame oil.)
To cook the dumplings, set a pot of unsalted water on to boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, cook the dumplings in batches of ten or twelve. Frozen dumplings will take six or seven minutes; fresh dumplings will take three or four.
Transfer cooked dumplings to serving platters (don't layer; they'll stick.) Serve immediately.
Note: These can be served with diluted soy sauce for dipping, or you can mix up a sweet-sour dipping sauce using honey, apple cider vinegar, and fresh grated ginger.