Recipe: vegetarian chinese potstickers (dumplings)
Summer, go home already! It was downright hot this weekend in the mountains – as in shorts and t-shirt hot. I’m worried if the temperatures don’t drop soon, my body won’t be ready for winter. And by ready, I mean I won’t have had a chance to adjust to cold temperatures. It’s like dumping a dog into winter who hasn’t had a chance to grow its winter coat. At least the skies have been pretty, but seriously… get on outta here, Summer.
a nice sunset to kick off the weekend, even if it was an oven
Now that Neva has been spayed, we started shopping around for a good doggy daycare and hotel (boarding). The place we took Kaweah was down in Boulder, which I never felt was ideal because it was a long drive, it’s hotter down in Boulder, and their outdoor area was a parking lot cordoned off by chain link fencing. Of course, Kaweah LOVED it. It was all about the doggies for her. There were some locations in the mountains that boasted large acreage for dogs to roam and have fun, but we knew that wouldn’t work for Kaweah who 1) was an incredible escape artist and 2) ate sticks, rocks, and anything disgusting she could get her mouth on outside. Neva, however, chews sticks up, but summarily spits them out (thank goodness!) and she is far more focused on playing with friends than trying to escape. She had a meet and greet with a local Nederland daycare/boarder to make sure she wouldn’t be aggressive or problematic with the other pups. At first she was nervous because they all seemed to pile onto her at once, but as soon as they wandered off, she chased after the group and engaged them for more play. She passed the test.
On Friday, I dropped Neva off for a full day of playtime and she nearly dragged me through the door. Once she entered the playzone with the other pups, she never even noticed I was leaving. No separation anxiety there! Jeremy and I felt that Neva really needed more doggy socialization in a place where she can be supervised and contained (she is still a flight risk, but perhaps less so than Kaweah was – fingers crossed). The nice thing is the proprietor is also a certified dog trainer who follows positive reinforcement training. At the end of the day, we picked Neva up and she was completely exhausted. Happy and exhausted. She plowed through her dinner then fell asleep for the rest of the night. We were told that she played so much, she might still be tired on Saturday, in case we had plans to hike her. She slept or lounged all of Saturday, which made it possible for us to get a lot of work done around the house and yard. I love puppy playtime!
still tuckered on saturday
feeling like her old self by sunday
Over the summer, my mom experimented with various vegetarian potsticker and dumpling recipes because she had made some for a dear friend’s daughter who is vegetarian. Every time I would drop by my parents’ place in Boulder, Mom would shove a vegetarian dumpling into my mouth. “What do you think?” she’d ask, smiling. Was it better than the last one? Should she add more bean thread noodles? Maybe use some egg? The variations are endless. I told her when she settled on a final version, I’d like to have the recipe so I could share it here on the blog. Summer being as busy as it was, I’m not sure she ever decided which one she liked best (they were all quite good). I decided to give it a try recently and discussed some recipe ideas with Mom over the phone. Both of my parents really get into recipe development, so Mom rattled off several suggestions as I jotted them down in my notebook.
Then she said, “If you really want to improve the flavor, add some chicken broth to the filling.” I paused. “Um, Mom, if you add chicken broth, it’s no longer vegetarian.” Oh, then you can add some dried tiny shrimps – makes it taste so good. I informed her that shrimp is also a deal breaker for vegetarians. It’s not that my parents have a poor understanding of what vegetarian means, but that (I think) Chinese people have a misconception of what “meat” means. I can’t tell you how many times we have been at an authentic dim sum restaurant with a vegetarian and I have asked the server if they had any dishes without meat. “Oh yes!” they’d smile, and plop a few tins of steamed shrimp dumplings or stewed chicken feet onto the table explaining that these were not “meat”.
I did a little research and found myself gravitating toward tofu. I know a lot of people are anti-soy, but it is what it is and I for one love tofu. Marc at No Recipes had a great little post on making vegetarian/vegan ground meat from firm tofu by freezing it, then squeezing it dry and crumbling the tofu. I grew up eating tofu like this except Mom didn’t crumble it, but sliced it. It’s a nice spongy texture that is great in hot spicy soups and stews. Sounded like a good solution.
for the filling: firm tofu, baked tofu, vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, dried shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fresh ginger, cornstarch, napa cabbage, green onions
freeze the firm tofu in its liquid, then thaw it completely
squeeze out the liquid and crumble the tofu
Marc notes that some people don’t like the tofu-y flavor of tofu. To get rid of it, you can rinse and squeeze the tofu under running water until the liquid that comes out runs clear – like cleaning out a sponge. The resulting texture is somewhere between ground meat and scrambled eggs, but super fluffy. Because the crumbled tofu lacks the fat and flavor of meat, I boosted the amounts of aromatics, seasonings, and I added baked tofu because it has great flavor and a firmer texture. Same goes for the mushrooms.
filling ingredients prepped
adding crumbled tofu to the sautéed ginger, green onions, and cabbage
stir in the baked tofu
mix in the rest of the ingredients
the filling is ready
Cooking the aromatics flavors the oil which in turn flavors the tofu. I decided to cook the cabbage too, to help the filling be a little more cohesive than if the cabbage were mixed in raw. Then I stirred in the rest of the ingredients. What you end up with is a rather crumbly filling. It cannot be helped unless you mix in some sort of binder (maybe egg white). It makes folding the dumplings a little more challenging, but I have confidence in you. And taste the filling to make sure it is seasoned to your liking (although the uncooked cornstarch will make it just a tad pasty in your mouth). I use my same basic dumpling dough recipe, so if you need step by step photos on how to fold dumplings, hop on over to that recipe. Alternatively, you can make your life easier and purchase dumpling wrappers. Get the round kind unless you are wanting to make wontons (then get the square wrappers).
rolling out dumpling wrappers
fill the wrapper as full as your folding skills will allow
fold pleats along the edges
folded and waiting to become potstickers
When you’ve finished folding the dumplings, you get to decide if you’d rather have boiled or steamed dumplings, or potstickers. Boiled or steamed are more traditional and pretty straightforward, but I tell ya, potstickers are my hands down favorite. It just requires pan frying the dumplings in a little oil until the bottoms brown, then quickly adding a half cup of water to the hot pan (and just as quickly covering the pan with a lid – the water and hot oil combination makes for some excitement). When the water boils off, remove the lid and reduce the heat to medium flame and let the dumpling bottoms crisp up. That’s how you get potstickers. I used to use a non-stick pan for potstickers, but switched to a “stick” pan – stainless steel – because the bottoms are crunchier and more flavorful. Just be warned that you will need a good thin metal spatula to remove some of these from the pan as potstickers do live up to their name.
place the dumplings in a pan with a little vegetable oil
fry and steam to get crispy bottoms and tender tops
These vegetarian potstickers were quite successful. As I mentioned above, do try to fill them up because the dumplings with less filling look a little emaciated out of the pan. The flavor and texture were spot on and the leftovers reheated well, too. You can always modify the filling according to your tastes. Cooked eggplant, garlic chives, cellophane noodles, cooked mung bean sprouts are just a few other ideas I’ve had. So now I’ve finally got a nice vegetarian version of one of my favorite Chinese dishes!
serve with a dipping sauce
it’s vegan friendly, too
Vegetarian Chinese Potstickers (Dumplings)
based on my potstickers and No Recipes’ vegan ground meat
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-3/4 cup warm water
more flour for your work surface
1 lb. firm tofu in water, frozen completely (for at least 24 hours) and thawed
3 tbsps vegetable oil
5 stalks green onions, minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
2 cups napa cabbage leaves (just the green parts), shredded or chopped
2 blocks (about 5 oz.) savory baked tofu, minced
1/2 – 1 cup (about 8-16) dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water, stems trimmed off, minced
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, minced
3 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps sesame oil
2 tbsps cornstarch
Make the dough, Method 1: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour 1/2 cup of the warm water in until incorporated (add more if the dough is too dry). Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky. [Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water). Cover the dough with a damp towel for 15 minutes.
Make the dough, Method 2 (my mom’s instructions): In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch. Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes.
Crumble the tofu: Remove the thawed tofu from its liquid. Holding the tofu over a colander in the sink (to catch stray pieces of tofu), squeeze out as much liquid as possible by pressing the tofu between the palms of your hands. Run cold water over the tofu and then squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Continue to do this until the water squeezed out of the tofu runs clear (more or less). Break the tofu into palm-sized pieces and squeeze out as much water as you can with one hand. Crumble the squeezed out tofu pieces until they resemble ground meat.
Make the filling: Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the green onions and fresh ginger together. After the oil becomes fragrant, add the cabbage and stir-fry until wilted (a minute or so). Stir in the crumbled tofu and the baked tofu and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Remove the filling from the stove. Mix in the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Stir together until well mixed. Set aside.
Make dumpling wrappers: Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon or two of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side. Refer to the photographs here. For vegetarian dumplings, it helps to fill the wrappers relatively full to maintain a nice rounded shape when cooked.
To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.
To boil (dumplings): Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.
To steam (dumplings): Place dumplings on a single layer of napa cabbage leaves or on a well-greased surface and steam for about 6 minutes.
To freeze: Assemble dumplings on a baking sheet so they are not touching. Freeze for 20-30 minutes until dumplings are no longer soft. Place in ziploc bag and freeze for up to a couple of months. Prepare per the above instructions, but allow extra time to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked.
To serve: Serve dumplings or potstickers hot with your choice of dipping sauce combinations: soy sauce, red wine vinegar, black vinegar, sesame oil, chili garlic paste, chopped garlic, minced fresh ginger, green onions, chili oil.
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