Monday, September 27, 2010
Every family cherishes its food traditions: a secret recipe, an immutable Christmas menu, or a weakness for the starvation foods of the old country.
My family is no different. Our traditions have been largely shaped by my mother, who has a passion for matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. My sisters and I grew up thinking of the former as the ultimate in comfort foods, and the latter as a quaint relic best appreciated by older generations.
This is actually much stranger than it sounds. My mother was born and raised in Macao, with Cantonese as her first language; and my American-born father's parents came from southern China. Although my parents' devotion to Chinese cuisine borders on addiction (and has led to ill-advised pursuits of dim sum in such places as Cairo and Budapest), at home, their refrigerator sometimes resembles the reach-in at the Carnegie Deli--with a few jars of pickled ginger and chili bean sauce thrown in.
When I was small, this seemed like a perfectly normal state of affairs: there was Chinese food, and "American" food. And what could be more American than a freshly toasted bagel piled high with lox and the up-from-the-bootstraps, straight-out-of-Horatio-Alger people who claimed it as their own? Since most of my schoolmates at the tiny grade school I attended were Jewish--and comprised the vast majority of the non-Chinese kids I knew--there was little in my experience to disabuse me of the notion that most white people regularly ate lox and matzo balls.
This is all my mother's fault--largely because she began her American experience with the same misconception. Although she was educated in Catholic schools and came to America to study at a Catholic university, her most vivid food memories from that time came from her summer vacations working at Jewish resorts in the Catskills. (Watching Mom’s play-by-play fact-checking of Dirty Dancing when it showed up on cable one night was one of the stranger memories of my youth.) The food at the resorts must have been tasty and plentiful, and my mother's line of reasoning in evaluating it, back in her naïve youth, probably went like this: (1) This is yummy! (2) And so exotic, compared to plain ole winter melon soup and braised sharks' fins and curried crabs! (3) And since it's what Americans eat on their vacations, it must be really fancy too!
Years of trolling the aisles of Williams-Sonoma and watching the Food Network disabused her of the last two of these notions. Yet somewhere in her psyche she must still believe them. Why else would someone who changes our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner side dishes every year, according to the latest dictates of Bon Appétit or Food and Wine, continue--for over four decades--to serve bagels and lox every single Christmas morning?
I only realized the strangeness of this tradition when I enrolled in a Catholic high school, where most of my classmates had never even heard of lox. Until this point in my life, there didn't seem to be anything odd about fighting my sisters for a scrap of cold fish while listening to Handel's Messiah. So I tried to justify it: Jesus was Jewish, after all (yes! that must be it!), or more prosaically, toasting up a bunch of bagels is easier for a busy mom than making omelets. But there had to be more to it than that. My parents were genuinely fond of their little tradition. Deep in her heart, Mom probably still believes our Christmas morning bagels and lox are a treat to be cherished--and growing up, so did we.
And we do still. Our family's holiday celebrations continue to evolve and change, but our Christmas lox remains an unquestioned, immutable constant.
Two Christmases ago, my then-two-year-old nephew -- himself a fairly new addition to our holiday festivities -- had his initiation into this family tradition. In classic toddler fashion, he fussed over everything my poor sister tried to feed him that morning -- he didn't want cereal, took no interest in cut-up pieces of bagel, and made it abundantly clear he would rather watch TV than eat pieces of banana and orange. Just out of curiosity, my brother-in-law offered him a tiny morsel of lox -- barely the size of my pinkie nail. And to our surprise, he happily gobbled it down -- then opened his mouth for more.
One of the virtues of salmon, besides its yumminess, is its healthfulness: cold-water fish such as salmon are supposed to be good for promoting healthful cholesterol levels and otherwise keeping one alive and well. Another virtue of salmon is that because it is so richly flavored, a little can go a long way -- especially if the salmon is cured or smoked.
Here is a good post-Christmas dish: low in cholesterol and high in flavor. Its (trans-fat-free!) creaminess, combined with the savory notes of smoked salmon echo, vaguely, the flavor profile of cream cheese and lox. The egg-free fresh pasta recipe is inspired by one in The Artful Vegan: Fresh Flavors from the Millennium Restaurant, a book that can best be described as vegan food porn.
LEMON-PEPPER FETTUCINI WITH CREAMY SMOKED SALMON SAUCE
For the lemon-pepper fettucini:
1 cup fine semolina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
finely grated and chopped zest of 1 lemons
1/4 cup water
1. Combine all ingredients. Knead on a clean surface for about two minutes, until the dough is smooth.
2. Divide the dough into four balls. Wrap them in plastic and allow them to rest about half an hour before rolling.
3. With a pasta machine, roll the dough into sheets of medium thickness, then cut them into 1/2-inch thick strands.
4. To cook: toss the strands into a large pot of boiling water and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.
5. To store the pasta for later, coil the strands loosely into nests (the goal is to keep the strands fairly separate so they will dry evenly and won't stick together) and place in a well-ventilated area until they are completely dry.
CREAMY SMOKED SALMON SAUCE
3/4 cup shredded smoked salmon
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
chopped fresh dill or parsley for garnish (optional)
1. Simmer the soy milk and shallots together in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the the soy milk has the consistency of heavy cream. The volume will reduce by about a half.
2. Add the salmon and simmer until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Toss with the cooked pasta, top with optional parsley or dill, and serve immediately.
Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main course.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Making things makes me happy. Friends and family often give me knitting yarn and cookbooks for my birthday instead of sweaters and dinners out. Nothing is more soul-filling for me than watching some useful – and sometimes tasty – object coming into being in my hands.
But last week was one of those rare periods when I feeling too stressed and slothful to make anything. And because the universe is perverse, it’s always at times when I least feel like cooking that I most desperately crave something special to eat. And last week, I really wanted something flaky and sweet.
If I still lived back in Los Angeles or Vancouver, I’d simply go out and find a French bakery that made perfectly authentic pains au chocolat, or a dim sum place with tiny tarts filled with sunny yellow custard, warm from the oven. But I’m not in either of these places anymore. Gainesville has many virtues, but its primary contribution to the culinary world is Gatorade. Enough said.
So if I wanted a comforting, flaky little treat, I’d have to make it myself.
Before dragging my sorry carcass into the kitchen, I thought about what I could make that would be flaky and sweet, yet easy to make. Then I remembered my very favorite dough from cooking school, which I haven’t made in a criminally long time: blitz puff pastry.
Blitz puff pastry is a quickie shortcut variant of regular puff pastry, which is one of the best things a human being can eat. Regular puff pastry forms the flaky, buttery, sometimes puffed-up base for classic French pastries such as napoleons. It’s also used to enclose savories, such as beef Wellington.
The beauty of blitz puff can’t be appreciated without an understanding of its dressier counterpart. When you bite into a treat made with classic puff pastry, you will encounter hundreds of brittle, paper-thin layers of buttery goodness. To make these layers, a baker must spread a dough made from flour and water with soft, but not liquid butter, then repeatedly fold the dough over the butter, flatten it with a rolling pin, and fold it again. Each fold generates new layers of dough separated by butter. The puffiness comes from steam from the melting butter as the pastry bakes: the expanding steam, trapped between the dough layers, separates and puffs up the layers as they cook.
There’s one catch to making classic puff, though. It takes several hours (the dough needs to rest and chill between folds) and a bit of finesse to make. And I was in no mood for finesse. I just wanted something nice to eat. Now.
And that’s where blitz puff comes in.
Blitz puff is an elegant crossbreed between a pie dough and a classic puff pastry, and it has the added advantage of being harder to screw up than either of these. The first part of its production is rather like making a pie dough: you mix flour, water, and pieces of butter together so that the butter stays in distinct, large lumps suspended in the dough. The second part is a speeded-up version of puff pastry production: the butter-lump-filled dough is folded over itself, rolled flat, then refolded several times so that the butter flattens and forms layers within the dough. (As with regular puff, the trick here is to get the butter warm and soft enough to flatten out between the dough layers, but not so warm that it melts into the dough.) Since the dough doesn’t need to rest between folds, a batch of blitz puff can be yours in just minutes – especially if you have a reservoir of frustration that you’d like to vent with a rolling pin.
The resulting pastry, when baked, has the buttery flavor and most of the puffiness of a classic puff pastry, but the flaky, tender texture of a well-made pie crust. It lacks the brittle, articulated layers of classic puff, but takes only a fraction of the time to make.
‘Blitz’ is German for ‘lightning,’ which suggests how fast blitz puff is intended to be made. Back in cooking school, my favorite chef once did a demo on blitz puff: he invited my classmates and I to time him as he made a batch from beginning to end. He was a huge guy, well over six feet and built like a linebacker, and when he worked that blitz dough, he threw his entire 300-pound body weight –BOOM! – onto the workbench. In less than a minute, the one-man rumble was over, and a neat little rectangle of dough sat where a mass of flour, ice water, and butter had been only seconds before..
Then he made the dough into fruit turnovers that emerged from the oven so flaky, airy and light they practically floated off the baking sheet.
It took me more than a minute to make my blitz puff – including the time I needed to measure out my ingredients, it was more like 10 minutes. I used some of the dough to make some turnovers filled with end-of-the-season nectarines, and stashed the rest away in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic, for later.
Yes, I know my project would have been quicker still if I had simply used store-bought frozen puff pastry (which can be quite good). But even in the midst of my slothful funk, I knew this pastry was something I needed to make from scratch, by myself. Making things always makes things better.
BLITZ PUFF PASTRY
3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup ice water (more or less, as needed)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1. Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl.
2. Add the butter slices. Rub the slices into the flour until large, irregular flakes (just under 1 inch) form. The butter flakes should be soft enough to bend, but shouldn’t be allowed to get mushy.
3. Gradually sprinkle in enough ice water to hold the flour together. The flakes of butter should still remain distinct as you mix the water into the dough. Do not over-mix.
4. If the dough seems rubbery or the butter starts to liquify, cover the dough and refrigerate it for about half an hour. This will make it easier to roll (if rubbery) and keep the butter flakes intact.
5. To roll the dough: Lightly flour your work surface. If you chilled your dough, remove it from the refrigerator a few minutes before rolling. Then roll the dough into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle.
6. Fold the two short ends of the rectangle so that they almost meet in the middle. Then fold the rectangle in half at the point where the folded-in ends meet.
7. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and roll it out into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle again. Lightly flour the rolling surface or dough if the dough starts to stick.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 twice.
9. The blitz puff is now ready to use! If not using immediately, wrap the dough tightly in plastic and refrigerate or freeze.
LAZY NECTARINE TURNOVERS
2/3 batch blitz puff
3 large nectarines, peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼” pieces
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 beaten egg (optional)
sugar for sprinkling (optional)
1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
2.Heat the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. When it sizzles, add the nectarines and sugar. Cook until the nectarines are tender and the sugar is dissolved. Taste as you go and add more sugar if needed. Set mixture aside to cool
3. Roll out the blitz puff on a floured surface into a 12-inch square. Cut the square into four 6-inch squares.
4. Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the cooled nectarine filling into the middle of each square. Fold each square in half diagonally and firmly seal the edges. Do not overfill the turnovers or they’ll leak when baked.
5. Place the turnovers several inches apart from each other on a baking sheet. If desired, brush them lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle the egg wash with sugar. (The egg becomes golden and glossy when baked.)
6. Bake the turnovers for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and browned.
Monday, September 13, 2010
A Canadian friend from college liked to say that Canada is more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. I wasn't sure what he meant by this at the time -- but I finally understood years later, when I moved to Vancouver for a teaching position at the University of British Columbia.
The neighborhood I moved to, Kitsilano, was unlike any I’d ever encountered in the States. It was centered on a street portentously named Broadway, and this was, predictably, a wide, busy thoroughfare. What was odd to my urban American sensibilities, though, was the tiny scale of the buildings and shops lining this major artery. There were a few big chain supermarkets and fast-food outlets, but the vast number of businesses along Broadway were small, quirky, and family owned. As I was soon to discover, Kitsilano was walk-able and wonderful.
What I loved most about Broadway was its colorful and varied inventory of little food shops. There was a Safeway supermarket only a block from my place, but I discovered it was cheaper and way more fun to shop like the locals: I’d buy my vegetables and fruit at a little Chinese-owned produce stand; my coffee, spices, and pasta at another Chinese-owned grocery/imported food emporium just down the road; and my cheese and other dairy products at a Greek-owned grocery that always had the freshest feta and house-made yogurt. For treats, I could go to a tiny, well stocked wine shop; an old-school Italian delicatessen and bakery, or a terrific Malaysian hole-in-the-wall that made succulent Hainan chicken rice and laksa noodle soup.
While strolling between these shops, I’d peek into the numerous Greek bakeries scattered throughout the neighborhood, all featuring unfamiliar but beautiful little pastries and cookies, and around Easter, big braided wreaths of bread studded with bright red hard-boiled eggs. On Saturday mornings, when I did my weekly grocery run, the tables at these bakeries were filled with old men in porkpie hats, conversing energetically in Greek over coffee and pastries. Occasionally, one would bark out an order to the person behind the counter, who was usually young and hip-looking enough to be one of my students—and this hip young person would answer back deferentially in Greek.
Walking into any of these places was like visiting another country: the sights, smells, and language spoken in each of them were distinct. Of course, I had shopped at ethnic markets and bakeries of every sort back in Los Angeles, where I grew up —but I’d never seen so many, representing such a diverse range of cultures, so close to each other, and so vibrantly integrated into the greater community. People young and old spoke to their compatriots in Greek or Cantonese and to everyone else in fluent English. And Anglo-Canadian customers at these little shops were perfectly at ease with this. Nobody ever asked the Greek cheese-maker where the Kraft singles were. Nobody ever shook a fist at one of those old men in porkpie hats, yelling, “This is Canada! Speak Canadian!”.
Back in Los Angeles, entering an ethnic grocery could be a fraught experience. Shopkeepers and regular customer sometimes seemed to resent or distrust outsiders. Even in Chinese markets, I’d get the cold shoulder because of my near-non-existent Chinese language skills. But on my weekend forays through the little shops of Kitsilano, I had no such worries. If I asked dumb questions about some basic Greek or Indonesian food product, someone would politely answer them – in English. And this kindly soul would usually make a sale.
At first, I merely marveled at this alien social dynamic and assumed it was a happy quirk of the neighborhood. But it later dawned on me that the cheek-by-jowl Chinese and Greek markets of Kitsilano and the welcoming attitude of local shopkeepers embodied my Canadian friend’s vision of his homeland as a grand tossed salad. Each immigrant culture proudly contributed its unique color and vision to the Canadian landscape, while remaining comfortably distinctive – and comfortable with the cultures and mores of its neighbors.
Later still, I realized why I sometimes got that weird treatment in ethnic markets back in the States: it wasn’t that the owners and regulars had anything personal against outsiders. It was that they feared their cultural distinctiveness would be lost forever in the American melting pot. And they decided -- wrongly and regrettably -- that the only way to keep what was precious to them was to keep everyone else at bay.
I’ve thought often about those little shops in Kitsilano since moving away, and I miss them still. Of course, Canada is not without ethnic tensions of its own, and the US has its share of thriving multicultural communities. My current hometown is one of these. But try as I might, I’ve never been able to find a place here where I could buy hand-made baklava and freshly pressed tofu and gai lan within walking distance of each other, with the hum of Greek and Cantonese conversation in the background.
One of the things I miss most about Kitsilano is the huge number of places where one can sate a craving for sweets. In honor of my old neighborhood, I’ve engineered a love child between Greek baklava and Chinese dessert dim sum, inspired by Kitsilano’s two dominant food cultures. It has the structural bones of a classic Greek baklava (crunchy layers of buttery phyllo dough drenched in a spiced syrup) with a classic sweet dim sum filling of peanuts, coconut, and sesame. It's the type of little sweet that is often offered to visitors in both Chinese and Greek homes. And in both cultures, it would be the height of rudeness to turn it down.
FAR EAST BAKLAVA
1-1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the nuts and coconut are finely chopped, but not pasty. Set mixture aside until you’re ready to assemble the baklava.
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
¼ cup honey
½ stick cinnamon
2 slices peeled, fresh ginger (each should be about the size of a nickel and about ¼ inch thick)
2 teaspoons lime juice
1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Remove pan from heat as soon as the mixture starts to boil. Do not allow it to reduce.
3. When the syrup is cool, transfer it to a storage container and put it in the refrigerator. The syrup needs to be cold when poured over the cooked baklava, so should be made ahead of time.
½ pound phyllo dough, thawed
6 ounces (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
Equipment: a 9-1/2 x 14 inch baking pan or slightly larger cookie sheet
1. Grease the baking pan or cookie sheet. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough, keeping it covered as you work so it doesn’t dry out and become brittle. Keep the butter warm and liquid as you work.
2. Place a sheet of phyllo in the bottom of the greased baking pan. Smooth it out to remove any wrinkles, and brush its entire surface with melted butter. (The brand of phyllo I used came in sheets that fit a 9-1/2 x 14 inch pan almost exactly; if your sheets are larger, cut them to fit.) Repeat this process until you have 10 layers of buttered phyllo. When layering the phyllo sheets, try to avoid getting air pockets between the layers.
3. Sprinkle 1/3 of the filling evenly over the10 layers of buttered phyllo.
4. Top the filling with a sheet of phyllo, brush the sheet with melted butter, then top with a second sheet of phyllo and brush that with butter as well.
5. Repeat 3-4 once.
6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the filling evenly over the phyllo layer, then top with 5 sheets of phyllo, buttering each sheet as you go.
7. Freeze the assembled baklava for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
8. When the baklava is partly frozen, remove it from the freezer. Using a serrated knife, trim the edges and score it into 2-inch squares, cutting through all layers of phyllo. If desired, score each of the squares into two triangles.
9. Bake the baklava until the top layer is golden brown, about 50 minutes.
10. While the baklava is still warm, pour the cold syrup evenly over it so that all pieces are covered. Allow the baklava to cool before serving.
Friday, September 10, 2010
The time has come to state the obvious. For the past few days, my inbox has been filled with anxious messages from friends and family: the crazy Koran burners are from Gainesville! OMG! What are you going to do? I can't believe Gainesville is so filled with crazy people!
My answer: It's not. For those who don't know the city, here's the deal: Gainesville is a small city centered around the University of Florida, both physically and spiritually (UF Homecoming Day is a holiday for the entire public school system and even the city's recycling bins come in UF's colors, orange and blue). The city's population can be impressionistically broken down into the following subgroups:
Normal working adults and their families: 50,000
Tobacco chewin' good ole boys who hate those socialist college types but love them Gators!: 15,000
UF faculty who've developed a taste for boiled peanuts but hate those darned local hicks: 2,000
People who claim they're taking class notes on their laptops, but are actually updating their Facebook pages: 25,000
People who are, honest to God, going to file their dissertations this semester, which won't be a repeat of last semester, honest! : 500
Members of fringe religious cults that have lost their tax-exempt status and whose property is currently under foreclosure: 50
Guess which of these groups is the public face of Gainesville these days?
And what are the rest of us doing about it? Yesterday, there was this , and for a while, there has been this and this. Meanwhile, UF's Muslim student group, Islam on Campus, is planning to spend Saturday feeding the homeless and holding a candlelight vigil. They've also advised Muslim groups from out of town not to dignify the burning with their presence.
But of course, measured speeches from the pulpit and grad students in hijabs making sack lunches don't make for particularly dramatic TV. Neither do most reasonable, responsible actions people take on a regular basis. What does get attention is the loud, the obnoxious, and the stupid. Stupid ideas tend to be simple and make good sound bites ("Islam is of the devil!"), while nuanced, truthful ideas don't ("Islam has some radical anti-American adherents, but most of its followers are peaceable").
And since media attention equals legitimacy in the public eye, loud, obnoxious, and stupid people and ideas are seen as forces to be reckoned with. Terry Jones and The Situation are of a piece.
Sadly, this is why the voices of the vast majority of Gainesville's population are being drowned out. It's not that we don't care.
It's just that we're not stupid enough.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
My father grew up in a restaurant. His parents owned the Golden Dragon, a sprawling Chinese eatery in Portland, Oregon that offered egg rolls and grilled-cheese sandwiches on its official menu and bitter melon with black-bean sauce and birds’ nest soup on its unofficial one. He tells stories of after-school hours spent peeling water chestnuts and washing dishes with his brothers and sisters while the flare of hot woks and the rhythm of cleavers filled the busy kitchen. On New Year’s Eve, the kids stayed up all night, serving sweet-and-sour pork and cocktails to mobs of hungry revelers.
Dad’s apprenticeship at the hands of a gifted chef father and savvy manager mother gave him a lifelong love and appreciation of good food and restaurants – and drove him to stay as far away from the culinary biz as possible.
By the time my sisters and I appeared on the scene, Dad generally stayed out of the kitchen. His culinary responsibilities were limited to standard dad stuff – grilling burgers and steaks in the backyard – and a single indoors task: folding wontons.
Wontons – square pasta wrappers folded into elegant little pods around a savory mixture of ground pork, vegetables, and sometimes seafood – are dead easy to make, but there’s a catch: there are no shortcuts for folding them the right way. Our hungry family of six could go through a boatload of them in a single meal, but there was no way Mom could fill and fold all of these herself – not with so much housework to deal with and so much childhood misbehavior to monitor.
So the folding fell to Dad – who brought to the enterprise serious mass wonton-folding chops, courtesy of the Golden Dragon.
I can still see the set-up: it’s Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon, and Dad is at the kitchen table. Mom’s filling, smelling tantalizingly of scallions and sesame oil, sits in a glistening pink mound in a mixing bowl in front of him. Next to the mixing bowl is an open packet of wonton skins, which Dad keeps covered with a towel so they won’t dry out and crack when folded. At his side is a small bowl filled with beaten egg and a kitchen knife (the egg is the glue that holds the wontons together), and somewhere nearby on the table is a baking sheet soon to be filled with perfectly folded wontons.
By time I got to grade school, I wanted to fold wontons too. I was a bit of a tomboy and seriously into origami, and folding wontons fed both these impulses: because Dad was the chief wonton folder in the household, I somehow got it into my head that wonton-making was one of those noble masculine arts, like bug-collecting and compass navigation, that would be worth aspiring too. And properly folded wontons are a thing of geometric beauty. By time I was eight or so, I’d be sitting beside him, folding away. It made me feel powerful and useful.
For whatever reason, none of my sisters ever took an interest in wonton folding, so I got to see something they didn’t. My parents were masters at keeping up a unified front before us kids, but when it came to wonton folding, this seemingly impenetrable facade ever so slightly cracked. Dad often warned me not to overfill the skins, lest they burst wastefully when boiled in soup or deep fried, Meanwhile, Mom, who grew up on decadent meals Dad could only dream of in his youth, always scolded him for the stingy amount of filling he used.
“Fred! This isn’t the Golden Dragon!”
It took me a while to figure out how to fill and fold wontons in a way that kept both Mom and Dad happy. The optimal amount of filling had to be small enough not to cause the wrapper to tear or the seams to come loose when folded, but big enough to offer diners a generous meaty bite or two. In wonton folding, as in a functional family life, patience and little compromises are the boring but sure secrets to success.
Mom always made ginormous batches of wontons so she could keep some in the freezer for later. To freeze uncooked wontons, lay them on a baking sheet so they don’t touch and put the sheet in the freezer until the wontons are frozen solid. Once frozen, the wontons can be transferred to a freezer bag for storage. On a cold weeknight when you don’t feel like cooking, take some out of the bag, allow them to thaw, and throw them into a pot of simmering broth for a comforting dinner.
I’ve adjusted the recipe to make a more modest number of wontons—only about 100. I’ve also included instructions for the two most common ways of serving them, cooked in soup and fried. The soup recipe serves 2-4; the fried wonton recipe makes as many or as few as you need. Unless you’re serving dozens of people, you’ll still have some wontons left over for the freezer.
Folding all of these will entail about an hour of meditative handiwork for one person, or a pleasant bonding experience for two.
LEE FAMILY WEEKEND WONTONS
For the filling:
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced scallions, both white and green parts
¾ cup finely shredded Chinese (Napa) cabbage
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
For the wontons:
1 package wonton wrappers (available in the refrigerated or frozen foods sections of Asian specialty grocers or better supermarkets)
1 beaten egg or ¼ cup water
For wonton soup:
1 liter chicken broth
2 scallions, thinly sliced
sliced, cooked meat and/or chopped vegetables of your choice (optional)
For fried wontons:
Neutral cooking oil (such as canola) for deep frying
Sweet and sour and/or hoisin sauce
1. Thoroughly combine all the filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Get ready to fold a wonton: Take a wonton wrapper and hold it in your non-dominant hand. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of the skin. Using a knife or small pastry brush, wet the edges of the skin with water or egg.
3. The first fold is simple: Fold the skin in half diagonally so that it completely encases the filling. Press the edges together, being mindful to squeeze out any air bubbles between the filling and the skin. Be sure the edges are completely sealed, with no gaps.
4. The second fold tends to throw people. Your half-folded wonton now looks like a triangular turnover, with one perpendicular corner and two “arms” (long, sharp corners). Dip one of the “arms” of the wonton into egg or water. Then pull it towards the other arm and press the arms together so that the top surface of one of them is firmly glued to the bottom surface of the other.
The finished wonton should look something like this:
5. Repeat 2-4 until the filling and/or wonton skins are exhausted. (Any leftover skins can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in the freezer for use with the next batch. Any leftover filling can be rolled into small balls and dropped into soup as meatballs.) Keep folded wontons and skins covered while you work so they don’t dry out.
6. For wonton soup: Heat broth in a heavy saucepan or pot until it starts to boil. Carefully place about 12 wontons in the pot along with any meat and/or vegetables you’d like to add. (Mom used wonton soup as a convenient repository for leftovers.) When the wontons float to the top of the broth and look wrinkly and translucent, they’re done. Toss the scallions over the soup as a garnish. This amount will serve two or three people as a hearty lunch, or four people as an opener to a larger meal.
7. For fried wontons: Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on impact, add wontons, one at a time. The number that you can add will depend on the size of your pan, but you don’t want them close enough to touch each other. Fry until the undersides are golden brown; flip and fry until the second side is also golden brown. Immediately remove from the oil, drain well on paper towels, and serve hot with sweet and sour or hoisin sauce.