The thought of making some foods at home can be intimidating. For me, Asian dumplings fall into that camp.
I surprised myself a few weeks ago while planning a week's worth of meals by deciding to make pork and shiitake mushroom pot stickers, a recipe ripped from the pages of Cooking Light magazine.
I didn't plan to whip these up on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, but rather on a Tuesday night. If my toddler started screaming for food, I figured I could throw some peanut butter crackers her way until the dumplings were done.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that dumplings - made with store-bought wrappers - are so easy to make. Best of all, the recipe made a lot more than we could eat in one meal, so I had a plastic bag full of pot stickers to stash in the freezer for a future weeknight feast.
This revelation was no surprise to cookbook author Nancie McDermott, who has written extensively about Asian cooking, especially Thai cuisine. Her advice to home cooks: "Go for it. It's easier than ravioli."
Despite their often picture-perfect presentation, Andrea Nguyen, author of the Viet World Kitchen blog and the cookbook Asian Dumplings, said dumplings aren't meant to be fussy. They are traditionally made with ingredients home cooks have on hand and are easily adaptable. (Do what I did. Don't have ground pork? Use Italian or breakfast sausage. Don't have green onions? Substitute cooked greens and more garlic.)
They also don't have to be pretty.
"Once you have a dumpling made, get the darn thing closed," Nguyen said. "If you think of them that way, then you don't view them as so foreign or so precious."
Dumplings lend themselves to various preparations: boiling, steaming, pan-frying and frying, Nguyen said.
"It is a very versatile food," she said. "As a home cook, you can really wow people."
Don't fret about finding the correct store-bought wrapper. Wonton wrappers are thinner, square sheets, typically used to make wontons for soup. Gyoza wrappers are three-inch round wrappers, used to make pot-stickers and other dishes.
After I realized I'd used wonton wrappers to make pot stickers, McDermott reassured me: "They are completely interchangeable."
That's just one more reason to love dumplings.
Many large grocery stores have a good stock of Asian ingredients, but consider shopping at an Asian grocery.
Cookbook author and Asian food expert Andrea Nguyen has an excellent website, www.asiandumplingtips.com
If you want to dig deeper into dumplings, consider these books:
Quick & Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2008) and Simply Vegetarian Thai: 125 Real Thai Recipes (Robert Rose, 2015), both by Nancie McDermott.
Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press, 2009).
The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads, by Florence Lin (Quill, 1993).
Makes 40 pot stickers
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
4 ounces thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
5 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces lean ground pork
40 gyoza skins or round wonton wrappers
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
11/2 tablespoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste, aka Rooster sauce) Cooking spray
1. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add sesame oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add 1/2 cup onions, garlic, ginger and mushrooms; stir-fry 3 minutes. Remove from pan; cool slightly. Combine mushroom mixture, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, hoisin sauce, pepper and pork in a medium bowl.
2. Arrange 8 gyoza skins on a clean work surface; cover remaining skins with a damp towel to keep them from drying. Spoon about 11/2 teaspoons pork mixture into center of each skin. Moisten edges of skin with water. Fold in half; press edges together with fingertips to seal. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch; cover to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining gyoza skins and pork mixture.
3. Combine hot water and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add remaining 1/4 cup green onions, remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce, vinegar and chile paste, stirring with a whisk until well-combined.
4. Heat a large heavy skillet over high heat. Generously coat pan with cooking spray. Add 10 pot stickers to pan; cook 30 seconds or until browned on one side. Turn pot stickers over; carefully add 1/3 cup water to the pan. Cover tightly with a lid; steam 4 minutes. Repeat batches with remaining pot stickers and more water. After cooking, serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Per Pot Sticker: 122 calories; 6 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 2 grams fat; 10 milligrams cholesterol; 281 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 36 Rangoons
4 ounces cream cheese or Tofutti cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (6-ounce) can crabmeat or about 1/4-pound
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon A-1, Tonkatsu or Worcestershire sauce
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
36 wonton skins
Canola oil, for deep frying
Sweet and sour sauce or plum sauce, optional condiment
1. Combine cream cheese, crabmeat, scallions, black pepper, A-1 and garlic powder in a medium bowl. Use a fork to mix well. Taste and add salt, as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes before using, or refrigerate up to a day in advance. Makes about 3/4 cup.
2. Fill each wonton skin with about 1 teaspoon of the filling. Moisten edges of skin with water. Fold in half; press edges together with fingertips. Place finished wontons on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornstarch. Repeat with wonton skins and filling until done. Cover with a damp towel to prevent drying.
3. Pour enough canola oil into a large deep skillet, wok or Dutch oven for a depth of about 2 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat to about 325 degrees. Working in batches of about 4 to 6, slide wontons into oil and fry about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Use a skimmer or slotted spoon to remove to paper towel-lined plate or wire rack on baking sheet.
4. Serve warm with sweet-and-sour sauce or plum sauce.
Per Rangoon (without condiment): 130 calories; 5 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; no sugar; 3 grams fat; 13 milligrams cholesterol; 281 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.
Makes 48 dumplings
3 medium dried shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium-large shallot, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup diced parsnip
1/2 cup diced celery
About 1/4 teaspoon salt
Six ounces roasted kabocha squash, diced and/or chopped, about 2 cups
About 48 wonton, dumpling or pot sticker skins
Unseasoned rice vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
1. Place dried mushrooms in a bowl. Cover with boiling water; use small plate to submerge under water. Let sit until reconstituted; you may have to drain and replenish boiling water. Trim and chop. Set aside. (Alternatively, you can soak in water overnight.)
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and fry, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until fragrant and turning a golden brown. Add ginger and garlic; cook until aromatic. Then add parsnip, celery and mushrooms. Sprinkle on salt, cook for several minutes, until partway cooked. Taste a piece to test. If needed, splash in water or any leftover mushroom-soaking liquid to coax the cooking. When done, drizzle on some sesame oil, stir to combine, then remove from the heat.
3. Add squash, mix, then taste. Season with extra salt as needed for a savory-sweet flavor. Set aside for about 30 minutes for flavors to develop before using. Makes about 2 cups; it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
4. Place about 2 teaspoons in center of each wonton wrapper. Moisten edges of skin with water. Fold in half; press edges together with fingertips to seal. Place finished dumplings on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornstarch. Repeat with wonton skins and filling until done. Cover with a damp towel to prevent drying.
5. Cook dumplings: Poach them in a pot of boiling water and remove when they look gauzy and puffy, or steam until the skins are translucent, or pan-fry in a skillet with a little water. Serve warm with soy sauce, vinegar and chile oil.