Dumpling Diplomacy

What defines a dumpling? Is it the dough that sets the category? Does the filling play a role in this determination? Would something intangible, something as abstract as cultural origin have greater influence?

This is the question that lingers after watching the comical debate play out on the final episode of Ugly Delicious, a throw down between Italian stuffed pasta versus Asian dumplings. Though the two schools of thought seem crystal clear a first, peel back the wrapper a bit and it becomes more difficult to know where to draw the line. If you put cheese inside of wonton skins, do they become ravioli? Would that classification change if they were boiled, fried, or steamed? Some will undoubtedly be offended by this question, many more will have a strong, irrepressible knee-jerk response, but what I really want to know is whether or not that makes it any less delicious.

Ultimately, that’s the whole point that David Chang is trying to make in this mock trial. The concept itself is deeply flawed and fraught with controversy, considering the immense cultural diversity that each region encompasses, but still, it made me think. How could I merge the two schools of thought into one single bundle of joy, both a peace offering and a tribute to both sides? Extending an olive branch somewhat literally, olives played an important role in the final fusion.

Italian pasta puttanesca, a bold dish redolent of garlic and punctuated by briny twangs of olives and capers inspired the tomato-based filling to these stuffed savories, but they’re all Asian in presentation. Swaddled in delicate gyoza wrappers and seared to a crispy finish on the bottom, these unconventional potstickers lay claim to no single source, but a harmonious melding of culinary techniques, flavors, and ingredients derived from the world at large. Paired with an herbed olive oil dipping sauce, the eating experience is one that defies definition. All remaining disputes will be forgotten if we could put down our proverbial axes and pick up a set of chopsticks- or a fork- instead.

These potstickers come together in a flash with Twin Dragon Gyoza Wrappers holding everything together. I’m entering this recipe into the Twin Dragons Asian Wrapper Blogger Recipe Challenge held by JSL Foods. Find more recipe inspiration on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

If only true world peace was as easily attained as such deeply satisfying, savory results.

Puttanesca Potstickers

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 (14-Ounce) Can Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Pitted Back Olives, Roughly Chopped
1 Tablespoon Petite Capers
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
4 Ounces (1/4 Package) Extra-Firm Tofu
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, Roughly Chopped
1 Package Twin Dragon Gyoza Wrappers

Olive Oil and Herb Dipping Sauce

2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
2 Tablespoons Petite Capers
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
2 Teaspoons Fresh Rosemary, Minced
2 Teaspoons Fresh Thyme, Minced
3 Tablespoons Nutritional yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black pepper
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat and add the garlic. Saute until lightly browned and aromatic; about 4 – 6 minutes. Introduce the tomatoes, juice and all, along with the dried tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano, and red pepper. Thoroughly drain and crumble the tofu before adding it last, stirring to incorporate. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until any excess liquid has evaporated. Add the fresh basil last and cool completely before proceeding.

To assemble the potstickers, take one wrapper at a time, keeping the rest of the stack covered with a lightly moistened towel to prevent them from drying out. Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center, lightly moisten the edges with water, and fold the wrapper in half, pleating and crimping the top to seal. (Here’s a handy visual guide if you’re having trouble.) Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.

At this point, you can either proceed straight to cooking the dumplings, or freeze them for a later date. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan and store in an airtight container in the freeze for up to 2 months, if desired.

When you’re ready to heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. When oil is hot, place enough potstickers in the skillet to fill but not crowd the vessel, pleat-side up. Sear hard for about 1 minute before adding 2 tablespoons water in the skillet. Cover immediately and reduce the heat to medium. Cook covered until the water is evaporated and potstickers are cooked through; about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the dipping sauce by simply mixing everything together in a small bowl.

Remove the cover and flip one potsticker to see whether the bottom side is deeply burnished and crisp. If not, continue to cook until the bottom side turns golden brown. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil and potstickers. Serve hot with herbed dipping sauce, asap.

Makes About 50 – 60 Gyoza and 1/2 Cup Dipping Sauce

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Carbivore

WAIT! Before you start folding up the picnic table and packing away the lawn darts, let’s pretend like it’s still summer for just a little bit longer, please? While everyone else rushes to embrace the new pumpkin-infused season, plenty of warm, sunny days remain in the forecast yet, with much of the west coast in particular still due for a solid heatwave soon. Despite what the calendar may tell you, take a look outside before donning that heavy sweater. Let’s party like fall is but a distant concept for later days, concerning only overly cautious weathermen determined to throw shade on our fun.

My encouragement is of course entirely self-serving, but you see, it would be a shame to sit on this great pasta salad for another full year. Inspired by a trip to Baia Pasta, my neighbors in Oakland that I never knew lived next door all along, such incredible noodles need little ornamentation to shine on any table.

These small-batch artisan noodles are making a big splash nationwide thanks to an obsessive level of passion for every detail. Obvious considerations are the specific amounts of protein, moisture, type of flour, but what about the drying temperature and time? Procuring the unique shapes and the obscure dies to extrude them? Determining the types of wheat that can endure such a demanding process without breaking, dissolving, or crumbling under the pressure? That’s to say nothing of the unconventional seasonings blended into some of the more colorful pastas, giving rise to a full rainbow of bright, bold flavors.

Organic durum, whole durum, spelt, whole spelt, and whole khorasan wheat are the foundations of each charming twist, twirl, and tube. Pale, limp spaghetti strands are no where to be seen here, and you’d never miss them in the first place.

To fully celebrate such an exquisite yet uncomplicated staple, the greatest (and most challenging) task for the cook is to simply not mess with perfection. It’s already great as is- What more could one add?

In this case, my inclusions are more like additional refrains of the chorus, echoing and underscoring what already got the crowd off their feet to sing. Beautiful Organic Durum Wheat Flavored Soup Radiatori (Dynamos) are infused with beets, spinach, and tomatoes, which are exactly the same guests I invited to harmonize. Yes, that’s why it’s the BeST pasta salad, but for more than that cute pun alone. Accented with an invigorating punch of fresh basil, savory yet subtle white miso, and a light kiss of buttery avocado oil, it might very well be best dish of the season altogether, if we can sneak this last ode to summer in, right under the wire.

Smothering any of the superlative pastas from Baia with a heavy sauce seemed a crime, though I’ll readily admit, later experiments with mac and cheese were a stunning success…

But that can wait for colder days. For now, let’s revel in the fading sunlight, the last call of summer, until we reach the very bottom of the bowl.

BeST Pasta Salad

2 Cups Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 Medium Gold Beet, Peeled and Spiralized
8 Ounces Rainbow Radiatori Pasta, Cooked, Rinsed in Cold Water, and Thoroughly Drained
4 Cups Baby Spinach
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Clove Garlic, Very Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil
3 Tablespoons Sherry Vinegar
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

As you might imagine, this pasta salad comes together very quickly and easily. If you’ve gone through the trouble of prepping the ingredients as listed, you probably aren’t even reading this instruction right now. That’s okay; I wouldn’t bother either. Simply toss everything together until well blended, and either enjoy immediately, or chill for up to 4 hours. Savor a taste of summer all over again.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings

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Printed, Published, Imperfect

Every time a book is published, print set to dry and locked in place for all eternity, a certain number of errors and omissions are inevitably sealed in at the same time. Some are more egregious than others, but any blemish on a beloved manuscript is hard for any passionate author to accept. Luckily, it seems that nothing untoward was baked into the cake for Real Food, Really Fast, but what wasn’t included feels like a terrible personal failing that’s hard to accept.

Somehow, despite best scrupulous proofreading and tireless testing, my Samosa Gnocchi managed to miss the last call and got left behind on the digital cutting board. Though simple in their final format, those spicy potato dumplings went through the gantlet and back to achieve perfection, making it an even greater shame that they couldn’t join the party.

Luckily, it seems as though the book is on track for many more re-printings to come, and in the meantime, I’m happy to share these spicy morsels to celebrate such success. In fact, Real Food, Really Fast has been selected as a featured ebook until May 23rd on Amazon.com which means you can snap up a digital copy for the fire sale price of just $1.99. If you haven’t poured over these pages yet, now is your chance to do it on the cheap!

Samosa Gnocchi

Plain potato gnocchi are about as exciting as white bread, which is why they rarely showed up on my dinner plate before I considered that baseline as just a blank canvas to build upon. Fix them up with a pinch of curry powder, for example, and you could consider each starchy sphere as merely a naked samosa, stripped of its deep-fried pastry shell. Akin to dried pasta, packaged gnocchi make fast work of this preparation, lending a toothsome bite to each chewy orb. As a brilliantly spiced side dish that could complement a wide range of proteins or simple stews, you’ll never accuse this humble spud of being bland again.

1 (16 – 17 Ounce) Package Potato Gnocchi
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 1/2 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed
Mango Chutney*, to Serve (Optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and pop in the gnocchi, using a spatula to gently break them apart. Cook just shy of al dente as the dumplings will continue to soften in the curry sauce. In some cases, this might amount to only 1 or 2 minutes in the water, so keep a close eye on the process and test frequently by poking the pieces with a fork. Drain and rinse with cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

In a medium saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add in the par-boiled gnocchi. Spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible, and resist the urge to stir for about two minutes, allowing them to dry and very lightly toast. Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, both spice mixtures, and salt before pouring them into the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low, mix thoroughly, and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes longer, until the sauce coats the gnocchi nicely. Toss in the thawed peas and serve with mango chutney on the side, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

*There are more types of chutney on the market than there are days in the year, from creamy coconut to fiery habanero varieties, but one of my favorites is made from mango. You can pick up a jar of it at most grocery stores these days, but you can also throw together a quick version at home, if you have an extra couple of minutes to spare.

Quick Mango Chutney

1 1/2 Cups Diced, Frozen Mango
1/2 Cup Diced Tomato
1/4 Cup Diced Yellow Onion
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Place the mango and all ingredients in a microwave safe dish, stir well, and heat on full power for 4 – 7 minutes. The fruit should be softened, syrupy, and well-seasoned. This chutney will keep well if stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 2 Cups

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Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peas

Some may find it crude. Some may be downright offended. I’ve simply decided to fully embrace all the pea-ness that this fleeting spring harvest has to offer. Really, there’s no way of going back at this point. I’ve already pea’d on my pizza. I even pea’d on my toast– At work, no less! Dining alfreso has been a true joy as the weather continues to improve, allowing me to pea outside with Luka, too. It’s safe to say that I’m going to keep on pea-ing everywhere until this stream of inspiration runs dry.

Did you really think I could resist sharing another pea-s of my mind before the short growing season passed us by? Girl, peas.

Hungry but tired after a full day of work, I seriously had to pea by the time dinner rolled around. Riffling through the fridge and pantry yielded a few delectable treasures to create an instant, effortless peas de résistance. Spinach and ricotta ravioli, quickly sauteed in garlic and butter, needs no further culinary intervention to shine, but a light sprinkle of coarse black pepper and crunchy veggie bacon certainly didn’t hurt.

Still, for all that fancy frippery, the real focal point of this meal was still those glorious green orbs; the overall combination easily a-peas’d my appetite.

Weather or Not

Mentally battered by an assault of inclement weather warnings, you’d think the general public would have staged a revolt against all forecasters at this point. The anxiety and stress piles up faster than the foretold falling flakes, thanks to the added hype that always comes with incessant social media repetition. Nine times out of ten, expectations don’t match the reality of the climate outside, but the hysteria is sure real. So much as suggest that there might be anything less than blue skies and people will turn out from all corners of the earth to wrestle that last roll of toilet paper out of your hands at the grocery store. It’s like a battle of life and death, to secure a stockpile before the world ends, regardless of the pitifully low probability of even flurries.

This is a phenomenon I’ve become somewhat immune to in the generally mild atmosphere of the bay area, but that same illogical impulse still grips me when I’m least expecting it. Rain is the new snow around here, since it appears so rarely and thus cripples unsteady drivers and fragile public transit systems that don’t know how to cope. I still feel the pain of all those back east, hunkering down for a brutal nor’easter right now, undoubtedly hurtling through their local markets as if their shopping carts were assault weapons.

As darkening skies approach, what’s going into your basket? What are the staples that immediately make the cut as sustenance to hold you through those difficult times (maybe even hours!) when the roads are too intimidating to traverse? Practicality is not my strong suit, and so the parade of groceries marching down the conveyor belt at checkout is typically laughable. Peanut butter, bread, frozen peas; sure, those are wise investments. But the random assortment of chocolates, half-priced hummus, and impulse buy mini gnocchi? Those are perhaps a bit less crucial for long-term survival. I would not fare well if ever faced with a real lock-down emergency.

Luckily, my unreasonable yet well-meaning instincts have led me to create some incredible combinations out of those curiously assembled ingredients. Those mini gnocchi, for example, caught my eye as ideal comfort food when the going got rough, and they didn’t disappoint even when the forecast did. There’s never been a better time to indulge in such a recipe, although I can’t say that there would ever come a bad time, either.

Lavished with a buttery cream sauce made of typical pantry staples, it could very well be the new face of emergency rations, despite its less urgent origins. Dauphinoise potatoes typically layers thinly sliced spuds in a casserole concoction, but since pasta keeps longer and is almost always on hand, gnocchi struck me as a natural extension of the concept. In more dire times, or healthier mindsets, I realized that swapping out the dumplings for simple legumes like chickpeas could make for an equally satisfying, comforting side dish, too. It’s all the same starchy, savory, subtly salty flavors which meld into an effortless indulgence in the end.

If you haven’t already gone through the throes of panic-induced grocery shopping, may I make three quick suggestions? 1) Make a list. 2) Avoid the candy aisle. 3) Write in mini gnocchi as a necessity, no matter how silly it may appear at first glance. You’ll thank me for this later.

Gnocchi Dauphinoise

1 Pound Mini Potato Gnocchi
1/3 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Gently separate the mini gnocchi and toss them into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. They’re so small that they don’t need to be parboiled before baking.

Toss all of the remaining ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulverize on the highest setting until perfectly silky smooth. If you’re using a machine that has a bit less torque, soak the cashews for at least 4 hours in advance before blender, to make them a bit softer and easier to emulsify. Blend for a full 6 – 8 minutes, until the mixture is steaming hot.

Pour the cashew cream all over the waiting gnocchi before easing the dish into the oven. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the gnocchi are fork-tender and the liquid is thick and rich. Top with freshly chopped parsley, if desired, and serve bubbling hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings as a Side; 2 – 3 Servings as an Entree with Salad

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