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Congratulations, Megan!! This picture above was taken when Megan came to visit for Bulldog Days a few weeks ago, a weekend in which admitted students are invited to visit Yale, attend classes, meet student groups, etc.  She’s since decided to matriculate at Yale, and we are thrilled she’ll be joining us in New Haven! We’re anticipating plenty of culinary adventures with this lovely little sister who runs a baking business to raise money for a school in Nicaragua in her spare time!

But moving on to the food… there are a few foods that Greg just can’t get enough of, and wontons and dumplings are two of them. Whenever we go to Boo-Boo’s, Greg has at least 25 dumplings for lunch, then intermittently snacks on the leftovers throughout the duration of our time there, before we leave with cooler-bags full of more frozen dumplings. In Boo-Boo’s house, there is always a plethora of dumplings and usually a good stock of wontons as well. In our house however, we have to make them ourselves without the speed and skill of an 86-year-old lady, and making them is often an hours-long training in delayed gratification.

I believe these wontons are made in the Szechuan style (but as I’m not Szechuanese, experts in Chinese cuisine should feel free to correct me), with spicy hot chili oil and a pungent potpourri of finely minced garlic, ginger, and scallion. This spicy oil could be good in a number of things — ginger carrot soup, lightly sauteed bok choy, sesame noodles — though should be made fresh each time.

紅油 (Red Oil)

1 T finely minced garlic*
1 T finely minced ginger
1 T crushed red pepper (or other chiles of your choice)
1/4 c neutral oil (peanut, canola)
1/4 c chopped scallions
2 T soy sauce
sesame oil to taste

In a small skillet, heat 1/4 c neutral oil on medium heat. When oil is hot, add in garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper. Stir occasionally to keep from burning. When the garlic and ginger are fragrant, stir in scallions and soy sauce. Remove from heat and drizzle sesame oil to taste.

Tip: Keep in mind that the sesame oil is primarily for flavor and should be added only at the end. It’s a delicate oil and loses its fragrance if cooked too long.

Note that all measurements are estimates, as we don’t ever actually measure the ingredients used in this.

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好漂亮! 好漂亮的餃子!!

I will probably never eat — or certainly, make — dumplings without thinking of my grandmother. Growing up in Taiwan, we used to spend full summers and some winters with Boo-Boo and Gong-Gong in the wonderfully diverse borough of Queens. Boo-Boo was one of the courageous ones, you know, the immigrants who come to the U.S. with not a word of English under her belt but an indefatigable spirit and dreams for her kids. Even now, after 38 years in New York, Boo-Boo speaks just a handful of English phrases but has managed to not only get by, but to become a green-card holder first, then bona fide citizen; to own her home and her expansive backyard and the bamboo that bounds her land; and to raise a crop of well-educated, ambitious grandchildren.

Before I became one of said well-educated, ambitious grandchildren, we used to spend summers and winters lazing away, recovering months missed of American culture through months-long television marathons. These television sessions were interspersed with child’s play around the house and the yard, mandatory penmanship practice (“a man’s penmanship is an unfailing index of his character”), and frequent visits to Flushing for groceries and doctor’s appointments and library books.

Every now and then, we would make dumplings. Boo-Boo systematically, methodically combined handfuls of water with handfuls of flour, stirring with a worn pair of chopsticks until the dough was just right. Covering it, she set it aside, turning her attention to the very large head of Napa cabbage that needed to be chopped ever so finely and mixed in with ground pork for the dumpling filling. Undaunted by the sheer amount of work, Boo-Boo rhythmically chopped and chopped until the cabbage was ready, her work interrupted every ten minutes or so by granddaughters momentarily pausing for commercials. Once the filling was prepared, the square black and white kitchen became a stomping ground with flour flying and quirky doughy letters and shapes being formed in lieu of proper dumplings.

It’s hard writing about grandparents sometimes. There’s something about the immigrant narrative that gets lost from generation to generation. A college friend of mine, Korean American and also an English major, once thought to write a cookbook of her grandmother’s recipes interposed with vignettes from her life, stories of escape from northern Korea, settling into life in America, etc. Boo-Boo’s life story is comparable — fleeing from the communists; raising four children in a foreign country not once, but twice; relying on the help of Northern Chinese neighbors to teach her to use flour to make dumplings as the Southern Chinese historically eat rice only. In any case, it’s my hope and her hope that she’ll be around for quite a few more years, as somebody needs to teach her great-grandchildren how to make Chinese food .

Napa Cabbage – Ground Turkey Dumplings

1/2 head of Napa cabbage
1 1/2 lb ground turkey or pork
2 scallions
2 inches of fresh ginger
4 T soy sauce
3 T rice wine vinegar
salt

1 lb dumpling wrappers (not won-ton wrappers)

Add Napa cabbage to food processor. Pulse until cabbage is finely chopped. Add next six ingredients and pulse to combine well.

For a step-by-step guide to wrapping dumplings, see: http://www.chow.com/food-news/55419/how-to-fold-dumplings/

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