Spring Roll/Dumpling Party

November 29, 2011

Last month, my parents were in town and we had a spring roll/dumpling party where a bunch of friends came over and my parents showed us how to make vegetarian dumplings and spring rolls.  It was really fun and delicious. I can’t say that I am entirely confident I can recreate any of it without close supervision, but here is as much as I can remember in terms of step by step directions. Keep in mind that my mom is 100% from the school of some of this, some of that, so it was really difficult to write down any directions, much less quantities!

SPRING ROLLS

Ingredients: shredded seasoned tofu, Taiwanese cabbage, bean sprouts, shitake mushrooms, jalapenos, spring roll skin (You can buy this frozen and defrost before using.)

  1. Chop/dice the ingredients (except the spring roll skin).
  2. Cook the ingredients separately. You have to precook the ingredients because the frying of the spring rolls is so quick that it isn’t enough time to cook the ingredients.
  3. Mix the cooked ingredients together with a little cornstarch to hold them together.  You can also add a little soy sauce and/or sesame oil for added flavor if you want.
  4. We made a dipping sauce for the spring rolls and dumplings with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chopped ginger.

Technique: The technique for rolling and frying the spring rolls is pretty simple. Lay your spring roll skin diagonally so that it looks like a diamond. Put some filling toward the bottom corner. Roll the skin in a couple times, keeping the ingredients tight in the skin.  Then, bring both points of the skin to the left and right in toward the middle, and keep rolling.  There’s no need to secure the end point at the top, but when you fry the spring rolls, fry the side with the “loose” end facing down first.

Cooking: Use a little less than 1 inch of vegetable oil. Wait until the oil gets hot. You can drop a tiny piece of spring roll skin to see if it’s hot enough. If it starts sizzling, it’s hot enough. Then place spring rolls with the “loose” end facing down. When that side gets crispy and golden brown, flip it over. This part is a little scary, but if you think about how close you are to eating delicious spring rolls, you will get over your fear quickly. When both sides are golden brown, remove them from the oil and place them on some paper towels to soak up the excess oil. As soon as they are cool enough, eat them!

DUMPLINGS

Ingredients: seasoned dry tofu, preserved vegetables, chinese chives, celery, dumpling wrappers

  1. Chop/dice the ingredients (except the dumpling wrappers).
  2. Mix the ingredients with a little cornstarch to hold the ingredients together. You can also add a little egg yolk to adhere the dumpling ingredients, but it isn’t really necessary. You can also add a little soy sauce and/or sesame oil for added flavor if you want. You don’t need to pre-cook the ingredients because it takes enough time to cook the dumplings that the ingredients will cook then.

Technique: We made two kinds of dumplings – the kind you can boil (very easy) and the kind to pan fry (takes practice).  For the first kind, you just put some filling in the middle of the dumping skin (not too much or it will explode when you boil it), dip your finger in water, trace a little over half the edge of the skin with your finger, fold the skin in half, and press the edges together gently.  (I forgot to take a picture of those because they weren’t that impressive looking.)

For the second kind, there was a lot of personal experimentation required.  My dad had a really complicated method that involved various permutations of bunny ears, but I couldn’t master it. Based on his instructions, I came up with my own method.  Basically, I think you need to figure out what works for you, but the idea is that you need to have a flat bottom so the dumplings can be pan fried and you don’t want the filling to come up when you cook the dumplings.

Cooking: This was also more challenging than cooking the spring rolls because these are pan fried, not deep fried. Heat a little oil in a pan and when it’s hot, lay the dumplings in the oil flat side down until they’re golden brown.

Next, you need to steam the dumplings to finish cooking them.  To do this, add a little water (less than 1/4 cup) and cover the pan. The steam builds up in the covered pan and cooks the dumplings. The key is to not use too much water or the dumplings will get soggy, which defeats the purpose of pan frying them in the first place.

My dad adds a little water three different times. My mom thinks this is unnecessary and her dumplings do turn out just fine. I still haven’t figured out how to do this right 100% of the time and often end up with soggy dumplings that still taste good, but don’t taste as good as when you do it right. My main advice is to not underestimate how long it takes for the steam to cook the dumplings and to not overestimate how much water it takes to produce enough steam to cook the dumplings.

Time to eat!


Cooking Co-Op/Food Swap

February 1, 2011

Last summer, I had an idea to start a food swap with some friends.  I was inspired by a NY Times article about cooking co-ops and thought it sounded like a great idea, so I emailed some friends who live within a 10 mile radius of my house and thus our food swap began.  It’s been pretty amazing so far, so I thought I’d share in case others want to set one up.  It’s very easy and a really good excuse to make a spreadsheet, which you know I love.

General Rules

Food:

  • All food is vegetarian, although not everyone is a vegetarian.  This has been great as we have all been exposed to lots of new types of grains like quinoa, farro, and millet.  For those who do eat meat, the dishes make great sides too.
  • Each household’s portion is enough for 2 adults, although they are usually larger.

Logistics:

  • There are about seven households that are part of the food swap, but not everyone participates every time.
  • You can participate as frequently or infrequently as you want.  There is a core of about 3 or 4 households that almost always participate and then others that do as their schedules allow.
  • We swap food every other Tuesday night at a rotating location.  It’s pretty quick in and out.  I’ve heard of other food co-ops where people take turns cooking, but in-and-out works best for us because of varying schedules.
  • You have to sign up on our shared spreadsheet by the Friday before to “opt-in”.   When we started, you had to opt in or out, but then if people forgot, it led to inevitable uncertainly whether they were participating, so we changed it to opt-in with a non-participation default.
  • We have started including what we’re making on the spreadsheet to avoid overlap, but even when there has been overlap, it’s been fine (like two different kinds of lasagna, yum!).
  • We now have enough similarly sized tupperware in the rotation that there’s always enough, but there was some initial tupperware investment required.

In case you’re unconvinced, here are some pictures of the bounty from this week’s swap that included vegetarian chili, spicy sweet potato and cabbage stew, baked vegetables and cous cous, shepard’s pie, and homemade bread.

A few other things …

Most things freeze well, so if we feel overwhelmed with all our options (this actually does happen!), we just freeze a few things and save them for later.  We also have a place to post recipes for favorite dishes.  I should disclose, there have been a few misses, but that’s inevitable and that happens when you cook on your own too, so as long as you pick fellow swappers who are relatively good cooks, I think you’re good to go.  Overall, I’d say food swap has been great for saving time and still having home cooked meals instead of resorting to take out or PB&J when we don’t have time to cook ourselves.  So, grab some friends and start your own food swap!


Reluctantly Meatless

December 17, 2010

I love bacon.  I love carnitas.  I love peking duck.  I love fried chicken.  I love pork soup dumplings.  I hate Jonathan Safran Foer.

Okay, so I don’t really hate him, but his book Eating Animals changed/ruined my life.  I read Eating Animals thinking that it would reinforce my already existing practice to only eat grass-fed, free range animals, wild caught sustainable seafood approved by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and lots of veggies.  I live in the Bay Area, home to the slow foods movement, farm to table education, and happy meat, so I thought I was pretty safe from any argument to become a vegetarian.  Not only do I live in the Bay Area, but I live in Berkeley, where there are three farmers’ markets a week and it’s just as easy to buy grass-fed beef from the farmer that raised the cows as it is to buy factory farmed beef.

The thing I forgot about (aka conveniently failed to think about) is that these animals may lead happy lives roaming free in Petaluma, but at some point, someone needs to kill them so I can eat them and because of USDA abattoir (fancy name for a slaughterhouse) regulations, animals often need to be transported long distances to get to these facilities.  These journeys often take hours in cramped, uncomfortable, and sometimes unsanitary conditions.  What’s worse is that my favorite animal to eat, piggies, are really smart, probably as smart or smarter than my beloved dog, so they know exactly what is up – Farmer Brown, their beloved caregiver just sold them out, literally!  For some reason, the image of little piggies freaking out, knowing they are about to be killed, knowing that their friends just got killed right before them, is more than my lefty liberal heart can stand.  So, starting in March, I stopped eating mammals and poultry.  I still eat seafood, but mostly I eat veggies, tofu, fake meat, and let’s be honest, an abundant amount of carbs and dairy.  Clearly I’m not doing this for the nutritional benefits!

Now, let me be perfectly clear, I am not a gungho 110% committed vegetarian.  I have an infrequent, but existing peking duck exception (exercised twice since March) that simultaneously racks me with guilt and delicious hoisin sauced pleasure.  I am dreaming of the day when humane slaughterhouses are just down the road from where happy cows and pigs run free or when I am struck by amnesia and completely forget everything I read in Eating Animals, but until then, I am reluctantly refraining from eating meat.