It’s been over six years since I mooned here over a lost dumpling love. Dumplings are kind of a fixation for me; I am unwaveringly convinced that small pockets of food wrapped elegantly in a thin dough are among the universe’s most perfect foods; portable and petite, servings easily scaled, I dare you to find a nutritious food not improved by an adorable doughy package. The vegetable dumplings that I used to get at a chain of otherwise average west side Chinese restaurants were my all-time favorite; before they changed the recipe, I regularly rerouted my day to stop there for an order, and a beer. (Sidebar: Can we talk about how delicious a cold beer in a glass is with potstickers? No, different conversation, huh? Onwards!)
Anyway, I hope you haven’t mistaken my silence since on the matter as a sign I’ve found any peace. I have not. While I still cannot resist vegetable dumplings/wontons/gyoza/potstickers on any take-out menu, hoping to find within their centers the dumplings I once knew and loved, I’ve had enough mystery vegetable mush to accept that if you want spectacular vegetable dumplings, you’ll want to make them at home.
Not that I do, or at least, not often. All that chopping and pressing and folding can feel like a project, and more than once, my interest in finishing has vanished when my puny counter has been covered end-to-end in a potsticker convention while I still have half a bowl of filling to go.
But last week, I started daydreaming about a vegetable dumpling that was filled not with the usual dull medley of overcooked mushrooms, cabbage and carrots but with an equivalent volume of lightly cooked, bright green spring vegetables — finely chopped asparagus, mellow nutty favas, sweet little peas or the like. Spring is finally here, and I think we should show it some gratitude by taking a break from dull, seasonless vegetables. At last.
The result is everything I’d dreamed it would be, and much less tedious than I remembered, perhaps because, for once, I ended up keeping the volume to a reasonable few dozen — more than enough for dinner, not so much that you’ll be eating them through pumpkin carving season. The flavor is almost as complex as the dumplings I still miss, but distinctly fresher; I think tiny green pockets of spring, seared in a pan and dipped in a potent scallion marinade, with or without a crisp cold drink, could be exactly what your mid-week needs.
New Events: The second book tour may be behind us, but I’m still occasionally (heh) leaving my apartment to speak/sign/demo/etc. here and there. I’ve added new events (including a demo at the Food Book Fair this Friday in Brooklyn) on the Events page, and will include more details as they become available. [Events & Book Touring]
Cookbooks with Custom Inscriptions: Would you like a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook inscribed with a personal note to your mother or another friend or family member? You can do so through the lovely McNally-Jackson in SoHo; the deadline for Mother’s Day orders (so they will arrive in time for Mother’s Day) is Sunday, May 5th. [Smitten Kitchen at McNally Jackson]
One year ago: Cinnamon Toast French Toast + Cookbook Preview (I can hardly believe it’s been a year. *thud*)
Two years ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon
Three years ago: Creamed Chard and Spring Onions and Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Four years ago: Buttermilk Ice Cream and Black Bread
Five years ago: Cauliflower, Bean and Feta Salad and Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca
Six years ago: Chicken Empanadas with Chorizo and Olives
Spring Vegetable Potstickers
This is a flexible recipe, so don’t fret if you don’t have the exact ingredient list. Scallions could be spring onions. Garlic chives could be regular chives, or scallions tops instead. The tofu could be silkier. If you’re not into tofu (like this guy I married, but he will still eat it in this or that), here’s a fun alternative: cellophane noodles. I often see these minced in dumplings and think they’d be tasty here too.
As for the “spring” part, I used asparagus and favas for my potstickers but you should use a mix of whatever vegetables look awesome right now, be they peas or lima beans or more. You’re looking for 3 to 3 1/4 cups total spring vegetables once they’re chopped.
I (currently) draw the line at making my own potsticker wrappers, but if you feel so inclined, I see a lot of great looking recipes on the web (this one comes recommended by a commenter, below). When buying wrappers, look for ones intended for dumplings, not wontons, if you can. The latter will be thicker. (I, apparently, bought Korean mandu wrappers, and they worked like a dream.)
Yield: Approximately 50 potstickers
3 to 3 1/4 cups chopped spring vegetables (such as asparagus, favas, peas, lima beans or more) (I used 2 1/4 cups chopped asparagus from 12 ounces stalks plus 1 cup cooked favas from about 1 pound fresh in their pods)
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil, such as safflower, canola or peanut
3/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (from about 3/4 of a bundle, about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled minced (if using garlic chives, omit)
1 cup (about 6 ounces) firm tofu, chopped small (see Note up top for alternative)
1/2 cup garlic or regular chives
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
50 round dumpling wrappers (most packages contain 50)
Scallion dipping sauce
2 to 3 scallions (or, remainder of bundle used for potstickers), thinly sliced (use some in sauce, some for garnish)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon regular or spicy toasted sesame oil
1 to 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
Prepare vegetables: If using asparagus, cut off tough ends and sliced stalks into 1/2-inch segments. If using fava, remove them from their pods. Boil favas for 3 minutes, then drain, and press them out of their opaque skins (if difficult, first make a small slit on one end with a paring knife). To prepare peas, simply remove them from their pods. To prepare lima beans, remove them from their pods and simmer them for about 5 minutes to soften.
Make filling: Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and heat, then add scallions, ginger and garlic, if using. Cook for one minute, then add vegetables in the order of the time they need to cook until crisp-tender. Asparagus will need about 4 minutes, peas about 2 to 3, and favas and limas will already be tender, so just a minute to warm them. Add tofu and chives and cook just until chives wilt, about 1 minute more. Season with salt and transfer to a fine-mesh colander, to drain off any excess liquid. Let cool in colander for 15 minutes.
If mixture is still on the chunky side, either chop it finely on a cutting board or pulse it a few times in a food processor. You don’t want to puree it; bits of vegetable should still be recognizable, but it will be easier to mound in dumplings if chopped well. Adjust seasonings if needed and mix with sesame oil.
Assemble potstickers: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or very lightly oil them. Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl; this will act as your “glue.” Most dumpling wrappers come dusted with a little starch, so you’ll be okay if you want to skip the cornstarch, but I always feel safer having a little extra as an insurance plan.
Remove first wrapper from package and put it on a plate; place a damp towel or piece of plastic wrap over the unused ones to keep them from drying out. Brush wrapper with cornstarch-water mixture. Mound 1 to 2 teaspoons filling in the center. Fold the wrapper in half over the filling, sealing the center edge shut. Make a few small pleats down each sides to seal in the rest of the filling, while trying to press out as much air as possible (a process that looks difficult but is so easy, I think you’ll find it intuitive — use the photos in the post as guidance). Rest the dumpling, pleats up, on prepared tray and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. When you’re all done, look over your potstickers; use the cornstarch mixture and pinching to seal any open sides or loosened pleats.
You can now freeze the dumplings on their trays, then transfer them to a freezer bag once they will no longer stick together, or cook them right away.
Make dipping sauce: Mix ingredients and adjust levels to taste. For a sweeter sauce, add a 1/2 teaspoon honey or brown sugar.
Cook potstickers: Heat a large skillet (I really like to use a nonstick here) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and heat this too. Once the oil is hot, arrange potstickers in a single layer and cook until browned at the bottom. This will take about 1 minute for fresh ones and up to 5 minutes for frozen ones. Add water; it will hiss and sputter, so move quickly. You’ll want the smaller amount of water for a smaller batch and the larger if you’re cooking more. Put a lid on the pot and cook dumplings for 2 to 3 minutes more (plus an additional minute if your dumplings were frozen to begin with). Remove lid and simmer until any remaining water has cooked off.
Transfer to serving plate; garnish with scallion greens. Serve with dipping sauce.