It was my very good friend Tracy’s birthday last week, and I wanted to do something to mark it. She lives in California so there was no chance of actually doing anything with her, and unfortunately we didn’t get to meet up when she was over recently, as she was immediately afflicted with that horrible norovirus on landing, the poor thing. I did visit her and her lovely family when I was in the States in November, however, and we got lots of time for chatting while satisfying my strange obsession for foreign supermarkets. Her young son is my birthday buddy, so I’m sure he will be featuring again in future posts.
One of the things Tracy was keen to share with me when I visited was lunch at her favourite dumpling restaurant. It was very busy, and we were given an order form on which we marked what we wanted to eat. Thank heavens Tracy was a regular as I wouldn’t have had the first clue what to order. A few deft ticks later, and all was sorted, and our food arrived an amazingly short time afterwards. The main dish we had was vegetable dumplings, which came in their own bamboo steamer. I was so excited about it all that I actually can’t remember what was in them, but they were very nice – soft yet chewy and each one a very satisfying mouthful. We also had a side dish of a green vegetable (my memory is appalling on the details given how nice the food way, but let’s say it was either broccoli or spinach), and a pressed rice dish which I have only just trawled up from the depths of my memory, but was amazing. It was actually my favourite dish, and completely unexpected. I had imagined that it would be noodly, but it looked more like tofu, although completely different in texture. Yum. I’m almost happy I’d forgotten about that dish because I’m so pleased to remember it suddenly now. We also ordered sweet dumplings for dessert, by which time we were absolutely stuffed, but we took some of them away with us, and they were also very good.
So, I now associate dumplings with Tracy, and I’ve been very curious about the recipes I’ve seen since then about making them at home. Most of them use wonton wrappers, which I have previously been unable to find, but finally tracked down in the freezer compartment of the unexpected Asian supermarket lurking at the bottom of town. As so often seems to happen in blogland, as soon as I started thinking about making something, there was a bit of an explosion in people writing about it, which was great. Lisa has posted about several variations on the Japanese version, gyoza, and Johanna at Gourmet Green Giraffe also made a pumpkin-nutty version in broth recently. I’m not sure what ethnic parentage my own take on them had; since Tracy just called hers dumplings, that’s what I’m calling mine, too.
I love sweet potato, so I decided to use that for my filling, especially since I wanted to keep my first attempt quite simple. I just steamed and mashed it, and then added some fried onion, garlic and vegetable seasoning mix. The wonton wrappers themselves were amazingly easy to use – just hold one in your hand, plop a spoonful of filling in the middle, dab a little bit of water around two edges, and seal it up into a little triangular parcel. Some of mine did achieve a bit more of a puckered up purse effect, which I think is what they’re really supposed to look like, but I was a bit random in how I managed that.
The next question was how to cook them. The traditional way, I gather, is to fry them on one side, and then steam them briefly in water in the same pan. The authentic ones are thus browned on one side only. Another alternative is just to steam them, and since that was closer to what I’d eaten with Tracy, I went down that road. I used our rice cooker, which has a vegetable steamer basket to fit inside it. It worked perfectly, although the dumplings lived up to their ‘potsticker’ name, and were a bit reluctant to come out. I wonder if lining the basket with hole-punched greaseproof paper might help. The wrappers went a bit translucent, so the sweet potato filling glowed orangely through it, and The Scientist was very impressed with how they looked. I'm just sorry that I didn't manage to focus the camera better! In fact none of the pictures came out very well. I may need to invest in a plainer plate for photography. I served them with some stir-fried sesame broccoli and some noodles, dipping sauce on the side (soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a pinch of chilli powder), and birthday thoughts for Tracy.
Verdict: fun to make, and very tasty, dippable bite-sized morsels. Both of us really liked them - I love food that’s fun to eat And of course the possibilities for different flavours is just enormous – I can’t wait to try some more. I think a chillied carrot number would be good, and Lisa has made a lovely-sounding tomato, spinach and artichoke combination with tomato sauce. I imagine that you don’t want big sticks of veggies in there or it would be hard to seal, but anything chopped fine would work.
So, Happy Birthday, Tracy – may the opportunities for eating dumplings together in the future be many!