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Because Mom had a flexible schedule, she would always be around when we got home from school to take us apple picking or out for ice cream. We would hang with her in the kitchen while she made dinner and we’d all go shopping on weekends. Dad, on the other hand, had to work a more traditional schedule. So, in order to catch up with his daughters, he began a ritual of taking us out one-on-one for some food and face time. One weekend, it would be Maggy’s turn, the next I’d get my chance.
These days Dad likes to take his daughters out to the diner for breakfast, but the tradition really began at a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong Sunny. I’ll never forget drinking black tea with loads of sugar, dipping those crispy fried strips (of something?) into duck sauce, and talking to my dad about school, boys, book reports, and what exactly Maggy had done recently to make me mad. I always ordered the same thing: egg roll, small wonton soup, and chicken lo mein. And the people there knew my dad by name.
Dad has always seemed to have a special place in his heart – or stomach – for Chinese food. Nothing particularly authentic, pretty much anything wrapped in a wonton and dipped in soy sauce will do. He’s been instrumental in making the rest of us love it, too. Dad will often sneak off to Trader Joe’s and fill his basket with those frozen dumplings, potsickers, and shumai and slink back into the house with his treasure. And on nights when no one feels like cooking (like … last Christmas Day, actually), Dad will whip out his frozen Asian goodies and serve up a kind of David Anderson “dim sum.” We love it … if somewhat guiltily.
As I’ve moved away from packaged food and take out, I’ve struggled to get my dumpling fix. I’ve toyed with the idea of making them, but I always just assumed they’d be difficult and time-consuming. Well, I am happy to tell you that I was wrong.
The other night, Tony and I went over to our friends’ house for dinner. Matt and Anna told us to bring the head of cabbage languishing in our fridge and ourselves. When we showed up, there were a bunch of ingredients on the counter. Dinner, we were told, would be an interactive affair. We were all making dumplings! We noshed on edamame to tide us over, then rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
For the filling, Anna instructed us to mix ground turkey with garlic, ginger, scallions, cabbage, red pepper flakes, and a little soy sauce and sesame oil. Then she showed us how to drop spoonfuls of the filling on wonton wrappers, moisten the edges of the wrappers and press them together. Seven minutes in a steamer and the dumpling were warm, tender, and delicious – no MSG, no weird unreadable ingredients, no crazy-high sodium levels. We ate and ate and ate until there were none left. It’s actually kind of embarrassing how addictive these little guys are.
Sure, making dumplings absolutely from scratch is probably a long process, but these are the next best thing ... and can be on the table in 30 minutes flat. (Anna’s mom, who worked 9-5, would often make these for dinner on weeknights!) They make a great family dinner, or a fun “interactive” party. And I promise, once you try them, you’ll be pushing your cart past the frozen food section and chucking your favorite take out menu.
Credit for these delicious dumplings goes to our friends Anna and Matt. Well, actually, to Anna’s mom who heroically made these for many weeknight suppers when Anna was growing up. I’m told there’s really no recipe, so feel free to add or subtract anything on the ingredient list. Try adding different herbs, spices, or vegetables. Many grocery stores carry wonton wrappers, they’re usually in the produce section.
Makes 30-40 dumplings.
1 lb. lean ground turkey, chicken, or pork
2 cups very thinly sliced cabbage
1 carrot, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
A large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 package refrigerated wonton wrappers
In a large bowl, mix the ground meat, cabbage, carrot, garlic, ginger, scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce, and pepper flakes until well combined.
Set a small bowl of warm water by your work area. Working one at a time, scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling onto a wonton wrapper. Dip your fingertip into the water and dab a little on each corner of the wrapper. Bring together two opposite corners and press to seal, repeat with the other two corners. (Don’t worry about sealing all the seams.) Repeat this process until the filling is gone.
Meanwhile, heat some water in a large pot fitted with a steamer. (Bamboo steamers work best, but a metal or silicone one works, too. If using metal, spray with non-stick cooking spray before using.) When ready to cook the dumplings, bring the water to a rolling boil and place some of the dumplings in the steamer, making sure they aren’t touching one another. Steam until the meat is cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Repeat until all the dumplings are cooked.
Serve immediately with a bowl of soy sauce (with a splash of sesame oil) for dipping.
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