Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mediterranean Dinner, February 20, 2009


Whole Grilled Sardines with Triscuits and grain mustard
Watermelon Radish Pickles, fennel wedges, and romaine spears with lebni and babbhaganoush
Mussels marinated with white wine, fennel, and onion
Manti of lamb and veal with garlic yogurt, paprika butter, and mint


Braised Beef Brisket
Whole Tai Snapper with kumquats and fennel
Eggplant and red pepper melange
Roasted purple and red potatoes
Couscous from the yellow tagine


Prune and almond tart
Lemon risotto cake topped with kumquat sauce

perfecting the Manti

Jon and I are getting ready for a trip to Turkey, where I hope to expand my sample selection of manti (lamb dumplings), and eventually develop the perfect hybrid recipe. My filling is steadily growing more flavorful and succulent; in the most recent batch I used a mixture of ground lamb and veal, which added a significant tenderness. I still think they could use more fat, either from a fattier cut of lamb or as Jon suggests, by adding in some chopped pork fat or bacon. I'm also considering cooking the filling before stuffing the dumplings, as a bit of a sear on the meat might add a dimension of flavor. As with most things dumpling, the more egg and onion I add the better the filling seems to taste. Sweet and spicy Hungarian paprika imported by my mother has also been a good addition to the mix. Eventually I will need to work on the wrapper. So far I was most pleased with the wonton wrappers we purchased at a Safeway in Tuscon. They were very fresh, soft when boiled, and used a minimum of corn starch. Berkeley Bowl has stiff yellow wonton wrappers, and the two brands I tried from Richmond's Ranch 99 market were fresher but suffered from an over-abundance of cornstarch. At some point I will make them with a homemade wrapper dough, which I can roll out in the pasta maker Jon found for me at a yard sale. The most "authentic" Turkish manti seem to be made with hand-rolled dough and are very tiny little pyramids, but these have never quite satisfied my desire for biting into a good-sized portion of filling. I'm currently aiming for a version of the larger dumplings I first encountered at Khyber Pass in the East Village; perhaps I should be reading up on Afghani dumplings as well. Still, I have hope that somewhere in Turkey I may be converted to loving the smaller version, as there seem to be entire towns devoted to the art of manti making.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dumpling Connections

Everywhere in Boston, potstickers (guotie) are called "Peking Ravioli." I always thought this was kind of funny and cute, and certainly ate plenty of them as late-night procrastination at the Kong. Now, I have discovered, via Wikipedia, that this term was actually coined in Cambridge, at the Joyce Chen Restaurant. I had no idea that the Julia Child of Chinese cooking was based in Cambridge, or that she made up goofy americanized names for appetizers. I wonder if she was also behind the profusion of scallion pancakes in the Boston area (nearly impossible to find in California) and sincerely hope she had nothing to do with Crab Rangoon...

For the uninitiated, Crab Rangoon are the un-kosher combination of crab (or imitation crab meat) and cream cheese in a deep fried wonton wrapper dipped in a watery plum sauce. Truly disgusting, and yet strangely appealing after an entire scorpion bowl....

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Manti Retrospective


Weeks ago I made a take on mantoo, or manti, basically central Asian lamb dumplings. Using store-bought wonton wrappers, it took very little time to fold up these suckers, and I smothered them in yogurt-garlic sauce, paprika butter, and mint slivers. I think the toppings were what made them really delicious, as the recipe I used made a relatively bland lamb filling.

Since then I have begun testing my fillings by dropping a little ball of the meat mixture before folding dozens of dumplings. Happily, this resulted in super-succulent potstickers for a world-series game (before the Tigers blew it.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fuzzy Brains


This is a very out-of focus shot of some wonton soup I made a few weeks ago. Using Flo-Lin's book and store bought won-ton wrappers, I made a bunch of little pork and shrimp pockets. Good wontons should wrinkle up around the filling when boiled.

In college, Abigail and I were obsessed with the wonton mee soup at Penang, a malaysian restaurant in Harvard Square. Their shrimp wontons were furrowed and juicy, and shared the broth with long yellow egg noodles and bitter chinese greens. When we took Mike to experience our latest find, he immediately dubbed the wontons "brains," based on their pink wrinkliness. From then on whenever we wanted to go to Penang (about three times a week), we would say, "Let's go eat brains!" Though it stopped sounding strange to us, we got some seriously worried stares.

My other favorite wontons were at a little restaurant in Central Hong Kong, right under the public escalators that move people up the hill. This was a lunch place, and they only served King Prawn wontons in soup, with your choice of yellow egg noodles (mee), rice stick noodles, or no noodles. You could also get a side order of gai lan (Chinese broccolli) drenched in oyster sauce. As far as I can remember, a bowl of soup and a side of greens came to about $2.50, by far the cheapest lunch around. It was also the most delicious, with these huge shrimp wontons and plenty of hot sauces to mix into the broth. There must have been three shrimp's worth of filling in each dumpling, and it was pretty much just ground shrimp and salt. But they were super fresh and the long tables in the place filled up with business people and laborers every day. The menu was hand written in big black characters on neon orange paper, and you had to put in your order quickly and sit down at a table to wait for it to avoid being yelled at by the ladies whose job it was to sling out as much soup as possible. With all the trendy and expensive places around, the wonton shop was truly special. And, just around the corner, a street vendor sold dou fu fa, tofu flower, which is a soft and silky tofu floating in sweet sauce, served in this case in little styrofoam bowls, the perfect dessert.

Next time I make wontons, I'm leaving out the pork and sticking to shrimp and seasonings, and bringing home some egg noodles to add to the broth.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Potstickers (Guo Tie) Attempt #1

I decided to start with a basic, classic dumpling. In the library, I had found Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads, which is full of great information on all kinds of Chinese dough-stuffs.

Florence, or Flo-Lin, as I shall now call her, is big on homemade wrappers, and as this was my first attempt I wanted to do it right. "Although the wrappers can be bought," Flo-Lin nudges, "a true northerner wouldn't consider that option." To clarify, she's referring to the fact that this form of dumpling, guo tie, is a Beijing-area specialty. My source in the Beijing area confirms that these wheat dough wrapped dumplings are sold by street vendors all over the city.

The dough recipe is as simple as it gets: two parts flour to one part boiling water. Mix it up by hand or food processor (I chose the latter), knead it until smooth, and then roll it out into a snake about a foot long. Cut the snake into 15 pieces.


I love these little tabs of dough...but if I did it again I would make sure the snake were perfectly round, as the next step is to smash each tab with the heel of your palm and the roll it into a perfect circle, three inches in diameter. Rolling the dough was not so hard, but I did struggle to maintain a circle shape, and the dough seemed a little too thick at the three inch size. Most of my wrappers were a little bigger and a little thinner, and some had to be trimmed to be anything resembling a circle.

The filling was standard pork with scallions, parboiled cabbage, and seasonings. I failed to realize the recipe called for chinese mushrooms and sherry, but I think these are less than necessary. No cornstarch, which surprised me, but it stuck together nicely. One of the main tenents of dumpling making, I have learned, is that the filling must always be stirred in one direction only. Apparently this keeps things light and fluffy.

Filling the dumplings and folding them was a bit of an adventure, as I wasn't really sure what to do. My finished products ranged from neat half-moons to strangely pleated masses, and I realized that my slap-dash, impetuous cooking techniques may well turn out to be my Achilles heel of dumpling making. I must force myself to focus, and, most importantly, to start caring about PERFECTION.

Once I had used up all my filling, I fried half the batch in the skillet.


I love frying dumplings; you start out with a lightly oiled pan, brown the bottoms, throw in a bit of water and cover to steam them for a few minutes, and then uncover for the last minute or so to make sure the bottom is browned and the top is a little puffy. This creates the crunchy/soft consistency that marks a truly great snack.


The other half I steamed in Jon's bamboo steamer, on a bed of cabbage. Either I let them steam a little too long, or the dough was too thick, or both, because this batch was slightly gummy, though still quite edible.

In conclusion:

Making potsticker wrappers is very possible, particularly because these are rather thick-skinned as far as dumplings go. Next time, I might try rolling the dough out in sheets and cutting the circles with a cookie-cutter. It seems like this would make it easier to get the dough thin and the shapes regular. For folding, I will refer to other instruction manuals, and strive for perfection. I probably would not make this recipe again for steamed dumplings, or if I did, I would make sure the wrappers were thin and that I timed the steaming carefully.

An Inauspicious Beginning

Tuesday was a research day. Jon and I walked down to the Berkeley Public Library, where I plopped down in the cookbook section and scoured the shelves for mentions of dumplings. Though briefly distracted by Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, I determined she had no ye olde recipes for meat stuffs in dough, and confined myself only to those books most likely to help me in my quest. Emerging onto the hot, mime-with-accordion-filled street with three promising tomes, I was ready to kick-off this project with by sampling some professional fare.

Why, then, would I choose to drag Jon into the poorly named and dimly lit King Dong Restaurant? It had the look of death about it, as did the woman sitting behind me, but I was starving from the walk and reading about dumplings, and it was hot, and I just wanted to be sitting in front of a steaming plate of potstickers.

Steaming they were. To King Dong's credit, the potstickers came out straight from the pan. A very greasy pan, it would seem, from the oil that clung to the thick, doughy exterior. This was all wrong. These so-called potstickers consisted of a small, dense lump of flavorless meat (pork?) surrounded by miles of gummy starch. In Jon's eyes, I could see the fear that I would be pressing similar packets of gastro-intestinal distress on him on a near-daily basis. At least, I reassured myself, my home attempts at dumplings could certainly get no worse than this.
In my latest blog adventure, I will chronicle and feed my obsession with dumplings of all varieties. Restaurants will be reviewed, revered, and reviled. Recipes will be tested and new ones will be concocted. Pictures will dazzle the senses. I may even dabble in the history and folklore of the mighty dumpling.