Japanese Vegetable Dumplings with Ponzu Dipping Sauce (Yasai Gyoza)

The popularity of the dumpling spans the globe with nearly every cuisine stuffing various ingredients into pockets of dough then steaming, frying, boiling or baking them.  While I have yet to find a dumpling that I didn’t like, I am particularly fond of East Asian dumpling variations.  Wontons, mandu, pot stickers, momos, shumai, gyoza— from region to region, Asian dumplings vary even more in ingredients than they do in name.Dumplings--Tofu & Veggie

Because they can be time-consuming to make, take advantage of the economy of scale and prepare a bunch at once.  It may take you 50 minutes to assemble them all, but if you make enough for 2 or 3 servings, well then, you actually saved time, didn’t you?  My heart is filled with an unmatched feeling of self-satisfaction when I pull a homemade meal out of the freezer and have it on the table in less than 15 minutes.  “Yes, I am Supermom.  Oh, please, stop. It’s nothing.”

Cooking with Kids:

I do a lot of culinary art project with my kids instead of crafty ones that usually end up in the trash the week or sometimes the day they were made.  I can’t help it. Besides hating clutter, I have a bit of an obsession with usefulness and efficiency. Cooking with kids kills a couple of birds with one stone—fun together time, creative exploration and a nourishing meal to boot. So put down that empty toilet paper roll you were crafting into a bunny and get in the kitchen with your kids and start folding dumplings. Making dumplings exercises their small motor skills while fostering  their creativity.  Use scissors to snip and cut ingredients down to tiny bits.  Vary how you fold the dumpling to be even more creative.   I thought this video “How To Fold Gyoza” from Not Just Rice showed a couple of good variations. Our particular favorite is one we call “paper hat.”

Japanese Vegetable Dumplings with Ponzu Dipping Sauce (Yasai Gyoza)
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer or side dish
Cuisine: Japanese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 30 dumplings
 
The shitake mushrooms add umami (meaty flavor) to this delightful dumpling. Even devout carnivores will find it difficult to stop eating these.
Ingredients
  • ½ lb. firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped (¼ cup)
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped (¼ cup)
  • 2 green onions, minced (2 T)
  • 4 small rehydrated or fresh shitake mushrooms, finely chopped (¼ cup)
  • 2 T finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 small clove garlic, grated
  • ½ t ginger, grated
  • 2 t sugar
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t white pepper
  • 1 t sesame seed oil
  • 2 t corn or potato starch
  • 30 wonton wrappers, any shape
  • ½ cup of stock or water
  • Oil
  • PONZU DIPPING SAUCE
  • Rice wine vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon or citron juice
  • Soy sauce
Instructions
  1. MAKING THE FILLING
  2. Rinse the tofu. Next drain the tofu by wrapping it in a tea towel and placing it between 2 boards or plates. Allow it to stand like this for 20 minutes. The pressure from the top plate will press out excess water.
  3. Meanwhile, prep and mix the next 14 ingredients (stop at corn starch; don't include the wonton wrappers or beyond).
  4. Crumble the drained tofu and gently mix with the other ingredients.
  5. WRAPPING THE WONTONS
  6. Place 1 – 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of a wrapper.
  7. Dip your finger in a small bowl of water and moisten the edge of half the wrapper.
  8. Join the corners to form a triangle.
  9. Gather both sides of the wonton and press edges to seal.
  10. Freeze or cook immediately.
  11. COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
  12. Heat a non-stick pan under a medium-high flame and brush with oil.
  13. Once hot place a few dumplings (do not crowd) in the pan and fry for 1 - 2 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden.
  14. Next add 2 tablespoons of stock or water to the hot pan and cover with a lid; reduce heat to medium and cook another 2 minutes. (This steams them.)
  15. Remove from pan and continue the process until all of the dumplings are served.
  16. To make this simplified version of ponzu, combine equal parts citron juice, lemon juice or rice wine vinegar to soy sauce. Garnish and flavor the ponzu with minced green onion, grated ginger, pepper flakes or sesame seed oil.
Notes
You can substitute the carrot and bell pepper with finely chopped Napa or green cabbage. Be sure to squeeze out as much water from the veggies as possible.

Dumpling--Crumbling Tofu

My little one likes using her large motor skills to squish the tofu.

Storage:

Place the dumplings that you plan to freeze on cookie sheets covered with waxed paper.  Once frozen, transfer the dumplings to freezer-safe boxes or bags.  Be sure to label and date and contents clearly.  They should keep in the freezer for 3 – 6 months.  Dumplings--prepared

 

Perfect Popcorn–Herb Buttered & Beyond

As I wander down the snack aisle of the supermarket, I marvel at the ingenuity of the food industry.  They have managed to take popcorn–a healthy, cheap, easily accessible, easily stored whole grain snack food—and transform it into a highly processed, expensive, unhealthy food.   Not long ago, Americans made popcorn from scratch on their stove tops for all sorts of occasions—family movie night, holiday treats, slumber parties and after school snacks.  Making and eating popcorn represented togetherness and celebration.  Now we buy popcorn that we nuke in the microwave to eat in bags while we watch TV alone.

Let’s reclaim the American popcorn tradition. Consider the following:  Popcorn kernels cost anywhere from $0.08 to $0.15 an ounce compared to microwave popcorn which starts at about $0.30 an ounce.  It takes 1 minute of prep time and 4 minutes of cook time to make about 2 quarts of popcorn on the stovetop.  The average microwave popcorn bag take approximately 3 minutes of cook-time.  Popcorn from scratch tastes better. Do a taste comparison with your family if you don’t believe me.  Moreover, if you buy popcorn from a local farmer or from the bulk food section, your packaging can be nil compared to bagged, wrapped and boxed microwave brands.  Lastly, only 3 ingredients are required to make stovetop popcorn. On the other hand, even the most “natural” of microwave brands contain preservatives and ingredients like “palm oil” whose production is destroying the rainforest.  (My big girl told me that rainforests are cut down to make room for palm oil plantations).

So at the end of the comparison we find that microwave popcorn saves us 2 minutes of time and a pan to wash.  True, you must give your full attention to the 5-minute cooking process while making stovetop popcorn, but I don’t consider this a disadvantage because it’s fun especially with the kids. So if you value good flavor, your health, orangutans (whose numbers are diminishing due to the devastation of the rainforest), your money, your family, then make popcorn  from scratch and make the world a better place.  Who knew popcorn could do all of that?!

Perfect Popcorn with Herb Buttered Topping
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer or Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 - 10 cups
 
Perfect Popcorn is the basic popcorn recipe and delicious all on it's own. This isn't a fussy recipe. Using a wok concentrates the heat and reduces cooking time but it is not essential. The main thing is to keep shaking and have a pan with a lid that allows steam to escape.
Ingredients
  • ½ cups popcorn kernels
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil or any oil with a high smoking point--vegetable, corn, coconut, peanut, etc.
Instructions
  1. Use a large pan of wok with a relatively lose fitting lid so the steam can escape. (If you don't have a lid, you can cover the pan with tinfoil and poke a few holes in it).
  2. Add the popcorn, salt, and oil to the pan or wok, cover with a lid, and cook over a high flame shaking the pan back and forth constantly.
  3. Continue shaking until the popcorn slows in popping—about 3-5 minutes depending on the type of pan.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully stir in any salt that has accumulated on the side. Eat as is or top with favorite topping.
Notes
HERB BUTTER TOPPING: 2 Tablespoons melted butter; ¼ cup chopped dill or other herbs; Drizzle melted butter over popcorn and toss. Sprinkle chopped herbs over popcorn and toss again. (TIP: Don't melt the butter with the herbs or they will clump). MORETOPPING IDEAS: - Parmesan cheese - Cayenne pepper and sugar - Soy sauce - Garlic powder - Balsamic vinegar - Cinnamon and Powdered Sugar - Garlic powder and Paprika - Melted butter or margarine - Garlic powder and paprika - Chopped fresh herbs - Powdered Sugar and Cocoa - Tabasco - Brewers yeast (a Milwaukee favorite)

Cooking With Kids:

The girls made this entire recipe.  I just supervised or rather, refereed.

My big girl chopped the dill with kid scissors, chopping and measuring enough to fill ¼ cup.  Meanwhile the little one measured the popcorn, oil and salt into the wok.

 

One melted the butter while the other made the popcorn.

Finally, enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Tips:

Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop. So if your popcorn won’t pop maybe it’s too dry.  Try filling a quart jar 3/4 full of popcorn.  Add 1 tablespoon of water and shake until it is absorbed.  Store in a cool place.  A few days later, the popcorn should pop.

Whole Grains

Refined grains are essential junk food.  They have calories and little more.  Don’t eat them or at least when you do eat them, acknowledge to yourself that you are eating junk food.  That sounds harsh, I know.   But I think it is the kind of tough love most of us need.  it will push you include whole grains whenever you can and shun the refined.

What are whole grains and why should you eat them?  A grain is a seed and the whole grain contains all 3 parts–the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The USDA recommends that we eat 3 servings or more of whole grains every day.  Whole grains provide fiber and nutrients. Study after study shows people who eat whole grains are thinner, healthier and live longer.

What are refined grains and why should we avoid them?  A refined grain is any grain–wheat, corn, rice, barley,  etc–that has had the wheat and the germ removed, leaving just the endosperm. Anything made from white flour or enriched flour is a refined grain.  “Enriched” means vitamins, which were removed with the bran and the germ, are added in again.

If you make more rustic unfussy sorts of baked-goods (not fancy cakes or cresants for example) it is relatively easy to make the switch. Simply substitute WHOLE WHEAT PASTRY FLOUR for enriched white flour, but it must be pastry flour. Try it.  Take your favorite cookie recipe for example and substitue whole wheat pastry flour.  No one in your family will even notice.

So if you’re going to take the time make homemade sweet treats, make them a bit healthier by using whole wheat flour.  Warning! Don’t delude yourself into thinking that just because it is a whole grain food made from scratch and with love, you can eat as much as you’d like. Don’t you remember the stick of butter you added and those 2 cups of sugar?  I once or twice became fat operating under that delusion quietly eating batches of whole wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies alone in the privacy of my pantry after the kiddies were tucked in bed.  A whole grain, whole food is not necessarily a low-calorie food.

Is there a place for refined grain foods?  Yes.  I wouldn’t dream, for example, of making mac-n-cheese with whole grain pasta.  Yuck!   The point is that we live in a toxic, refined-grain environment where you must go out of your way to make sure you are getting whole grains. So do that.  Go out of your way.  What?  You don’t like being thin?   You don’t want your family to be healthy?

By the way, I do love fancy cakes and cresants.  I just don’t make them.  I buy them from a talented pastry chef who owns a bakery very near to here.  Just one more way I try my best to contribute to the local economy!