Yes, you can!
Mise en place…
You might be among the many who call them “pot stickers” from a Mandarin term that means “pot stick”, but I rather like to call them dumplings. In spite of you thinking that I am talking about the dumplings found in chicken & dumplings––lumps of flour biscuits hovering over chicken. Certainly, a delicious and savvy way to stretch your limited rations, but not quite what I had in mind…
When the weather brisks up and it’s time to bundle up, it’s time to make dumplings the Korean way, the way my mom used to make.
The recipe is not written down anywhere, just all in my head. Isn’t it interesting how you can know how to do something by having observed it a good many times as a child? I have to admit that this is one memory that I cherish, bringing me back to a rare time in my childhood when my mother seemed content, just to be in the kitchen whipping up a batch of dumplings.
She used three kinds of ground meat––veal, pork and beef––but you can stick to one if that’s easier. I confine myself to pork and beef. And for friends who do not eat meat, I count on a mixture of shiitake and cremini mushrooms while for friends who are averse to eating beef and pork, I use ground turkey. But I never leave out the tofu. You will find that it stretches the meat and veggies and gives an extra dose of heartiness that is synonymous with what a dumpling is.
Remember: It’s good to be flexible with your dumpling recipe if you want both your omnivore and herbivore friends to come over for dinner…even on the same night!
Then I get comfy in front of the telly and get to stuffin’…
…leaving the mess in the kitchen for later!
Apologies in advance to those of you who may find the following recipe somewhat vague, but I hope that you will do as Ben Webster said to do when the “rhythm section isn’t going right”: “Go for yourself.” Much like jazz, dumpling-making is about following your instincts––adding more or less of the ingredients you have before you e.g. less scallion more spinach, less meat more tofu, you’ll know what to do…
My Mother’s (Korean) Dumplings
1-2 packages wonton skins (it’s not easy to get a brand that doesn’t use too many preservatives, but it’s worth a try…)
1 lb ground pork and beef mixed
1 (14 oz.) block firm tofu
1-2 bunches of spinach
2-3 bunches of scallion
garlic cloves, pressed or minced (I use at least 10 cloves)
ginger, grate and squeeze out the juice (at least two tablespoons)
soy sauce, at least 1/4 cup
sesame oil, to taste
honey, to taste
salt & black pepper
ground chili pepper/powder, to taste (optional)
rice wine vinegar, 1-2 tbls (optional)
peanut oil for frying
1. Place the ground meat in a large bowl and set aside. Rinse the scallions and chop. I tend to do a rough chop on my scallions, but you can do them finer if you like.
2. Wash the spinach, making sure all the grit is rinsed out. Boil spinach in a little bit of water until wilted, but not mushy. Rinse in cold water then squeeze out the excess water. I put the spinach in a flour sack and squeeze as hard as I can. Chop into small pieces. Set aside in a medium bowl.
3. Drain the tofu of its excess water. I do that by putting it in a colander, covering with a plate weighted down with cans. Let sit overnight in the fridge if you have the time or drain for at least 20 minutes if you don’t. Then squeeze out the tofu in a flour sack or cheese cloth until most of the water is out. Or you can just squeeze the tofu in the flour sack if you prefer to skip the drainage step. Add to the spinach.
4. Combine and mix ginger juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, rice vinegar, chili.
5. Drizzle a few spoons of this mixture over the spinach and tofu. Mix well. You can mix by hand as that is the best way to make sure seasoning and ingredients are well combined. Add this mixture to the meat along with the scallions and pressed garlic.
6. Drizzle the remaining seasoning over the meat mixture, sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and season with salt and black pepper. Mix and fold ingredients by hand so everything is well blended.
Assembling your dumplings: Moisten the edges of your dumpling skin with water, put a small spoonful of dumpling filling into the middle and seal the edges tight. Crimp the sealed edge if you like. Be careful not to overstuff. Depending on the brand, each package comes with 30-40 wrappers.
Frying your dumpling: Heat your frying pan on medium-high (do not use nonstick), add peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, place your dumplings in, but make sure they are not touching. Brown one side for a few minutes, get your lid ready. Pour in a little water and put the lid on immediately as the hot oil will splatter*. Lower the heat and fry for a few more minutes until the filling is done.
*This process of fry-steaming is how my mom cooked her dumplings so it is the way I cook mine. But it is also the method by which you get a nice crust on the outside while sealing in the juices. However, proceed with caution! Water going into hot oil will cause the oil to splatter and you don’t want to be in the way when that happens so that is why you need to have the lid in your hand as you pour in the water so you can close the pan ASAP! If you would rather boil your dumplings, go ahead and boil water in a pot, put your dumplings in carefully, and scoop them out once they float to the top.
Serve with soy sauce on the side.