Acorns and Avocados

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When I eat something AMAZING that someone else has prepared, and I am lucky enough to get the recipe out of them, I count myself fortunate indeed.  This happened on a foggy night in November, in the fellowship hall of a Korean church following a concert. The dish was humble in appearance, just your typical cold noodle salad.  It was, however, the best I had ever eaten, and the cook readily shared her recipe. The noodles were a brownish-purple hue and had an appealing chewy-springy texture. “Those are Soba noodles, aren’t they?”  “No, Acorn flour noodles.”  I had heard of these elusive Acorn flour noodles in Korean cuisine but had never seen them.  “Can I buy them at the Korean grocery?”  “No.”  “Where can I buy them?”  “We bring them from Korea”.  .  .  .  Nonsense, I thought, and Googled them to find a source from which to purchase.  My search came up empty; it seems Korean women get them from someone else in church.  I pictured a drug cartel distribution system, except they were trafficking Korean noodles.  Deflated, I added this to the list of things I would never make (along with Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls). 

So when Mrs. Suh brought me a whole BOX of dried Acorn Noodles, sourced from a lady in her church, I was over the moon.  I finally got to try my hand, and the dish was perfect, and very easy. Once you get the noodles.  And no, I am not sharing.

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Acorn Noodle Salad:

1 pound Acorn Flour Noodles, from your Korean church lady friend.  Boil in UNSALTED water (my uncooked noodles are pretty salty) until just al dente, about 3-4 minutes. immediately rinse under cold water to stop cooking process, and let drain.

Dressing: Mix together 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1/2 tsp wasabe paste.  Whisk together.

Pour dressing over noodles (you will have some leftover, don’t overdress) and gently mix together. Place noodles on large serving platter and place several handfuls of spring mix lettuce on top.  Here’s a not-so-great photo:

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But this is a Dumpling site. So—Moving on to far more accessible tasks, it was time to try the Cheesecake Factory’s Avocado Egg Rolls.  Thanks to modern technology, such recipes are easily found on line.  These were a breeze to make, as long as you don’t mind deep frying.  I deep fry in my flat bottomed wok, and actually only put about an inch of oil in the pan, adding more as needed.  Just fry one side and turn it over when golden brown.  I used 6 smallish avocados and made 20 rolls.  These would have been better if I’d been more generous with this filling because you want to have lots of tasty creamy filling to offset the crunchy outside. In addition, I had 13 leftover wrappers and fortunately had some frozen vegan mushroom/onion/potato filling leftover from a previous dumpling.  Those were good too.  Actually, anything you put in a spring roll wrapper and deep fry is, well, fried.

The Dipping Sauce is The Bomb.  Very easy, just throw everything in the blender and you’re done. 

Cheesecake Factory Avocado Egg Rolls

Green Dipping Sauce


1/4 cup olive oil


2 teaspoons white vinegar


1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar


1/2 teaspoon tamarind pulp
–I did not have this so added a little lemon juice.

1/4 cup honey–I halved the amount from original recipe  (1/2 cup) because it was way too sweet. 

1 pinch turmeric


1/2 cup chopped cashews


2/3 cup fresh cilantro


2 garlic cloves


2 green onions
, washed and ends trimmed, white and green parts, cut into 2 inch length

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1 teaspoon ground cumin

 Whirl all of the above together in a blender. Taste it.  It might need more lemon juice if too sweet. This sauce has retained its vibrant green color in my fridge for 3 days now, so I can safely say it can be made in advance.

Rolls:

1 pack Menlo Spring Roll wrappers (you will not use all 33. To use them all, Make more filling, or wrap up some other interesting leftovers from the fridge)

6 medium to large avocados—should make about 20

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped

2 tablespoon minced red onion

2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

juice of one half lemon

½ tsp salt

Cut avocados in half, remove pit.

with the tip of a knife, crosshatch/dice avocado down to the peel, in the shell, then scoop out flesh with a spoon.

Gently mix avocado, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt together.  Taste and add more salt if needed.

Scoop filling into wrappers, roll (see previous post for instructions) and seal with beaten egg.

Deep fry till golden brown.

Serve with dipping sauce.

These tasted just like the restaurant’s, except I forgot to deep fry the little crispy white noodles.  alas alack.

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Note the skimpy filling in photo below.  next time be more generous!

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What I learned in high school

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Spring rolls are ridiculously easy to make.  I almost feel like I’m cheating by making spring rolls for My Year of Dumplings, because they are not new to my repertoire. Having no knowledge of the lore behind Chinese dishes, I vaguely remember hearing that these are considered ‘good luck food’ because they resemble bars of gold.  Or maybe I just made that up. This version is my San Francisco original– initially I made these with ground beef and zucchini of all things.  Fact:  I learned to make these in my high school Asian Studies class from a filipino classmate.  I’ve been making them ever since. Thank goodness Menlo is still in business (see photo below).  

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About Spring Rolls: no matter how many I make, they seem to disappear.  Por ejemplo, we recently hosted 20 of papa Kim’s choir ladies and I made 100 spring rolls, assuming leftovers for Stacy.  oops. sorry Stacy.

My Spring Rolls:

1 package Menlo Wrappers–There are 33 in a package. I finally counted.  The most laborious part of making Spring Rolls is separating the wrappers from each other.  Find them in the freezer of your friendly neighborhood Chinese grocery. They thaw quickly at room temperature.  Open the package and they are stuck together and you have to carefully peel these paper thin wrappers from each other. They’re not delicate but will tear if you are too impatient.  Yesterday I timed and it took me fifteen minutes to separate one package.  You can do this early in the day or even the day before; just wrap them in plastic to keep them from drying out.  Okay to stack them back up, they won’t stick much after you’ve separated them.

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Filling:

1.5 pounds ground meat, Ground beef is fine. I like to use half ground beef and half Ground pork

4 zucchini, shredded in the food processor. OR 1/2 head of Napa Cabbage, chopped finely in food processor

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper

Salt the shredded zucchini or chopped cabbage with 2 tsp salt and mix together.  Let sit a few minutes and then place the wilted veggies in a clean dish towel; wrap it up and squeeze out the water so the vegetables are on the dry side.  Mix vegetables, ground meat, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and pepper.  Feel free to add anything else you’d like, such as minced green onions. This filling can be modified any way you like; if you add other veggies then chop/shred and salt them as well.  The traditional recipe calls for a cooked shredded pork and cabbage filling.  I find the uncooked ground meat filling to be easier (translate: lazier) and drier so that it doesn’t leak through the uncooked wrapper and cause a mess.

To wrap:  follow the pictures below. I use about 2 tablespoons of filling, and seal the roll with beaten egg.

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Heat vegetable oil in a wok and fry on medium-high heat, turning once, till golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

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These are great all by themselves, and even better served with dipping sauce (see last post) and Lipitor.  Even lazier, use purchased Thai sweet Chili sauce which is a great dipping sauce for spring rolls.  Remember to save some for Stacy.

Yeast, Sugar, and Jiu Cai

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When we were little, my dad took our family and invited friends to the same restaurant in Chinatown every week.  I thought this was normal, to eat a Chinese banquet once a week. My favorite things on the table were the pillowy white, sweet and soft and chewy buns branded with red ink that came with the Peking Duck.  My sisters and I would fight over the last  extra bun (in retrospect, there should not have been an extra.  Mom must have—once again—sacrificed). This is the same dough to wrap char siu bao, and yesterday I decided– it was time.

I followed the recipe in Andrea Nguyen’s book for Sheng Jian Baozi–Panfried Pork and Scallion Mini Buns. The dough was easy enough to make, as long as you have a lazy afternoon with time for it to rise. Interestingly it contains both yeast AND baking powder.  Plus–SUGAR–the reason these taste SO good. Of course I could not leave well enough alone and traded out the scallions for  Jiu Cai--garlic chives.  These I chopped, salted, and squeezed out the liquid before adding to the ground pork.  The rolling and wrapping was simple–the same process for potstickers, except just keep pleating till you’ve done the 360.  SUCCESS!  These turned out perfect, the dough was sweet with a great texture, and the filling savory and flavorful.

The dipping sauce: 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tbsp light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water and bring to a boil.  Let cool and pour into individual dipping dishes, top with a little mound of carrot that has been grated finely on my microplane.

Thanks Norma for being my taster today.

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Jiu Cai filling and yeast starter, ginger

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since this has yeast, it is much puffier than potsticker dough

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Yes, I also made egg rolls, but that’s a future post.

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note the Tasmanian Devil plate.

Auntie’s special dispensation

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In order to successfuly cook potstickers, you need two things.  (1) a nonstick frying pan and (2) attention to the stove at the critical time.  everything else is redeemable, but without these you will be sorry.

When I was little, we sat around the kitchen table and wrapped potstickers.  Auntie would be at the head of the table, forming and rolling out the wrappers, and my cousins, sisters, mom and I would wrap.  Later in Atlanta I made my own with purchased wrappers, and for the past 20 years I cooked mostly frozen pot stickers.  I always thought Auntie had special dispensation from heaven to make the wrappers and I, a mere mortal, should not go there. Imagine my shock when I made my own wrappers 5 months ago and discovered how unbelievably easy it is.  Not just easy to make, but the wrapping process is MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE because the dough is so very elastic and forgiving. Too much filling? no problem, the dough will stretch.  Oh, and the minor detail that it TASTES MUCH BETTER. Yes I am shouting, of all the things I’ve learned so far this is worth shouting about.  It saddens me slightly to think I waited all this time to try. Since September I guess I’ve made about 400 of these babies, from scratch.  More than half I made for the Whole Foods demo I did a couple of weeks ago, but that is another story.

Here is the recipe: it’s long winded so you can stop reading now.

I used Andrea Nguyen’s recipe from her “Asian Dumplings” cookbook for the dough, and I find that adding a little salt improves Flavor:

2 cups flour plus 1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup just boiled water

Being exceedingly lazy, I dump the flour and salt in my kitchenaid mixer, turn it on low, and slowly pour in the hot water. Let it go for a minute, then take it out and knead lightly on a floured surface.  (Easy enough to mix in a bowl with a fork, which I did at Whole Foods.) Form the dough into a ball, cut it in half, and form each half into a log about 8 inches long. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for awhile.

Filling:  my own recipe but it’s pretty standard

1/2 pound super lean ground pork from Marina Market or other Chinese grocery

1/2 pound regular (fatty)  ground pork from same store.  If you use only super lean, the filling will be dry and not juicy and succulent.  yup, that juiciness is–well, not juice.

1/2 of a small head of Napa cabbage.  This translates to about 8 large leaves if you’re peeling it off the surface.  I just cut the head in half, then cut about 2/3 of it because most napa cabbage is a little bigger, and reserve the rest for other use.

Ginger, soy sauce, green onions.  You can also add 1/2 tsp sesame oil or a little slug of oyster sauce (heresy, I know).

Cut out the core and cut the 2/3 of 1/2 (my arithmetic tells me that’s 1/3) of a head of Napa cabbage into large 2 inch chunks.  Dump the cabbage into your food processor and pulse a few times until chopped fairly fine, about the size of corn kernels. Don’t over process to mush.  Place the cabbage in a  large bowl and sprinkle with salt. I don’t measure but it’s about 2 teaspoons, fairly generous.  Mix in the salt and let it sit for a few minutes.  The salt will pull the water out of the cabbage pretty quickly.  You then need to squeeze the water out of the cabbage, and Thanks to Win Chang I learned the easiest way is to dump the cabbage onto a clean dish towel, wrap it up, and have at it.  And to think for 30 years I used my hands.  Next, I put into my kitchenaid mixer bowl (again, lazy) both types of ground pork, the squeezed out cabbage, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1.5 inch chunk of ginger (peeled and minced –I use the food processor) some white pepper, and sometimes I add 3-4 stalks of chopped scallions. Turn it on low until mixed and voila, the filling is done. This can be made the day before, or the morning of.

Commercial Break:  I love my Cuisinart (purchased in 1984).  No way would I take the time and effort to do all this chopping without it.  I  remember making these in high school and college and the chopping took forever.

To roll out the dough:  I purchased a narrow rolling pin like Auntie used, from the Chinese grocery store. It’s the size of a broom handle and about a foot long.  On a floured surface, cut one log into 16 pieces.  flatten one piece with the floured palm of your hand, and using the floured rolling pin, roll the pin with the palm of your hand over the edge of the round just short of the center of the dough, turning the round of dough with your left hand after each roll, so you keep rolling at 6 o’clock, and turning the round so the place you just rolled moves to 4 o’clock.  I find it takes about  6-7 rolls of the pin for each wrapper.  The rhythm of rolling comes pretty quickly.

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Wrapping:  I love to use a little food scooper–like an ice cream scoop–that measures then dislodges the filling.  Makes the whole process faster and tidier.  mine is 2.5 tsp capacity.  scoop the filling in middle, pinch 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock together, then with your right thumb and  forefinger, pleat 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock over; repeat on the left side.  squeeze the top to seal while forming it into a crescent shape. Place the filled potstickers on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  repeat till you have 32 potstickers.

How to cook potstickers with a minimum of oil splatter: This applies equally well to frozen potstickers.  In a cold, empty (no oil yet) NONSTICK large frying pan Off the Heat, place your potstickers in a circle around the edge so they are ‘spooning’ each other.  Continue concentric circles until the center of the pan is full.  It is okay if they are touching but don’t squish them together. Put the full pan on the stove, turn to high, pour a little oil over the top (you will be pouring oil directly on top of some of the potstickers, no matter)–the amount  of oil you would use if you were cooking a big pan of scrambled eggs. Then pour cold tap water into the pan so the water level is halfway up the dumpling.  Let it come to a boil, then cover and turn heat to low-medium.  Let simmer for 12 -14 minutes. At this point, turn your exhaust fan to high if not already on high.  Uncover the pan, turn the heat to high, and let the water evaporate and STAND THERE AND WATCH because as soon as you turn your back the bottoms will burn.  You will see a golden brown fond form in the pan between the potstickers; lift one up to check, and they are done.  Remove from heat, and the best part is, you can slide the entire pan of potstickers onto a large dinner plate, brown side down, for the nice concentric circle presentation.  However if you didn’t make nice concentric circles in the pan to begin with, you’re outta luck.  True story: Years ago I cooked these at a friend’s home–she doesn’t cook and had beautiful brand spankin’ new nonstick pans.  When I slid the potstickers out, they released so easily and quickly they ended up on the floor.  5 second rule.

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First Post–month five.

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In September 2013 I started My Year of Dumplings.  Now, five months later, I am starting my blog, because:

a. every time I mention this to someone, they ALWAYS ask me if I’m blogging about it, and

b. David finally came back from Africa to help me set up the blog. He also wisely (Weasley?) selected the web address.

I kept notes (below) and will attempt to judiciously edit them.

September 24 is a strange date to start a year long endeavor.  I am starting my year of dumplings.  Actually, the idea and resolve came yesterday. And the Year started 2 days ago.  2 weeks ago if you count the Empanadas.  Are Empanadas dumplings? 2 weeks ago Amy mentioned to me “we made empanadas” (during her SPOT training). I, of course, took that not as an excited exclamation from my youngest, but as a direct threat and challenge. I can make empanadas, I thought, even though I’ve never made them. I made “Shanghai Empanadas”, since I prefer Asian flavors.  Made Mom’s red cooked pork, cut the bits of pork smaller and added a little cinnamon, hot pepper and just a few molecules of vinegar.   Then I added simmered little cubes of potato to act as a binder, added some frozen peas. Totally delicious, the dough was easy enough but a bit of a PITA to roll out each one.

But I digress.

2 days ago I hosted an Asian Dumpling workshop—Terri Dien and Mia Chambers of “Dear Martini” taught the class.  Making the ha gow wrappers was cool!  I CAN DO THAT.

AND SO IT BEGINS.

My goal:  52 different kinds of dumplings in 1 year.

IMG_5051IMG_20130924_195448not technically a dumpling, sticky rice meatballs, aka ‘porcupines’

IMG_1412IMG_1415classic potstickers