Not quite elven fare

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Perhaps my favorite food growing up was sticky rice.  It was a special occasion dish—Thanksgiving, to be exact—and I eagerly looked forward to Auntie’s delicious concoction studded with lap cheong sausage, shiitake mushrooms, and chestnuts.  Because I was born on Thanksgiving day AND I was the spoiled youngest child, I felt supremely entitled to eat more than my share. I’m pretty sure my greedy stomach didn’t make me any friends, but I hope I’ve redeemed myself since I’m now the designated Maker of The Sticky every Turkey Day.

While it is true that Meats and Sweets play a supporting role, and Seasonings are essential, it is the Glutinous Rice that is the Diva, the Action Hero, the Michael Jackson to your Tito and Jermaine.

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My other favorites featuring Sticky Rice:

–Ba Bao Fan, or Eight Jewel rice, layers of shiny pearly white rice with sweet bean paste decorated with green and red cherries

–Zhongzi, both savory and sweet–lovely densely packed sticky rice with a nugget of fatty pork (savory) or sweet bean paste (sweet) infused with the fresh and earthy aroma of the bamboo leaf in which it is wrapped.  I have wanted to make this for years but fear of the wrapping process has paralyzed me.

So when I saw the recipe for Sticky Rice with Chicken in Lotus Leaf (Nuo Mi Ji or Lo Mai Gai), I just had to try it.  I imagined it would be like the dish in dim sum restaurants, overstuffed with rice, chicken and sausage and enough to share with 2 or three people.  This was my first time using dried lotus leaf, and it was easy. Here is the recipe, adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings book.  It’s long, so skip to the end and see why it’s a keeper.

Sticky Rice and Chicken in Lotus Leaf [Nuo Mi Ji]

Adapted from  Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen

Makes 8 packets

Purchase dried lotus leaves from your Chinese market; they are wrapped in clear plastic and located near the dried mushrooms:

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First, soak 4 dried shitake mushrooms (used in filling below). I put them in a small pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, and let cool. Can be done the night before. I just leave it in the pot on the stove overnight. 

Sticky Rice:

3 cups sticky rice–her recipe called for 2 but I needed a little more, especially since some of the rice, well, sticks to the side of the pan so is not available for use.

½ tsp salt

Andrea gives a more labor intensive method of cooking the sticky rice by soaking and steaming. Her recipe calls for 2 cups of uncooked glutinous rice, soaked, then steamed with 1/2 tsp salt and 1 cup of water.  I cooked it her way, and when I made it again I simply cooked it in a pot the way I would cook regular rice–dump the rice in a pot, wash it a couple times, add water to just below the distal phalanx of my right index finger, bring to a boil, and turn down to sim and cook for 20 minutes.  Her way is better but nobody noticed.  I plan in the near future to try the different ways of cooking plain sticky rice and see which is the easiest to get a good result.  (Have I mentioned lately what a lazy cook I am?)  Divide the cooked rice into 8 portions.  The rice should be made the same day of assembly and not refrigerated; best for the rice to be room temp or a little warm when assembling.

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Seasoning Sauce:

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp oyster sauce

½ tsp sugar

1 ½ tsp rice wine

dash white pepper

1 ½ tsp soy sauce

½ tsp dark soy sauce

¼ cup water

Mix above ingredients together and set aside.

Filling:

12 ounces boneless skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into ½ inch dice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp minced fresh ginger

2 Chinese sweet sausages (Lop Cheung), diced

4 dried shitake mushrooms

Mix chicken with ½ tsp cornstarch, 1 tsp oyster sauce, ½ tsp sesame oil, ¼ tsp sugar, 1 tsp cooking wine. Let sit and marinate at room temperature at least 15 minutes

 While the chicken sits, rinse the now reconstituted soaked mushrooms to get rid of any grit.  Cut off and discard the stems because they are tough and inedible.  Cut the mushrooms into small dice.  I am lazy and throw them in the food processor.

 Heat oil in medium skillet on high heat; add ginger and garlic, then add chicken and stir fry till almost cooked. Add Chinese sausage and mushrooms and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add seasoning sauce and cook another minute till sauce is thickened. Set aside to cool. You can make this filling the day before; in fact I recommend it. WHY NOT make your life easier?

Lotus Leaves:

4 dried lotus leaves

While rice is steaming, Cut each lotus leaf down the middle into 2 double-layered fans. You will have 8 pieces of lotus leaf in total. Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them; I use a large roasting pan. Submerge the leaves completely by putting a plate on top. Remove from water, rinse and shake off excess water. Use scissors to cut off about 1.5 inches of the pointy bottom. To separate the double layers of each piece, cut each piece in half where the leaf was folded by the packing company. Then trim any excessively ragged edges. You should now have 16 pieces of leaf, each one representing one quarter of the original whole leaf. Stack with the darker side facing up so that when you wrap the packets, the darker side will color the outer layer of rice a rich brown.

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 For each packet, use 2 pieces of lotus leaf. Arrange them, darker side facing up, on your work surface with narrow ends pointing toward you and with an overlap of about 5 inches. Brush with a little oil, then take half one portion of rice, press down with parchment paper to flatten (yes, parchment paper is KEY here because NOTHING sticks to it including Sticky Rice), add a scoop of filling, then press the remaining rice on top using parchment paper. You do not need to ENCLOSE the chicken filling in rice, it’s sufficient to just sandwich the chicken between the rice.  Tidiness is not necessary, as it is in ALL OTHER AREAS OF LIFE. Wrap, then Steam over boiling water for 15 minutes, until heated through and soft. If you are not steaming right away, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 3 days. You may freeze up to three weeks.

 To eat, open up the packets and dig in. The leaf is inedible.

 

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The carrot topped are vegetarian.

 

 Top Ten Reasons why you want to make this:

1. Each packet, to my surprise, serves just one person, so no sharing like in a dim sum restaurant.  This is FANTASTIC because everyone gets their own parcel.  

 2. It’s like opening a little present, with a delightful surprise inside

3. This easily adapts to a vegetarian/vegan filling which was SO DELICIOUS to this carnivore.  See below for my vegan filling.

4. Most of the work can be done ahead.  Make the filling the day before.  Soak the leaves the day before. 

5. Even better, these parcels can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and stored in the fridge.  When it is time to serve, there is NO WORK involved, just put them in the steamer.  

6. Even better, if you are making other fancy things for dinner, these can sit and wait in the steamer and require NO last minute fussing, allowing you to tend to your potstickers which you don’t want to burn. They are the perfect 2nd or 3rd course, patiently enjoying their steamy environs while you fuss over more labor intensive dishes. 

7. Have I mentioned yet HOW DELICIOUS these are?  The Lotus Leaf lends a wonderful flavor and aroma, and the steaming melds the flavors of the rice, filling, and leaf together.  

8. You simultaneously feel like you’re eating warm, homey, comfort food AND special, exotic fare, because, let’s face it, WHO makes this at home?

9. It is dear hubby’s and David’s favorite thus far.

10. Easy, Easy, Easy to make.  There are several steps involved, but if you break it down over a couple days you won’t spend all day making them.  I have made them three times in 2 months.

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Can I digress for a moment and tell you how happy I am with my Steamer?  When I saw this recipe I decided it was time to Get Serious and purchase a steamer large enough to accommodate my largesse.  Mom had a big golden colored metal steamer, and I found this one at Marina market for $29.99.  I love it because it is not heavy (read: thin metal, inexpensive)– perfect for this wimpy cook.   In fact I often prefer the cheap, thin metal mixing bowls and tongs to the heavy, pricey Wms Sonoma/Sur la Table fare because it is lighter. My steamer also reminds me of Artoo-Detoo.  AND IT WAS $29.99!!

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Alternate vegetarian filling:

one diced onion

one peeled and diced carrot

3 green onions, sliced thin

4 dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and chopped

¼ red bell pepper

1 package fried tofu (the kind that looks like 100 layers) 

1 package mock duck

Sautée onion and carrot over medium heat until onion is translucent, then add mushrooms, red pepper, green onions and cook 2 more minutes over medium-high heat.  Add diced fried tofu and diced mock duck. Add seasoning sauce, above, heat till thickened, then let cool completely. Substitute this for the chicken filling.

P.S.  David points out that these packets looks like the lembas in LOTR. YES.

Okay I’m done. That’s a wrap.  

 

 

 

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Late Night with the Pillsbury Doughboy

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When you buy groceries late at night, as I do, you miss out on important cultural opportunities only offered in store during rush hour. Imagine my surprise when I shopped Saturday afternoon at Marina and discovered

(a) crowds.  I hate crowds, and with the possible exception of Harry Potter movie premieres,  I will go out of my way to avoid throngs.

(b) my pet peeve of leaving one’s cart in the middle of the aisle between the dried fish and salted duck eggs, rendering normal grocery traffic patterns moot, is alive and well.  

(c) they give Samples!  a la Costco! Pressed tofu, ramen, frozen dumplings.  The sample frozen packaged dumplings were as good as or better than mine. I find this totally depressing.

Undeterred, I finally found the frozen banana leaf and one of two types of glutinous rice flour I was looking for.  My mission:  make two new dumplings, to make up for the last couple of dumpling-free weeks. I chose Char Siu Bao, the most popular of dim sum treats, and Banh It –-a Vietnamese steamed sticky rice dumpling, because, well, it sits on a bamboo leaf, and How Cool Is That?  Both recipes are from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings cookbook. Once again, her instructions are quite detailed and helpful, and mine are not.

Char Siu Bao

Dough: 

1 1/2 tsp yeast

3/4 lukewarm water

2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 1/2 cups flour

Sprinkle yeast in water and stir. Let it sit a few minutes, allowing it to form a foam on top.

Mix flour, sugar and baking powder together, then add oil and yeast and stir, then knead a few minutes.  Place in oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place till doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours

Char Siu filling:

Char Siu, purchased. Her recipe calls for a half pound; I used 3/4 pound and felt it was not enough. Next time use a whole pound. I trimmed all the tough connective tissue away before dicing

2 green onions, chopped 

Sauce:

1 tbsp sugar

pinch of salt (unnecessary as it was too salty)

pinch of white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce (use less, it was too salty)

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp rice wine

Mix above together.

Mix 1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water

Stir fry the diced char siu and green onions in a bit of oil, then add the seasoning sauce, and finally the cornstarch, stirring to thicken.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.  I made this the day before.

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Punch the dough down, then knead a minute or two and cut dough in half.  Roll one half into a 12 inch log, and cut into 8 pieces.  Flatten each piece and, using a small diameter rolling pin, roll one piece into a flat disc, rolling from the side and turning the disc, leaving the center thicker than the edges.  Repeat until you have 8 discs.  Place 2 tablespoons filling in center of disc, then gather and pleat until you have a nice round dumpling.  Take care to pinch the dough together in the middle; it tends to form gaps otherwise. Place each on a small square of parchment.  Cover and let rise 30 minutes. Place in steamer and steam 15 minutes.  Makes 16 Char Siu Bao. 

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ImageRotate the disc of dough counterclockwise, keeping the rolling pin at the south pole.

Note the thicker center in photo below.

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keep your left thumb in the center, pushing the edge of dough with LEFT thumb and forefinger and pleating with your RIGHT thumb and forefinger

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Before rising

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After rising

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Steamy Dreamy:

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Critique: While the store bought baos sit tall and proud, with a sweet bun and almost sweeter pork filling, my baos were flat and relaxed, as if the Pillsbury Doughboy himself had flopped over for an impromptu nap.  The bun was more porous and springy—quite good, and the third time I’ve made this dough (see previous post on Sheng Jian Baozi) but definitely different in texture from store bought.  The filling was a bit salty, otherwise flavorful. I liked the flecks of green onion, and the quality control—lack of gristle in the bao—is a definite plus. Since char siu bao is not a favorite of mine, time will tell if I’ll make this one often. I like juicy fillings–the kind that run up the dry cleaning bill—better. These are great to grab when I’m running out the door, though.

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Well, here we are and I’m out of time.  Banh It will have to wait for another post.