For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.
The Trouble with Tribbles.
Self respecting geeks of a certain age will recognize the above as episode titles of the original Star Trek. In high school, I’d ride the San Francisco Muni bus 45 minutes to home, and every afternoon I’d watch Star Trek re-runs. I read ALL the collected stories. I knew the names of ALL the episodes. I even got an “A” in Physics. I did stop short of stalking Gene Roddenberry (but knew he was married to Majel Barrett).
THEIR five year mission was to explore strange new worlds.
And moi? Well, today it occurred to me that despite my love of cooking, and even greater love of eating, I’m sadly provincial in my eating habits. Chinese, American, Korean, Italian—not very strange, new, or worldly. I’m somewhat shocked to confess that I didn’t eat my first Vietnamese meal until I was 39. And I LOVE Vietnamese food. What’s not to like? Grilled paper thin pork, refreshing vermicelli with a sweet and salty sauce, crispy egg rolls, fabulous and warming pho, all accompanied by crunchy fresh vegetables. Combine with their French influenced baguette and pastry and I am in hog heaven.
So, after an unintentional summer break from blogging, it is time to boldly go where this dumpler has not gone before: Vietnamese Tapioca Water Dumplings, or Banh Bot Loc Tran
This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s book, which you have undoubtedly purchased by now, so as to get actual helpful advice and recipes, rather than reading my drivel.
Vietnamese Tapioca Water Dumplings: Banh Bot Loc Tran
3 tbsp canola oil (next time I will use 4)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a small frying pain till hot; add scallions and stir to cook, about a minute. Spread 2 teaspoons of scallion oil on each of two serving plates, set aside the rest to pour over the hot dumplings.
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 ½ tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup shrimp stock (see below) or water
1-2 Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced
Mix above ingredients together, stirring to dissolve sugar. Divide into individual dipping bowls.
1 cup tapioca starch
2/3 cup wheat starch
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup just boiled water (plus another tablespoon if needed)
2 tbsp canola oil
Combine the starches and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Stir until the mixture is lumpy. Add the oil and mix well, adding another tablespoon of water if the dough is too dry and does not stick together. Press dough into a ball, and knead for 2 minutes on an unfloured work surface, until the dough is smooth and malleable. Cut into 4 pieces and put in a Ziploc bag and seal. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. May sit out at room temperature up to 6 hours.
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
¼ pound ground pork (I used ½ pound)
¼ pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into small pieces. [Rinse the shrimp shells and make stock: put shells in a small pot, add 2/3 cup water, bring to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes on low. Use in dipping sauce]
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp pepper
2 tsp fish sauce
Heat 2 tsp oil in skillet. Add shallots and cook 2 minutes, then add pork and cook, breaking it up into small pieces. Cook until no longer pink. Add seasonings, then shrimp at the end, stirring until JUST opaque and cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.
Take ¼ of the dough and shape it into an 8 inch log. If the dough cracks it is too dry; sprinkle with few drops of water OR oil your hands and work the water or oil into the dough. Cut the log into 8 pieces. Take one piece of dough and press between 2 pieces of parchment paper in a tortilla press into a thin round 2 ¾ inch diameter. Or use a rolling pin and roll between 2 pieces of parchment paper. I ended up cutting the next three logs into 6 pieces instead of 8 after my fiasco with the small 1/8 log rounds. See below for fiasco.
Place 1 ½ tsp filling in the wrapper and fold in half, pressing to seal in a half moon shape. Well, that sounded deceptively simple, didn’t it? Once again, I was stymied by this wheat starch dough. Pressing the dough into rounds was simple with the tortilla press, but my dough was too dry and didn’t want to press together to seal. And remember, this is the unforgiving, NO-I-will-not-stretch-to-accommodate-the-filling dough; it breaks. Finally I applied just a drop of water to seal—more than a drop and the dough fell apart. FRUSTRATION! [“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a chef!”] These are not a pretty sight once formed. Forming dumplings, though labor intensive, is a repetitive but joyful and therapeutic task. NOT THESE. I ended up making bigger wrappers just so I would not break them.
Boil a big pot of water. Add the dumplings in batches of 8-12; after they float to the surface, turn heat down to a gentle boil, and boil about 6 minutes. They are done when glossy and the rims are mostly clear. Meanwhile, partially fill a large bowl with warm water and set near the stove. Remember the scallion oil on your serving plates? Have those handy, too. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the cooked dumplings, and place them in the warm water bowl for 30 seconds to remove excess starch. Transfer dumplings with slotted spoon to the scallion oil serving plates. Repeat till all the dumplings are cooked, and top with remaining scallion oil. Serve with dipping sauce.
Critique: Serving them atop a bed of scallion oil is genius.
This dumpling has an extra chewy wrapper. With the dipping sauce, the flavor is good (without it they are bland). I was a bit put off by the chewiness and at first bite declared it ‘rubbery’.
Dear husband took a bite, looked at me and asked “where did you get these?”
“I made them.”
“You MADE them? Yourself?”
[‘WHO DO YOU THINK I AM???’ I muttered under my breath.]
“I love these. They are really really REALLY good.”
Selena also loved them. She liked the ‘bouncy, chewy texture’. This was redemption, because the last time Selena came over for dumplings, we had to spit them out and throw them away (see previous ‘my nemesis’ post).
Final judgement: the Empty Serving Plate. I suppose I will have to make them again. And Again. Until I master this wheat starch/tapioca starch/lacks-elasticity problem.
The Next Generation: In the meantime, Stacy made Siu Mai all by herself. Her filling today was: ½ pound ground pork. 3 shitake mushrooms, hydrated, stemmed, and chopped. 1 tablespoon chopped shallot. 2 tsp soy sauce, few good shakes of black pepper, 2 tsp hoisin sauce, a dash of garlic salt, and 1 tsp minced ginger. Topped with grated carrot for cosmetic purposes. Aside from the under-filling problem (see “steaming beauty” post), these were a great success.
Our little feast included the Vietnamese Dumplings, Siu Mai, Steamed fish, and noodles. In China, noodles symbolize long life. Fish is the symbol of prosperity. So . . .
Wait for it . . . . .