Everything tastes better when it's served in a Japanese bento box. Fill each compartment with a different taste and texture, then put the lid on and pack for a picnic, indoors or outside. Welcome to Bento Week, Day One.
I have never, ever, walked out of an Asian market empty-handed.
Even when I manage to convince myself that there's no room in my pantry for more dried rice noodles or jugs of soy sauce, or even for my favorite chili paste with garlic, the cookware aisle draws me in.
And so it is that I am the proud owner of three small wooden rolling pins made specifically for rolling out dumpling wrappers.
Which, by the way, I have never, ever done.
Made primarily of wheat flour and water, round dumpling wrappers (also called siu mai or gyoza skins) are thinner than wonton skins (small squares) or eggroll wrappers (large squares or rectangles). They're meant to be stuffed, steamed, pan-fried, or cooked in soup, but not deep-fried -- you need the thicker wonton skins to stand up to the heat of deep frying.
Dumpling wrappers are easy to make, but I buy them fresh at my local Asian market. (While you're at the market, pick up a gyoza press -- mine cost one dollar each, much less than online.) You can find dumpling wrappers at many supermarkets, too, in the produce aisle.
Store the wrappers in the refrigerator for a few days, or in the freezer (defrost slowly, in the refrigerator). Fill your dumplings with any combination of homemade ingredients and store-bought condiments; try pre-packaged cole slaw vegetables (carrots and celery), mixed with shredded cooked chicken and some bottled peanut sauce.
When you do make dumplings, make extra and freeze them. You'll be glad to have them for a quick weeknight soup, elegant appetizer, or main course with a spicy dipping sauce.
And those little wooden rolling pins? They're great for rolling out cookie dough, too.
Make these vegetarian by omitting the shrimp and doubling the tofu. Freeze some before or after cooking. Makes 40 potstickers.
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled, finely chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1 green chile (jalapeño, serrano, or Thai), seeded and minced
1 cup peeled and grated carrot (approx. 1 carrot)
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup firm or extra-firm tofu, patted dry, chopped into 1/8-inch squares
8 large cooked shrimp, chopped
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
40 round fresh dumpling wrappers
1-2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 cup vegetable or low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with warm water, and let soak for 30 minutes until softened. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and chop mushrooms finely.
Put the mushrooms in a large bowl and add cilantro, garlic, ginger, scallions, chiles, carrots, bell pepper, tofu and shrimp. Stir to combine.
In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter and soy sauce, and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir well to combine.
Put a dumpling wrapper on a dry work surface and put 1 level tablespoon of filling in the center. Brush the edge with water and fold into a half-moon shape, pleating one side 3-5 times as you go (or use a dumpling press). Place on a tray lined with wax paper, flattening the bottom of the dumpling as you do. Cover the tray with a damp cloth. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling, adding each to the tray. Keep the tray covered with the cloth until you're ready to cook.
Heat two large nonstick frying pans to medium-high heat, and brush each with 1 teaspoon of oil. Add as many dumplings as you can, flattened side down in a single layer, equally divided between the pans, without overcrowding. Saute for 2-3 minutes until browned on the bottom (do not flip them).
Mix the reserved mushroom liquid with the stock and, very carefully, pour half of it over the dumplings in the two pans, until part covered (use more if needed). Keep your distance -- when you add liquid to the pan, it will splatter. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pans, and cook 8-10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the dumplings are a bit translucent.
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