My Asian Dumpling Obsession, and a Recipe

15 04 2012

Vegetable Dumplings at HanGawi in NYC

If you read last week’s post, you got a peek at my fabulous macrobiotic meal at a restaurant named Mana. We shared two kinds of steamed dumplings, one filled with a mash of lightly curried sweet potatoes, the other stuffed with greens and vegetables. This was not my first dumpling experience in the Big City. In fact, pretty much every time there is a veggie dumpling on a menu, I order it. The photo above is of a lovely veggie dumpling I had at the vegan Korean restaurant HanGawi, just a few days before. Although they are somewhat obscured by lightly steamed broccoli florets, you can see that they are folded in a tortellini-style shape. They were filled with tender greens, and perched on a puddle of sweet-sour hot sauce.

I couldn’t stop there, and when I had dinner at The Spice Market, a Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant, I had another version. This time, they bobbed in a tasty soup.

Fresh Pea Soup with Sweet-Pea Miso Dumplings (sorry, it was dark)

This was definitely an upscale soup, a sweet and subtle puree of absolutely fresh, shelled peas, with a few chopped greens and herbs. The dumplings were tiny and tender, filled with miso-spiked pea puree. It was a celebration of the English Pea, a seasonal and fleeting delight. It was delicious.

Of course, then came the dumplings at Mana, where we shared them, dipped in tasty soy-based sauces.

Macrobiotic Veggie Dumplings

When you come right down to it, a plump, juicy dumpling is irresistible. Little pillows of deliciousness that they are, they are like a present, specially wrapped just for you. The sauce is the bow on top. You get to eat them with your fingers, if you want, or pick them up with chopsticks, which is also pretty playful. So, if you can see where this is all leading, I thought I should make some steamed veggie dumplings when I got home.

Steamed Chinese Style Veggie Dumplings at Home

Steamed Chinese-Style Vegetable Dumplings

I’ve made versions of this recipe for years, and found that they benefit from the complexity and funk that a bit of preserved or pickled cabbage adds. I used easy to find wonton skins in the photo, which are thinner, and kind of flop over in the steamer, but are just as yummy. If you are vegan, look at the ingredients on your wrappers, many brands are actually egg-free.

1 package potsticker or gyoza wrappers
canola oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup szechuan preserved vegetables or kimchee, rinsed and minced (not everyone has access to szechuan veggies, but kimchee is close enough)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups minced bok choy
1 cup chinese chives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
2 tablespoons shao xing rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

vinegar, chili sauce, and soy sauce

1. Use 1 teaspoon of the oil to stir fry the vegetables until almost wilted. Add salt, pepper, wine, soy sauce, and sugar, cook until thick. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl and cool completely.
2. To assemble, get a pastry brush and a cup of water, and a steamer or plate, and cut some parchment pieces for each dumpling. Lay out several wrappers and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Brush the top half of each wrap and pull the two sides up around the filling, and form a flat bottom. Pleat the top edge and set each on a piece of parchment on the steamer. Cover with plastic as you go. These can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours, or frozen raw to be cooked frozen.
3. To cook, set up to steam. When the water is boiling, put the steamer over it, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes. When the dumpling wrappers are tender and the veggies are hot all the way in the center, they are done.  Let diners mix the three condiments to suit their tastes on the plate.

With a little Sriracha





Macro is Alive and Well at Mana

9 04 2012

Our Meal: L-R Okinomiyaki Pancake, Sauteed Greens with Shiitakes, Kidney Beans, Brown Rice, Sweet Potato Dumplings, Veggie Dumplings

When I started learning about vegetarianism, way back in the 70′s and 80′s, the word on everyone’s lips was “macrobiotics.” While American vegetarians were eating mac and cheese and pizza, followers of Macrobiotics were into something else. If you are not familiar, Macro is a way of eating that is all about balancing the energy in the food, and balancing your body and mind in the process. It’s based on Japanese ways of thinking about food and the Universe, and the food reflects a deeper Asian aesthetic, as well.

In a macro way of looking at healthy eating, food is analyzed as to its yin and yang qualities. Yang foods are heavy and dense, and bring heat to the body. Meat and dairy are very yang. Yin foods are light, diffuse, and cold. Sugar is very yin. All foods have some balance of yin and yang within them, but generally, whole grains are the most balanced, and therefore balancing, foods. Macrobiotics eat 60% whole grains, 20-30% vegetables, and 5-10-% beans and soy, and sea vegetables, fruits and moderate amounts of fat. Small amounts of fish might be consumed. Foods like miso soup, seaweed, sesame and kanten are important. Eating local, low on the food chain, and organic, with no processed or refined foods is a core principle. A seasonal emphasis also promotes balance, with heavier roots and beans in winter and more leafy, light foods in summer. Certain foods, like nightshades eggplant, tomato and pepper and tropical fruits are not recommended.

Of course, that is just a quick summary, but you get the gist of it. Macrobiotics is very plant-based.

Somewhere along the line, Macro just kind of took a back seat to vegan, in recent years, even though the two have much in common.

I was excited to get a chance to go to a macrobiotic restaurant in New York City, accompanied by vegan blogger Sharon Nazarian (her blog here) and vegan pastry expert, Fran Costigan (her website, here). The restaurant, called Mana Organic Cafe, is run by owner Sung Lee, who graciously introduced herself to us, probably because we were photographing our food. It was a treat to share a spread of modern macrobiotic, vegan food.

Of course, when I saw dumplings on the menu, I had to have them. We shared two kinds, one filled with curried sweet potato and one with chopped vegetables. With dipping sauces, they were wonderfully comforting and fun to eat. I also ordered the Okinomiyaki pancake, in part because I created a recipe for one in my book, Big Vegan, and wanted to see how they did theirs. It was a lovely, dense cake, made up of sauteed cabbage and vegetables and mashed tofu, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and some salad greens. On the menu it was billed as macrobiotic “pizza.”

Okinomiyaki

Sauteed Bok Choy, Broccoli, Kale and Shiitakes

I love it when I can get beans, greens and rice in a restaurant, and it was great fun to share a meal with some vegan ladies. It would have been fun to try some nori rolls, soups, and other entrees, which all looked delicious, as we watched them being delivered to other tables. A specialty of the house is the Mana bowl, a big steaming bowl of broth, noodles and vegetables that smelled divine.

Vegans and vegetarians would do well to take a walk on the macrobiotic side, and get into the centering, nourishing foods at the core of the macro way. It can be fun to eat a vegan version of the Western diet, but if you are eating alot of refined food and forgetting your grains and beans, it’s time to start balancing the yin and yang on your plate.

You’ll feel better for it!

Mana, 646 Amsterdam Ave. (212)787-1110

Mana Restaurant’s Menu





A Big Bowl of Happiness?

26 03 2012

Sunshine and Rainbows with the Happy Way to Eat

We all know the physical benefits of eating more plants. Lower cholesterol, a healthy heart, lower body mass, decreased risks of all the big, bad diseases. When vegans and vegetarians talk about their lifestyles, though, they often describe a new feeling, a feeling of being lighter, clearer, happier and more energetic. Feeling good is about more than getting good triglyceride numbers at your annual physical, and now some researchers have taken a closer look at why veg diets make people feel happier.

The study, published in Nutrition Journal, put control groups of omnivores on either an omnivorous, fish only, or vegetarian diet. The study went for two weeks, and at the end, the participants were tested for mood and depression. The researchers, Bonnie Beezhold and Carol Johnston, theorized that the balance of essential fatty acids in the different diets would make a difference in mood. At the end of the study, the mood test scores of the veg group improved significantly, while the rest stayed the same.

So, the researchers wanted to know if the fish group, with their Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) rich diets, would have better moods, and they did not. In blood tests, the fish eating group had more Omega 3′s in their blood, but they had far more Omega 6′s. The vegetarian eaters had dropped their blood levels of EPA, DHA and more importantly, AA, the arachidonic acid in meat, down to negligible levels.

So, the researchers drew the conclusion that the arachidonic acid could be a real downer. Its important to remember that conventional meat and dairy is much higher in Omega 6′s, including AA, because it is fed corn and grain, while grass fed is supposed to have a better balance of 6 and 3.

The effect of essential fats on the brain is well-known, we need them for our brains and nervous systems to function. So, a little background is in order. Basically, we need to get Omega 3′s and Omega 6′s from food.

A typical Western diet has plenty of the omega-6s, linoleic acid, gamma-linoleic acid, and arachidonic acids (LA, GLA, and AA). Linoleic acid is in nuts, seeds and their oils, grains, and soybean oil, all of which are eaten by omnivores and vegetarians alike. AA is largely from animal foods and is associated with heart disease and inflammation. Arachidonic acid has also been found to cause negative changes to the chemistry of the brain that lead to negative moods and depression.

The omega-3s EPA and DHA are where most people fall short, omnivores and vegetarians alike. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in flax, hemp, walnut, and canola oils, as well as in green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables, is pretty pervasive, thanks to the popularity of canola. But the eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA) that come from fish or the algae that fish eat, or from sea vegetables .

Vegans will be relieved to know that the body converts some of the LA you consume into GLA and AA, and the ALA into EPA and DHA.

The imbalance, which the researchers point out, is that most of us eat way too many Omega 6′s. Vegetarians, though, are not getting all of the Omega 6′s and especially Arachidonic acid that meat eaters get from meat. In the current state of affairs, industrial meat and dairy is contributing to the imbalance in Omega 6, as well as the high AA in the diet.

So, veg-heads, if you have been convinced for a long time that eating this way just makes you feel better, there is scientific evidence to back you up. Keep striving to get those Omega 3′s from chia, flax, walnuts, and canola oil, since they are good for you, too. And omnivores, you would do well to cut back on meat, if you want to improve your mood.





We’re All Irish On St Patrick’s Day

12 03 2012

First things first, I’m not Irish. I have some Scottish blood mixed with my all-American mutt lineage, which may make me a stone’s throw from it. But when St Paddy’s Day rolls around, we can all be Irish for a day. The idea of a simple, rustic cuisine based on local, peasant ingredients appeals to everyone. For vegetarians, well, we skip the corned beef and go straight to the cabbage.

The story of the potato famine is well-known, a lesson we have been learning over and over since pre-history. A population dependent upon a single crop for its survival was devastated by a blight on that crop, and people were left with nothing to eat.

If you read the history of this terrible time, you’ll understand two things. One is why the Irish have been so angry with the British for so long. The second is that hunger in this big world is always politically based. During the famine, wealthy British landowners continued to grow crops for export, filling warehouses and ships with grain while Irish families starved and died in the streets outside. The British government did little to help, insisting that bailing out the people would create dependency, and preferring to follow a “laissez faire” philosophy. There was plenty of food to be had, if the people in power had been willing to bring it.  Thousands of people died.

Pretty good reason to drink some beer, huh? Well, while you’re Irish for a day, raise a glass to the indomitable spirit and strength of the Irish people. Maybe the next time you get a letter from an organization fighting hunger, consider eating potatoes and cabbage for a week and donating what you save on food to help.

I’ve always thought it was a tiny bit of justice that the foods that were relegated to peasants were often secretly nutritious. The 1% have historically lorded it over everyone by eating lots of meat and fat, while the hard working farmers were left eating plant foods. Of course, it’s cold comfort to know your greens prevent cancer if you are starving, but we have to look for something positive in all this.

Peasant Food for Today

So for St Patricks Day, let’s celebrate the lowly root vegetables and cabbage. Traditional potato dishes, like Boxty, a mash of potatoes with butter and scallions, are the kind of rib-sticking, easy food that fuels physical labor. Today, I thought it would be fun to eat a version of Colcannon, another classic Irish dish. Instead of white potatoes, I’m going to up the nutrition with a big sweet potato, and celebrate the cabbage, the most peasant of all peasant foods. Of course, you can use potatoes, too.

Yes, in a karmic payback, the cabbage that was fed to peasants and livestock is now known to be a superfood. Like all members of the brassica family, cabbage has a slew of anti-cancer chemicals and antioxidants. Cabbage offers up something called glucosinolates, which are allies in preveting colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Common cabbage is also rich in polyphenols, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals.  Cabbage also lowers cholesterol and helps create a healthy environment in the digestive tract, keeping good bacterial balance.

Cabbage is high in vitamin C, but really stands out for providing 66% of the vitamin K you need in one cup. It’s one of those very low-calorie foods that you can eat lots of to feel full and satisfied without gaining weight.

Especially with potatoes.

Peasant Food

Colorful Colcannon

For my updated colcannon, I roasted off a big sweet potato and then put it in the fridge to get completely cold. That way it will be easy to cut in chunks, as well as save me time in the kitchen. You can do the same thing with three medium yukon golds for a more traditional colcannon. If you are ovo-lacto, an Irish Cheddar would be a good thing to shred over the colcannon.

1 roasted sweet potato, cold (about 1 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups cabbage, chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seed or celery seed

2 cups spinach, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cold sweet potato into chunks, reserve. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the fat, then add the onion. Stir for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat to soften and brown a little. Add the cabbage and caraway or celery seeds and keep stirring, let the cabbage get very soft and browned in spots. When it’s all soft and sweet, stir in the sweet potato and stir until heated through, then add the spinach and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the cast iron pan, sizzling





Crunchy Sunflower Seeds, The Hippies Were Right

5 03 2012

The Sunny Seeds

When was the last time you thought about sunflower seeds? Were you cracking the shells at a summer picnic or ball game, or filling the birdfeeder with the shiny black seeds? I know that  I forget, sometimes, that sunflower seeds are such a nutrition powerhouse. I don’t think I am the only one who associates them with old-school hippie food, something we used to sprinkle in salads and bake into granola back in the day.

Well, sunflower seeds are much more than a little crunch on a salad, and they are just as exciting as the chia and flax seeds that are so hot right now. Recently, folks with peanut and nut allergies have been embracing sunflower seed butter, and in my neck of the woods, an enterprising farmer is making a lovely cold-press sunflower oil. (Read about it here.)

So, I am reminding myself to eat more of these tasty seeds. Sunflower seeds are a prime source for phytosterols. Phytosterols are the plant based compounds that lower cholesterol, so effectively in fact that they are made into special margarines and pills for that purpose. Phytosterols are so similar to cholesterol that they compete for absorption in the digestive tract, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.The food highest in them is sesame seeds, followed by sunflower, which delivers  280 mg per 100 grams.

They are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium calms nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and helps with detoxification and cancer prevention, and recently was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The seeds also deliver lots of folate, the important B-vitamin that prevents neural tube defects and is good for your brain function.

Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds has 61% of the Vitamin E you need for the day. Vitamin E is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant, reduces inflammation and helps with all conditions in which inflammation is a part. It also prevents cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Vitamin E rich foods have been linked to reduced risks of stroke and alzheimers disease.

Are you motivated to get some sunflower seeds into your life? The most common way to eat them is as a snack, and roasted sunflower seeds pack easily to accompany you on your busy life. Think of them whenever you might use nuts, whether in a muffin, cookie, bread or salad. Add them to your granola or hot cereal, or use them as a crunchy coating or casserole topping.

Try these tasty cookies, for a little bit of sunflower goodness.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Info:

¼ cup/%DV

Vitamin E 61%,B1 34%Manganese 34%, Copper 31% ,Tryptophan 31%, magnesium 28%, selenium 26%, B6 23%, phosphorus 23.1%,  folate 19%, calories 11%

Sunny Cookie

Sunflower-Maple Cookies

Makes 12

Use toasted sunflower seeds for these, and check them for freshness before buying. The great taste of a fresh sunflower seeds is easily ruined by sitting in a bin for too long.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut oil, maple, and vanilla, then stir into the dry ingredients. Scoop 2 tablespoon sized portions of dough and form into 3/4 inch thick cookies. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. They won’t spread much.

Bake for 12 minutes, switching the position of the pan halfway. Cool on racks. Keeps for a week, refrigerated.





The Only Winter Tomato

3 03 2012

Sweet Grape Tomatoes

It’s the dead end of Winter, here in Minnesota, and as much as we love the roots and greens, we crave a little taste of summer. I must admit, when I want a taste of true tomato, the only fresh tomato I even bother with these days is the grape tomato.

The grape tomato, a pear shaped or oblong version of the cherry tomato, is pretty much available in all the grocery stores these days, but it wasn’t always so. They really emerged on the market in the ‘90s, where their dependable taste made them a hit. The Santa Sweet is a trademarked variety, owned by a Philadelphia company that has made them as familiar as the old cherry tomato. I keep an eye out for the assorted packs of multicolored pear and grape tomatoes, with yellow, red, purple and orange little tomatoes. I know they are not local, but they actually taste like tomatoes.

The main difference between these little ovals and big tomatoes is that they are really sweet. In fact, the yellow ones can be so lacking in acid that once they are dead ripe they taste kind of flat, so don’t wait to use them up. I like growing the red and yellow pears because they grow quickly and profusely, even in less than optimum spots in the yard.

My winter habit is buying my pints of Grape tomatoes, setting them on the sill, and letting them keep ripening as I slice them onto sandwiches, throw them into salads, and the usual. If I don’t get to them fast enough, they often start to crinkle and shrink. This is actually a sign that it’s time to roast them off.

Sliced and Juicy

Slice the grapes in half, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 for 35-40 minutes, uncovered. Give them a shake, and if they are really wet, roast another 10, but basically, just cook them til they shrink and concentrate into flavor bombs.

Roasty tomatoes

Now, with a sprinkling of sea salt, they are ready to keep on hand for sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, wherever a pop of tomato flavor will add some summer joy to life.

Today I toasted up some multi-grain ciabatta, smeared it with dijon, and piled on sliced avocado, the roasted tomatoes, and chopped spinach. A sprinkling of good salt and pepper on the tomatoes and avocadoes was all I needed. It tasted like summer.

The taste of the Sun

aaah. Summer. I can dream.





Ask For the Vegan Menu at Amazing Thailand

20 02 2012

Soft Springrolls, Sweet Peanut Sauce

I love teaching cooking classes, for many reasons. One of the fun things is that the students often clue me in on restaurants that offer alternative menus. Since I do so much cooking at home, I am usually way behind the curve when it comes to restaurants, so it’s a huge help. This strange phenomenon of the secret special menu is really quite baffling; it’s as if restaurants don’t want the general public to think they are into vegans or something, or that they make weird gluten free food, so they keep it on the need-to-know basis. When I teach gluten-free, I always learn about some new places that are hiding a whole gluten-free menu behind the counter, that my hungry attendees have ferreted out and shared through the grapevine. This happened recently at a vegan class, when I heard a rumor that one of the better-reviewed Thai restaurants in Minneapolis had an actual Vegan Menu.

The restaurant, located in Uptown across from Calhoun Square, is called Amazing Thailand. It’s a nice place, with dark wood booths and interesting Thai wall decor. And a special, printed, laminated vegan menu, available on request. Awesome. And, in fairness, the vegan menu is on the website, if you can get it to open. But you don’t get it at the restaurant unless you ask.

They say that once you see something three times, it’s a trend, so I am calling it a trend. I dined in Bend Oregon in a Thai restaurant that had a vegan menu, and some years before, sampled vegan options on a menu in Eugene. Veganizing Thai food is not hard, really, so it makes sense. Vegans are already into eating tofu, mock duck, and all the peanuts you can sprinkle on top. Leaving out the fish sauce and eggs still leaves you with loads of flavor and texture.

So, just grab a Thai cookbook and take a look. If there is fish sauce, use soy sauce. Sugar? Vegan sugar or agave. Curry or shrimp pastes? Well, there are vegan curry pastes, Thai Kitchen is one that has no secret fishy ingredients. Shrimp pastes are basically used for their umami, and add salt, and often a dose of chiles. Try a dab of really dark miso instead, and adjust the heat. Eggs? Just whisk up some arrowroot and water to bind things like Pad Thai and thicken the sauce. Then, rely on the flavors of lime, chile, tamarind, palm sugar, soy sauce and coconut milk for a mouthful of Thai goodness. And don’t forget the peanuts.

Spicy Noodles, YUM

At Amazing Thailand, I had the vegetable springrolls, which were pretty much the usual thing. Rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, in rice wraps with a sweet peanut sauce. I love those. It would be nice if they offered to throw some tofu in, but why quibble. Then I ordered “Spicy Noodles” with mock duck. The description just listed the veggies in it, so it was kind of a mystery. As you can see in the photo above, the noodles, which look like tubular pasta, were a stretchy rice sheet that had been rolled up and sliced in wide pieces, some of which unrolled, most did not. They were deliriously tender and elastic, and coated in a tangy, spicy sauce. Cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, onions and chiles were swimming alongside the mock duck, which seemed to have been coated with a blend of exotic spice, almost like five-spice. I got medium, which was pleasantly sinus-clearing hot.

The Vegan menu also offers a papaya salad, which can be vegan in Thai style, but my companion got Lao style which is only different in that it has fish sauce. Here is a picture of that. All accounts were that it was delicious.

Tangy-Hot Papaya Salad

It’s interesting that with an under-served vegan market out there, hungry for dinner, so few restaurants are interested in selling them food. Take a trip to Either coast, and there will be actual all-vegan restaurants, as well as plentiful vegan options in other, good restaurants. Here in Minneapolis, we have only one totally vegan restaurant, Ecopolitan, which is also a raw restaurant.

It’s fine by me that places cater to both vegan and omnivorous customers. I get it that they are trying to keep everybody in the party happy, and stay in business. Still, vegans are out there. It’s not that hard to figure out how to make some really good vegan food, and print a menu. Praise to the enterprising restaurateurs who are making things just a little differently so that vegans can enjoy their cuisine.

Now if I only had more time to go out to eat, I could find all the secret menus.








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