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


The Truth About Weight Gain, and The Nutty Salad

9 01 2012

Start with Lettuce

So, here we are in the January shape-up season, the time of year when a few million people resolve to eat better and possibly lose some weight. Should you go high-protein, low carb, whole grain, fat free, vegan, paleo?

Well, a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine says that what really matters is the calories that you consume. The researchers overfed a group of 45 volunteers in a controlled environment, making sure they all got the same excess of calories.  But, to test a theory, Dr Bray and his researchers tried three diets, low, medium and high protein, with the same excess of calories, and the people all gained weight. The unexpected thing was that  low-protein eaters actually gained less. For some reason, people eating only 5% protein gained less weight. The researchers speculated that there was a metabolic difference for the low protein over-eaters.

Go figure. Of course, the high-protein diets will always be popular, and there will always be a new weight loss book coming down the pike. It’s interesting that we just have to keep learning about calories in, calories out, over and over. All that flesh food that people build their meals around is, at least according to this study, turning to fat just as fast as french fries and white bread-possibly faster.

So, if you want to lose weight, cut calories, and don’t go crazy for protein. One great way is to keep loading on those high-volume, low calorie vegetables. Last week I talked vegetable soup, this week, let’s look at salads. Are you bored with yours? I refuse to eat boring salads, just because they are good for me.

In fact, if you make boring salads, you are just making sure that you will not love, crave, or continue eating them, and that runs counter to everything we should be doing in a healthy kitchen. So I have a little trick to share.

Try adding the nutrition of nuts to your dressing, then sprinkling some on your salad. It adds calories, yes, but they are very nutrient-dense calories, and will make you feel satisfied as you eat your piles of low-cal veggies. Since you are a vegetarian, you can handle a little high fat food in the form of nuts, which you need to get healthy EFA’s, the fats that your brain and heart need to function. This dressing is cut with a little veggie stock, and uses less oil than the conventional vinaigrette, but gets body from the nuts.

I know it runs counter to all the anti-fat diets out there, but nuts are actually associated with weight loss, because they are so satisfying. So pile up the plants, and douse them with this tasty, nutritious dressing, and dig in.

You’ll feel full and enjoy it. I promise.

Super Nutty Dressing for Salads

1/2 cup pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, toasted-save half for the salad
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley, cilantro or other mild leafy herb

1/2 cup vinegar, lemon juice or combination of the two

1/4 cup vegetable stock

pinch of sugar or agave
salt and pepper
1/2 cup nut oil, olive oil or a combination with flax oil added

1. In a processor, grind the nuts, saving half for topping. Add the garlic and parsley or herb and grind to a smooth paste. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl and add vinegar or lemon, stock, sweetener and salt and pepper. Process until well mixed, then with the machine running, whip in the oil.

2. Then, build a big, interesting salad with lettuces, shredded kale and cabbage, tomatoes, slivered onions and zucchini, sprouts, and all the raw veggies you enjoy. Add some cooked veggies too, for wintertime, like blanched green beans, halved and steamed brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, whatever sounds good. Top with nuts, drizzle with your nutty dressing, and enjoy.

Adding salad to all your meals will help you fill up and feel satisfied. Having a meal that is all salad, well, that is just more of a good thing!

Radishes, The Rodney Dangerfield of Veggies

25 04 2011

Not just for salads anymore!

The lowly radish is easy to overlook. Unless you garden, you probably see a few thin rounds scattered in the cheapest of house salads, or maybe a few on the standard relish tray. Mmm, with Ranch Dip, how could you be less excited about radishes?

Well, right now, the only seeds that are sprouting in the Northern garden are radishes, and that means it won’t be long now. And I promise you, it won’t just be some iceberg lettuce salad that sees these spicy roots. Radishes belong in exciting dishes, like springrolls and salsas, as well as simply enjoyed with salt and pepper.

The idea of radishes as a cheap, throwaway veggie is a relatively new one. Since Ancient Greek times, they have been associated with drinking- back then they were thought to keep you from getting too drunk. In early American history, radishes were served with beer in taverns. Whether this actually works is up to you to decide.

What I think we overlook about the radish family is the fact that it is a brassica, with alot of the great nutrition that broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas. Just belonging to this club means that the radish is a cancer-fighting veggie. So if you are getting a little tired of loading up on broccoli, take a spring detour into the radish zone.

Radishes are also traditionally used for liver cleansing and stimulating digestion. Their high potassium levels make them a good food for folks with high blood pressure, as well.

If you have snacked and sipped your way through a bag or two and are getting bored, think outside the crudite tray. A miso soup, or other Asian inspired soup, is a great place to try cooked radishes. The bite of your little red or white gems will mellow considerably with a little cooking. They also roast up quite wonderfully, and in a mix with baby turnips and beets they provide a little zing.

Raw, the radish is more than just a spot of red in a green salad. If you are making potato salad or pasta salad, why not dice in some radishes? A Banh Mie Sandwich is complete with a topping of daikon and carrots marinated in rice vinegar and sugar- why not make the banh mie salad into a regular addition to other sandwiches? Any Asian Noodle salad, like a sesame dressed noodle, or a simple cold Soba would be a good spot for some thinly sliced radishes.

Of course, the French way is to slather a crusty slice of bread with sweet butter, plaster it with sliced radishes, and top with coarse salt and pepper. I suppose that might help keep you from getting too drunk, if you have it with a beer!

Or another beer-friendly food is chips and salsa. This recipe has served me well, it was a Rick Bayless recipe that had habaneros in it originally. This version has easy to find jalapenos, and you can find your own heat level.

So celebrate the radish, and give your tastebuds a spring wake up, all while taking care of your body in the most delightful way.

Radish Salsa

Adapted from Rick Bayless

1 medium red onion, minced
1/4 cup lime juice, fresh
8 medium roma tomato
12 small radishes
4 red or green jalapeno chile, to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Mince the onion, then rinse in cold water, drain well. Place in a bowl and add the lime juice. Halve, core and seed the tomatoes, slice in thin strips and dice. Thinly slice the radishes and dice them finely. Seed and chop the chiles. Chop cilantro and combine all. Serve over tacos, burritos, Mexican Tofu or egg Scrambles, or with nachos.

Here is an interesting Indian Recipe to get you started.

Mullangi Gojju(Mullangi=radish)

Heaven in the Clouds

28 09 2010

The Pilgrim Hike

I may seem like the same person, but in a small, barely perceptible way, I am not. That is because I just spent a week at a transformative place.

I’ve just returned from Rancho La Puerta Spa, where I spent the week alternating between challenging mountain hikes and exercise classes, relaxing pool time and massages, and things like birdwatching. Three times a day I hot-footed it to the dining hall for world-class vegetarian spa fare. Of course, two days of that included teaching some cooking classes, but they were so fun that it hardly seemed like work.

For vegetarians and omnivores alike, the food is at the center of the rejuvenation and healing that Rancho La Puerta offers. Perched in the mountains of Tecate Mexico, the Ranch enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and can grow much of its own food. In fact, a four -mile hike featuring a tour of the immaculate organic garden is a big hit with most guests, even if they don’t till the soil at home.  Head gardener Salvador Tinajero tends six acres of gorgeous farmland, striped with bright flowers of pollinator rows, intended to draw beneficial insects.

The blossoms call out to bees and hummingbirds

The cooking classes all start with Salvador’s tour of the garden, and students get to pick some of the produce that will be used in class. We pulled some leeks, but the exciting part was picking the perfect, ripe strawberries we would use to garnish our dessert. I know I ate as many as I put in the basket. Local and sustainable is the mantra for food on the Ranch, so I put my menus together based on what would be in season.

Strawberries in September (and kitty)

The classes are hands on, which means that the guests dive in and cook the dishes themselves, with the guidance of the instructor and three assistants. It’s really a blast, as everybody gets caught up in turning the garden’s bounty into a tasty dinner or lunch.

My talented sous-chefs

Pear and Apple Salad with Nasturtiums

But what was absolutely the most relaxing thing about the Ranch was the fact that someone else made me three delicious, satisfying organic vegetarian meals every day. I didn’t so much as pass a grocery store or slice a banana. I’m still looking for my sliced papaya every morning-the tree ripened, deep orange fruit was served alongside a breakfast buffet of fruits and muesli, and it was a world apart from the papaya we get here. Hot cereals, little omelets and an array of other goodies helped us fuel up for the day. Lunch buffets served up beautiful compositions in salad, bowls of veggie soup and things like tostadas or a light “local cheese” sandwich with caramelized onions. Dinner was fine dining, with beautifully plated salads, lush soups and carefully garnished and composed main courses. Perfectly portioned desserts closed the meal, on white plates dabbed and drizzled with colorful sauces.

Chiles Rellenos, RLP-style

Of course, having someone make low-fat veg food and then portion it out to create a 1500 calorie day means you can just enjoy the heck out of it and not even think. The Ranch has a nutritionist on staff to analyze the meals, and Chef Gonzalo Mendoza has a talent for making sure the food leaves you not just satisfied, but happy. The plates are a feast for the eyes, and a deft handling of textures and flavors transforms the just picked foods into genuinely gourmet treats.

A week of this pampering left me relaxed and invigorated. Everyone is so happy at the Ranch, from the people who work there to the guests, and there is nothing to do but be good to yourself.

So, if you want a great spa getaway, check out the Rancho La Puerta. From what I hear, it’s one of the best values in the world of spas. If that is not in the budget, take a look at the Rancho La Puerta Cookbook. You can always decide to eat spa for a week at home, and nourish yourself just like spa-goers do.

Now if I could bring Mount Kuchumaa home, then I would be all set.