Monday, January 23, 2012

UnRecipe: Enter the Dragon

I know we just rang in the new year on January first, but now you get to ring it in again, twice as loud, with three times the food. And I'm especially excited as it's literally my year, along with many other lucky little Dragons out there. It's Lunar New Year, and it's Year of the Dragon, baby!

Get your dumplings on, it's New Years! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I don't really do a big Chinese New Year celebration mostly because... well, I'm not Chinese (not that it matters), and it's usually just the Mister and myself for those several days of feasting, so a big multi-course meal for the two of us seems extravagant. But I try to do little things, like make homemade dumplings, just to get into the spirit of the season. I always go back to my staple, a copy of Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings, a great cookbook that has several dumpling skin and dough recipes. She focuses on as much of the dough as the filling, and that's half the trick, having the dumpling itself be the right consistency and have flexibility to seal everything up soundly. A lot of dumpling books suggest using store-bought skins, which is fine in a pinch, but I was feeling the craving for pan-fried dumplings, called sheng jian baozi in Shanghai, similar to gyoza or potstickers in Japan. It's basically dumplings filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped in dough, sealed up into a pouch, then pan-fried. Gyoza tend to just have the bottom part of the dumpling browned, then steam-finished, with a little water put into the hot pan to help release the dumpling from the surface. The Chinese equivalent usually winds up being a rounded patty, seared on both sides in a hot pan.

I made a batch of the basic dumpling dough from Andrea's book and cooked up some leftover cabbage and vegetables I had in the fridge to stuff into each little dumpling. Yes, just vegetables, not even pork -- outrage, I know. I could have been more of a slave to the traditional filling, but the thing I like best about dumplings is the fact you can fill it with whatever you want, and it's the perfect solution for taking care of oddball vegetable scraps. Heaven knows we're still nibbling through a fridge full of oddball ingredients, and that included a lone bag of cole slaw vegetables. Don't ask why we had it, I didn't even remember why I bought it, but there it was, a wealth of shredded cabbage. Woo -- party!

Asian New Year for all - quick Korean style bibimbap - Photos by Wasabi Prime
While I could have stuffed my face all day with crispy pan-fried dumplings -- and don't get me wrong, I totally would if I could -- I made another dish full of vegetables. I love the Korean dish bibimbap, which is typically a combination of different vegetables and cooked meat, tossed in a spicy sauce, served over rice and topped with a marvelous fried egg. Yet another case of Put an Egg On It, but this logic is sound, because this logic is delicious, as the runny yolk just adds richness to the food. In a situation where you want a fast meal, bibimbap is one quick-fix that most people could throw together with things in their fridge and pantry. We had a variety of vegetables from our CSA box, I had some scraps of turkey, so I cooked everything up in a skillet and made a finishing sauce that included ko-chu-jang, a hot bean paste that you typically find at Asian markets, in the Korean foods section. It's seriously the bomb-diggety of flavor and I love using it. The salt content is scandalously high, but it's Asian food, so of course it's packed with sodium and likely MSG. But I don't care, I love this paste because just a little dab of it mixed into your stir fry will add a shot of savory as well as heat. I like black bean paste, which is more common in Chinese cooking, but it's got a deeper flavor and not the heat that I was looking for, so if I want a kick, I go with ko-chu-jang.

Celebrating the new year in little ways at the house of Wasabi - Happy 2012, Dragons! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Definitely not a traditional way of celebrating Chinese New Year, more like Celebrating Year of the Wasabi, cooking up some things I like to eat. And it was a nice excuse to make a fresh batch of dumpling dough, a reminder that it's not that much extra work and you get so much more out of the result. The dough is more elastic, less likely to break if it's overstuffed (which I always do), and it cooks up beautifully, crisping in the pan but still staying tender and delicate. Regardless of whether or not you celebrate Lunar New Year, a new year is all about fresh starts, being ready to tackle new things and also continuing to find ways to celebrate the things we love, so this meal being a mix of old and new, was a good way to start the year on a good foot. To all those fellow Dragons out there, let's totally rock 2012!


  1. Kochujang is made with red pepper paste for the most part and some beans, etc. and is red. Msg does not factor as an ingredient in kochujang.

    In bibimbap, the sauce is served on the side and mixed in last after all the ingredients have been plated.

  2. I wish I could find a recipe to make the sauce from scratch. All the store brands I've found have MSG in it. I know it's not part of the necessary ingredients, but I know it's just how it is with prepared sauces and keeping them shelf-stable. A lot of people either report headaches or are on reduced sodium diets, so they have to skip that great flavor, which is a shame. I know the sauce is usually on the side, but when I'm at home, I just toss it together out of convenience!


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