Wonton Lust

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This post originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on May 17, 2006

Back before the advent of all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets (yes, hard to
believe there was once a time when proprietors of a cuisine famous for fast,
healthy, last minute cooking didn’t let food sit around forever on steam
tables), eggrolls were truly a splendid thing.

They were cooked to order and served hot, hot, hot – bursting with
fresh, crispy ingredients. Dipped into nose-stinging mustard or sweet plum
sauce, they bore little resemblance to the limp, soggy bundles offered on
buffet lines today. True, you can eat all you want of these steam table
eggrolls, but really, who wants to?

Thankfully, all is not lost for eggroll lovers who can’t find a good
Chinese restaurant because these savory appetizers are a cinch to make at home.
As it happens, packaged eggroll or wonton wrappers are one of the great
convenience foods of all time. They make light of all kinds of seemingly
complicated food projects and in the process, make us amateur cooks look pretty
impressive in the kitchen. Following the instructions on the package, you can
turn out all the perfectly crispy eggrolls you can eat, and more.

As you might expect, wonton wrappers are also good for making wontons.
Wrap them around a seasoned filling, twist them into little hats, and fry them
(as in the ever-popular crab Rangoon) or float them in a flavorful broth.

Even better, make potstickers, those fat little dumplings that are
sizzled in a hot pan til their bottoms turn brown and crusty, then steamed
until cooked all the way through.
Dipped in a spicy sesame-soy sauce,
potstickers are delicious – silky, crunchy, and chewy in texture, sweet, salty
and piquant in taste. And I have found that the promise of all-you-can-eat
potstickers is enough to persuade guests to help fill the dumplings, making
short, friendly work of a tedious task.

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There is really nothing mysterious about wonton skins, when all is said
and done; they are essentially fresh pasta made with flour, salt and eggs.
Local grocery stores usually sell them in the produce section. The large squares
are meant for eggrolls, small ones for wontons, and round shapes for dumplings
like potstickers. As their ingredients suggest, however, their uses go far
beyond Chinese food.

These wrappers can be used in any recipe calling for fresh pasta – for
instance to make cannelloni, lasagna, free-form noodles or, best, homemade
ravioli. Even professional chefs sometimes admit to using wonton skins for
ravioli. Make your favorite ravioli filling – as simple as ricotta and herbs,
or more complicated, like wild mushrooms, or butternut squash or goat cheese or
shrimp and sea scallops – then spoon it onto one wonton skin, cover it with
another and seal with a little water or beaten egg white brushed on the edges.
Trim and crimp the edges, slip the raviolis into boiling water, cook briefly,
drain and sauce. It’s an amazingly impressive result for comparatively little
effort.

Wonton skins also make excellent wrappers for samosas – the wonderful
Indian fried pastries stuffed with a spicy filling of potatoes and peas. Crackly
and light, wonton samosas are perfect for dipping into fragrant coriander
chutney.

These wrappers are so versatile, they even adapt beautifully to no
filling at all. Cut them into rectangles, place on an oiled baking sheet, brush
very lightly with more oil, flavored maybe with taco seasoning, or basil, dried
garlic, and pepper, or curry powder, or sesame oil and sesame seeds or just
plain salt, and bake at about 300 degrees until crispy.

But be sure to make a lot – if my experience is anything to go by,
you’ll want all you can eat of these chips too.

Wonton Samosas 

(filling adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking. Barron’s, 1983.)

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 hot green chili, finely chopped

3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons water

4-5 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut in 1/4 inch dice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

30-40 round dumpling wrappers, or squares with the edges rounded off.

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Heat four tablespoons oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add
onion. Stir and fry until brown at edges. Add peas, ginger, chili, cilantro and
water. Cover and simmer over low heat until peas are cooked, stirring
occasionally and adding more water if necessary.

Add remaining filling ingredients. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat 3-4
minutes, stirring gently. Taste to check balance of salt and lemon, adjusting
to taste. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Assemble pastries by laying out wonton skin on counter and spooning
approximately 1 tablespoon of filling in center. Brush water lightly around
edges and pull up edges to form a triangle. Press tightly to seal. If the
triangle shape doesn’t work easily for you – these will taste the same if you
make them in crescents.

When pastries are all made, fry according to deep-fryer instructions
until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with
chutneys.

Potstickers

1/2 pound ground lamb (or 1/2 pound cleaned, deveined shrimp, finely
chopped; or chopped firm tofu)

1 egg white, beaten

4 cups shredded savoy or white cabbage

1 cup finely shredded carrots

1 cup finely chopped shitake mushrooms

1/2 cup shredded green onions

1 1/2 teaspoon finely diced chili pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon finely diced ginger

Drizzle of sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

30-40 round wonton skins, or squares with ends rounded off with scissors

2 teaspoons cooking oil

Dipping sauce: (mix the following ingredients, according to your taste)

Soy sauce

Sesame oil

Rice vinegar

Chili sauce or chili oil

Be sure all ingredients for filling are finely chopped. Mix thoroughly.

Lay wonton skin on counter. Place a heaping teaspoon full of filling in
the center of wonton. Using a brush or your finger dipped in water, moisten the
edge of the wonton. Bring sides of wonton to meet over filling, and gather in
sides, making small pleats to allow for fullness of the filling. Flatten bottom.

Set wonton aside on baking sheet lightly dusted with cornstarch. Repeat
with more wonton skins until filling is used up.

At this point, wontons can be frozen, or cooked immediately.

Heat a heavy frying pan with a tightly fitting lid over high heat. Most
books warn you not to use nonstick pans because the point of a pot sticker is
that you want it to stick. I use nonstick anyway. I care less that the dumpling
stick, than that it gets crusty and brown on the bottom, and that will happen
just fine with a nonstick.

When pan is good and hot, film it with a small amount of vegetable oil.
Set dumplings in pan, flat side down, and reduce heat slightly. Allow to
develop a good crust on the bottom (but do not burn), approximately two
minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to pan and immediately cover with lid. Steam
dumplings for another 5-10 minutes, until pork is cooked through. Add a bit
more water if necessary.

When dumplings are done and all the water has cooked away, turn them out
onto a plate.

Serve hot with dipping sauce.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Terri says:

    Great little good food blog! I just made shrimp wonton tonight and I loved them – they were so simple to make that I will definetly try some different fillings. My only complaint was that Freida’s wonton wrappers that I bought were a bit too salty to be successfully paired with a soy based dipping sauce. I would love to hear of another vendor that others prefer.

    Like

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