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Japanese Soul Food in a Dumpling

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One of my favorite books right now is Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from the Streets of Tokyo and Beyond by Tasdashi One and Harris Salat. Gorgeously illustrated, the book  includes 100 recipes for Japanese comfort food that is deeply flavorful and relatively simple to make. This is Japanese home cooking, the kind of food you want to feed your people.  To quote Matt Gross, editor at BonAppetite.com “this book is a joyful and useful exploration of the earthy, fatty, meaty, rib-sicking, lip-smacking fare–the noodles and curries and deep-friend delights that millions of Japanese depend on everyday.” And much of it is good to make in big batches. Our favorite recipes thus far: The Hamburg which is a Japanese style hamburger and the Osaka-Style Okonomayaki which is a pancake griddled with cabbage and pork. I also love the recipe for Battleship Curry which is said to be served every Friday on the Japanese Naval patrol (Navy cooks are famously creative). When I asked the Harris for his favorite dish for big groups he said his go-to dish was gyozas, or japan’s signature dumplings.

“In 2010 I was a stagier at a 400 year old restaurant in Kyoto, a super traditional, historic place that serves kaiseki (the highest expression of Japanese cuisine). When the chef found out I was nuts about gyoza, all the cooks and I gathered in the old kitchen and folded a mountain of them for staff meal. It was fun to eat gyoza in that hallowed place.” Japanese Soul Food Cooking has an extensive section on how to make gyozas and they are especially fun to make WITH your crowd, says Harris “making gyoza together is a blast for grownups, kids, and big groups.”

Big Batch Tips: You might want to make a monster batch of gyoza (double or triple the recipes),  but Harris recommends folding one batch at a time, keeping the second batch of filling in the refrigerator so it stays cold while you are folding the first. (You don’t want the filling to sit on the counter for an hour). You will want to fold all the gyozas before cooking them off. Depending on how many you make and how many guests, you can cook them off or freeze them.
How to Freeze Gyoza:  If you chose to freeze the dumplings, freeze them in nice rows that you can fit in your skillet, so you can easily transfer them to said skillet to cook. These rows are important, because to cook frozen gyozas, you don’t have to defrost. Just follow the cooking instructions below, laying the frozen rows of dumplings directly into your skillet. But increase the cooking time to 8 minutes when the skillet is covered (instead of 4 minutes), for a total cooking time of about 10 minutes.

CLASSIC PORK GYOZA Master Recipe

Here now, the Way of the Gyoza. Refer to the series of photographs, “How to Fold and Cook Gyoza” see below, as you go through this recipe. Once you fold a few thousand gyoza, you’ll get the hang of the technique—we’re kidding. Folding gyoza is pretty easy and you’ll understand it quickly, but remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you just pinch the gyoza skins together and dispense with folding the skins like we do in the photos, your dumplings will turn out heavenly. Keep in mind a few things: Chop everything with a knife and do not use a food processor, which will turn the ingredients into mush, not the texture you want. You can use green, savoy, or napa cabbage (green is the default choice). Buy Japanese gyoza skins at Japanese markets; they are round in shape and thinner than their Chinese counterparts (and usually sold frozen; defrost on the counter to room temperature to use). When you cook them, the gyoza might stick together, and that’s totally fine. But you can avoid this by separating the dumplings by about 1/8 inch when laying them in the pan. What you’re looking for in the finished product is beautiful crispy brown bottoms and tenderly steamed tops. See our photos and you’ll know what we mean. Finally, besides the classic dipping sauce we explain in the recipe, these gyoza are also amazing with miso dipping sauce.

Makes about 50 gyoza

3 cups trimmed and finely chopped green cabbage (about 8 ounces)

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 1⁄2 cups nira (Japanese green garlic chives), bottom 2 inches trimmed to remove the hard stem, and finely chopped (about 1⁄3 pound)

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (about 2 cloves)

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger (about 1 ounce ginger, peeled)

2⁄3 pound ground pork

2 teaspoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons katakuriko (potato starch), plus extra for dusting

50 round gyoza skins, 3 to 4 inches in diameter

1 tablespoon katakuriko (potato starch) mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water

Soy sauce

Japanese rice vinegar

Rayu (page 35)

2⁄3 cup water

To prepare the filling, add the cabbage and salt to a large bowl and thoroughly mix together. Let the cabbage sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. When it’s ready, transfer the cabbage to a clean kitchen towel or large cheesecloth. Roll up the cloth and wring out the liquid in the cabbage, like you’re wringing dry a wet towel. This is a key step so the gyoza doesn’t become watery. Wring out as much liquid from the cabbage as possible. Do this in batches if it’s easier.

Add the wrung-out cabbage, nira, garlic, ginger, pork, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil, black pepper, salt, sugar, and katakuriko to a large bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together for about 2 minutes. Mash and mush the mixture together, squeezing it through your fingers, so it turns into a sticky filling that will hold together when you spoon it into a dumpling skin.

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Photo credit: Todd Coleman

To make the dumplings, prepare a tray by lightly dusting it with katakuriko. Place a gyoza skin in the palm of one hand with the floured side down. (The skins are sold with one side floured.) Dip a finger in the katakuriko mixed with warm water and wet the entire edge of the skin. This water-starch mixture is the “glue” that will hold the skin closed. Add about 1 tablespoon of the filling to the center of the skin. Use the index fingers and thumbs of both hands to fold the skin and pinch it together. See “How to Fold and Cook Gyoza” (page 32) for step-by-step instructions with photographs. Place the completed gyoza on the tray, fold side up. Repeat until you’ve used up all the filling.

To prepare the dipping sauce, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, and rayu. A classic proportion is 4 parts soy sauce to 2 parts vinegar to 1 part rayu. Adjust to your own taste. Pour the dipping sauce into individual small bowls and set aside.

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Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Photos and recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from the Streets of Tokyo and Beyond by Tasdashi One and Harris Salat/  Ten Speed Press 2013.

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Feast of the Momo—How to make Nepalese Dumplings for a Crowd

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momo and filling

The day we met Bini Prathan, owner of Bini’s Kitchen  at La Cocina, she had just finished making 15,000 momos (Nepalese dumplings) for the San Francisco Street Food Festival. Big batch cooking is in Bini’s blood. Born in Nepal, her mother cooked for the Nepalese royal family in the 1960s and big gatherings were the norm. “A typical party at my house was 160 to 180 people, it wasn’t unusual to have 35 people over for dinner.”

Whether for a party of for a mid-week dinner, friends and family would gather in the kitchen to cook together  “It’s how you catch up on the days events. It’s one of the things you love to do together.” When she was a child, she and her friends would run to her house from school because everyone knew there would always be good food. Nowadays, Bini counts on her assistant Sopa who is from Tibet as well as family members to help with big events. But she doesn’t have much trouble convincing people to help, even some of her clients have joined in the fun,  “They like to be a part of it.”

Big gatherings are typical in Nepal where it is said “the Nepalese people observe more festivals than there are days in a year. There are different festivals celebrated to honor Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses and others to recreate important events from ancient mythology and epic literature.”  Bini is looking forward to the Dashian, a religious festival that lasts for 15 days at the end of October.  For this festival, her family would cook a goat and buffalo and make curry with chicken and “whatever else was possible.” Usually 100 to 250 people would come to that event.

Bini went to culinary school in Mumbai before moving to San Francisco and joining La Cocina’s business incubation program nearly a year ago. Her menu includes sumptous curries, dahls, rotis and other Nepalese specialties including her beloved momos.

Also found in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and other parts of India, a momo is a type of steamed or fried dumpling that boast numerous variations of filling. Bini’s specialties include turkey, lamb, and cabbage (vegetarian).  She says the secret to her momos is her spice mixture that includes spices she brings back from Nepal.

Folding a momo is like making pleats for a fan. It takes a bit of practice and technique shown here by  Sopa.

sopa copy

happy bini

The little hole in the top is for putting in the sauce.

momo closeup

Bini says that when you eat a momo, it is important to grasp the top with all 5 fingers  and place the whole dumpling in your mouth. “God gave you 5 fingers. When you eat with your hands you are saying thank you to god; when you lick your fingers you are serene from the inside, and this means you are feeding your soul, not just your stomach.” 

Cooking  For  Crowd Strategy: As noted above, having lots of eager volunteers is the best way to make momos for a crowd. For steaming the dumplings, if you don’t have an industrial scale steamer (!!), Bini recommends the Asian stacked steamers in which you can steam 20 to 30 at a time. For big gatherings you will need a dedicated person to steam the dumplings in batches.

Serving a Crowd Strategy: At big events, Bini spoons about 8 momos per person into little paper boat bowls.  For the sauce, pour into plastic bottles with squirt tops for more fun and easier service.

Bini’s Turkey Momos

Bini recommends using a sturdy round dumpling wrapper.  She prefers Nasoya round wrappers which come in packs of 60.  For the filling,  you can add spices to taste; fry a little pinch to test the flavoring before you stuff the wrapper.

momo grid

*Note that the proportion of spices is to taste. To test your filling fry up a pinch and taste it before you stuff your dumplings. Also each pack of Nagoya round wrappers includes 60 wrappers, so count on 1 pack per batch.

 

 

1.  Combine the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently until all the ingredients and spices are evenly disbursed. Try to handle as little as possible.

2. To fill each dumpling, place a table spoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and gather the edges together pasting with little water. Fold, wrap and pleat to make neat joint for each individual momo leaving a little “well” at the top.

 3.  Take a tray spray it with nonstick spray and place each wrapped momos in a row and put it in a freezer until ready to cook.

4.  To steam the momos,  fill the steamer to the half-point half  with water and boil. Place a colander (steamer) on top of the vessel and grease it with nonstick spray.

 5.  Lightly spray each momo with oil and place on the greased colander leaving inch between each momo .Cover the steamer with lid and steam for 15  minutes.

 6.  Serve steaming hot momos with spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Recipe follows:

Spicy Tomato Cilantro Sauce

This recipe calls for a Nepalese spice called timur which is available online. If you can’t find, it just leave it out.  If you are making a big batch, it is helpful to place sauce in bottles with a squirt top for easier serving.

momo sauce grid (1)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a baking sheet,  roast the tomatoes for about 3-5 minutes.  Set aside to let cool.

3.  Place all of the ingredients in a blender or a food processor  (roasted tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, timur, asafetida powder, salt and oil). and process until the sauce is smooth and light orange in color.

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