Not a whole lot of innovative cooking went on in the kitchens of my college apartments. I started to branch out during my final year – a trip to France having a lot to do with that, as well as my discoveries of leeks, eggplant, and red pepper – but for the most part my homecooked meals usually involved bland chicken breasts, boxes of Rice-a-Roni, and tuna sandwiches. True, I was capable of roasting a mean pork tenderloin, soft and juicy after marinating for hours with garlic, ginger, soy, and pepper, and once I did make a glorious dinner of German caraway meatballs in a velvety sour cream sauce, all served over egg noodles. Oh, and I did make a decent Hungarian chicken paprika a few times – which was much improved once I got over my fear of onions (well documented fears…) and used them instead of scallions. But for the most part, I spent four years eating unimaginative food. Hey, I was busy getting an engineering degree – did I really have all that much time to become a fab chef as well?
I wish. Actually, I did – wish, that is. Occasionally I did try (see above). I was hindered by my college student grocery budget and the high prices of food, especially produce and meat, in the downtown Montreal grocers nearby. But I persisted in my fitful attempts, once in a while managing to make a big splash into the culinary pool in which I usually just treaded water. One such – very unexpected – success: potstickers! I’d tasted great dumplings from my Chinese neighbor Yen during high school, hers having a flavorful, pan-fried crunch to the bottom of each dumpling yet retaining a softness on the top and insides, so I knew what good, authentic dumplings were supposed to taste like.
Sometime during my junior or senior year (U3 or U4 as they call them at McGill), my mom sent me a promising-looking recipe from Williams-Sonoma on one of those heavy cardstock booklets they have out on display next to the accoutrements you’re supposed to use for the recipes. With memories of Yen’s delicacies so fresh I could almost taste them on my tongue, I decided to give the recipe a try: either my boyfriend and I would enjoy a delicious new meal or we’d end up heading out to the reliable Chinese take-out place around the corner, my head hanging low (but piqued at the prospect of my favorite Singapore rice noodles dish …. but I digress).
Who would have thought – least of all myself – that the potstickers would turn out a winner?! In my usual fashion, I had heavily modified the recipe to suit my pantry stock and flamboyant disregard for silly recipe “rules” – including completely changing the cooking method from steaming in a basket to using Yen’s method. Whether through luck or pure skill, I had prevailed and didn’t care how. My boyfriend finished off every last dumpling – despite me resisting the urge to fight him off – and the recipe was instantly declared a permanent addition to my repertoire.
I haven’t made them more than two or three times since then – hey, they do take awhile to make – but when the opportunity arose to cook an Asian dish for our most recent Girls Cooking Night, I decided I just had to bring these dumplings. And you know what? Of course you know – they were a hit! They made the perfect appetizer: grabbable and dippable into an deliciously complimentary soy-ginger sauce (this was my first time making a specific dipping sauce, from Everyday Food), moist inside, and filling your mouth with a symphony of tangy Asian flavors. The photo above only shows about a fifth of the potstickers – but they were all lip-smacking good. Enjoy making and devouring these!
Ginger-Pork Potstickers (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)
- ~40 round or square wonton wrappers
- 1/3 lb ground pork
- 2 cups coleslaw mix
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 lb button mushrooms, finely chopped (feel free to use dried shiitakes if you like)
- 3 scallions, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 1/2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, toss together the coleslaw mix and salt and let stand for 10 minutes to draw out the water from the cabbage. Use a paper towel to squeeze out the excess water. Put the coleslaw mix back in the bowl and add the mushrooms, pork, scallions, soy sauce, oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, and white pepper. Mix the ingredients well, making sure to mash the pork into small enough bits.
Lay out 6-8 wontons at a time. Place 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling onto the center of each wonton. Moisten half the perimeter of each wrapper with water, and fold together the outer edges of each wrapper. Press tightly to seal. Store the assembled dumplings on a plate under a damp paper towel until all are completed.
Liberally spray a large nonstick pan with oil spray and heat to medium-high. When the pan is hot, place 1/3 to 1/2 of the dumplings in the pan (you’ll cook 2-3 batches, so don’t crowd the pan too closely or they’ll stick together) and cover. Let cook for about 4-5 minutes, until the bottoms of the potstickers are well-browned but not blackened. Add 3/4 cup of water to the pan and replace cover; cook until water evaporates. This will steam them and finish cooking the filling. Add another 1/4 cup of water to the pan and shake the pan to loosen the potstickers. Cover and let the water evaporate again. Remove to a serving plate and keep warm until all the dumplings are cooked.
Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce (From Everyday Food)
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well to dissolve the sugar.