What do public speaking, death and spiders have in common? They are the top three fears that people have…in that order! I wouldn’t exactly say that public speaking is my number one fear. Death is pretty darned scary, and I would high-tail it out of here if I saw a hairy tarantula. However, I still remember the exact moment when I realized that I desperately needed to work on my public speaking.
I was 25 years old, and my voice cracked as I stammered through a client pitch to sell consulting work at Jefferies (a global securities and investment banking group). I stared at the manager’s phone willing it to ring with some sort of emergency on the other end. The pork belly market crashed, aliens invaded the planet…anything! It was that bad. After what seemed an eternity, I packed up my bags and swore that would never happen again.
Fast forward eight years. I was a bundle of nervous energy the few days rolling up to the Brooklyn Good Food Fest. It was my first large cooking demo, and all I could think about was that I needed to be engaging, relay useful information and somehow manage to not chop off my fingers while demonstrating how to make Pan-Fried Chive Dumplings. Suffice to say, I expected this to be more challenging than walking and chewing gum at the same time. (This is probably a bad time to admit that every so often I run into stationary walls…my mother must be so embarrassed.)
During my twelve-year tenure in consulting and finance, I invested a substantial amount of time in studying techniques to improve my public speaking. I only wish I knew then what I know now. The secret lies in the dumpling.
The band finished playing and it was my turn to entertain the crowd. I strolled up to the demo table, invited everyone to join me and gushed about how dumplings are the perfect make-ahead dish for last-minute guests. That’s when it happened. The butterflies left my stomach, and it felt like I was in my kitchen chatting it up with friends…except that there were more people than I have friends and Myrtle Avenue is a lot more spacious than my apartment.
Traditionally chive dumplings also contain pork and shrimp, but I am all about combinations—flavor, texture and temperature. How could I at least use flavor and texture to create a vegetarian version that was every bit as delicious?
I started with the flavor. Garlic chives, also known as Chinese chives, are different from the onion chives typically found in your local supermarket. As its name suggests, it has a stronger garlic flavor and a mild onion flavor. You can easily identify it by its flat blade versus onion chives, which have a round blade and look like thin scallions. I mentioned in a previous post that the holy trinity of Chinese cuisine is composed of scallions, ginger and garlic. Using the garlic chives, I had the onion/scallion and garlic flavors. I just had to add some ginger and I was good to go.
Shitake mushrooms were the next addition to the bowl because they have a strong earthy flavor that holds up well to the garlic chives, and a meaty texture so that we would not miss the pork and shrimp. I then added glass noodles because of their chewy texture. These noodles are also known as vermicelli or cellophane noodles and appear clear because they are made of mung bean. The thin noodles are a snap to cook. Just cover them with boiling water for 1o minutes, drain, and they are ready to use.
Similar to the glass noodles, napa cabbage and water chestnuts contributed texture rather than flavor. Basic dumplings are made with ground pork and chopped napa because the napa creates bulk without making the dumpling heavy. If only ground pork were used, the filling would feel more like a meatball rather than a dumpling. On the other hand, water chestnuts are crunchy as an added textural dimension.
In terms of seasoning, you may wonder why the recipe calls for both salt and soy sauce. Certainly not because I am promoting high blood pressure! Too much soy sauce would make the filling watery, and the flavor would be flat if we only used salt. Soy sauce brings a slight malty flavor to the dish, which adds to its savoriness.
I consider the final seasoning the secret ingredient. Rice wine brings a depth and complexity to the dumpling without the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG was developed to provide the elusive fifth taste of umami, which literally translates to “good taste” from Japanese. Since that is pretty ambiguous, I like to think of umami as a sort of savory flavor. Unfortunately, MSG is bad for you in so many ways…the least of which is that it causes disturbing dreams for some people I know. If you do not have rice wine, you can substitute it with sherry or white wine.
It seems that I figured out more than one secret ingredient from the Pan-Fried Chive Dumpling demo. Those years of aging give wine the ability to create complex flavors in dishes across cuisines. More importantly, as long as I do something that I love and share something I am passionate about, public speaking is nothing to fear.
Pan-Fried Chive Dumplings
Makes 30 dumplings
¼ pound garlic chives
4 medium napa cabbage leaves, diced
2 tablespoons water chestnuts, minced
¾ cup shitake mushrooms, diced
¼ small pack glass noodles, chopped
¼ teaspoon ginger, grated
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1½ teaspoon rice wine (can substitute with sherry or white wine)
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt (add up to 1/8 teaspoon additional to taste)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 package round dumpling wrappers
1 egg white
5 – 10 teaspoons of vegetable oil (can substitute with corn, canola or olive oil)
Combine all of the ingredients except for the cornstarch and water in a large bowl. Mix well, taste the filling and adjust the seasonings as needed.
In a separate small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 teaspoon of cold or lukewarm water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the garlic chive and mushroom filling.
Lay one dumpling wrapper in the palm of your hand. Use the fingers of your other hand to apply some of the egg white around the edge of the whole wrapper, keeping the center dry.
Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons worth of filling into the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper as described in the video above.
Keep the unused wrappers covered with a wet paper towel to prevent them from drying out.
Wrap the remaining dumplings.
At this point, you can freeze the dumplings to cook at a later time. Line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper dusted with flour. Place the dumplings in the pan, ensuring that they do not touch each other. Cover the pan with plastic wrap. Freeze overnight, and transfer frozen dumplings to a freezer bag to save space. The frozen dumplings may be kept for up to a month.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. Heat the oil until it sizzles when you try to place a dumpling in the pan.
Add all of the dumplings to the pan so that they do not touch each other. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes until the bottom of the dumplings are a light golden brown. This pan fries the dumplings and creates a crispy bottom. Do not push the dumplings in the pan, pick them up to check the bottoms.
Add 1 cup of water to the pan and cover. Continue to cook on medium until all of the water evaporates. Remove the cover and continue to cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute until the dumpling bottoms are once again dry and crispy.
2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon sriracha sauce (or crushed red pepper flakes)
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and serve with the dumplings.
Use water instead of the egg white to seal the dumpling for a vegan option because the dumpling wrapper is made of flour, water and salt.
Garlic chives can be found in green markets, some specialty stores such as Wholefoods, and in Asian food stores. If you are in Manhattan, check out the Chinatown produce shops along Elizabeth St. and Grand St.
Dim Sum Cooking Class
Cantonese dim sum is a meal comprised of small plates, similar to Spanish tapas and British afternoon tea. I will be teaching a hands-on Dim Sum Cooking Class in collaboration with the NYC Cooking and Dining Meetup Group on Saturday, Oct 9th. We will de-mystify traditional dim sum dishes such as Pork & Shrimp Siu Mai (open dumplings), Char Siu Bao (roast pork buns), Shrimp Stuffed Peppers, Scallion Pancakes, Tofu Skin Rolls and Almond Pudding then enjoy our meal with good wine and good company. The class is limited to 12 people. Register now as there are only 6 spots left.
Mini-Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
For those of you who enjoyed our cupcakes at the Tasty Pursuits table during the Brooklyn Good Food Fest, I will post the recipe next week.