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in the kitchen with: andrea nguyen’s vegan wontons

by Grace Bonney

Thanks to food stylist Adam Pearson and photographer Matt Armendariz who just returned from doing a workshop at Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico, we were able to produce absolutely stunning images of cookbook author Andrea Nguyen‘s stellar recipe for Poached Vegetable and Tofu Wontons in Spicy Oil. After receiving Andrea’s fantastic cookbook Asian Dumplings last fall (a must have for anyone who loves dumplings of any types), I thought I’d invite Andrea to share a recipe that would fit In the Kitchen With readers’ interests. She was even willing to make one just for us, so based on your comments and requests on the column, I asked Andrea for a vegan dumpling, and she delivered! Don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe– Andrea has been very explicit so that you have no troubles producing a great final product. If at first you don’t get the “nurse’s cap” fold right, don’t despair! It gets easier after the first few!

{If you’re curious about food styling and photography using real food (no gimmicks!), a workshop with Matt is coming up in March at their studio in Long Beach.}

About Andrea: Andrea Nguyen is a celebrated food writer and teacher with a unique ability to interpret traditional Asian cooking styles for modern cooks. Her work appears in the Los Angeles Times, Tastingtable.com, and Saveur, where she is also a contributing editor. Andrea’s first book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (Ten Speed Press 2006), was nominated for three James Beard and IACP cookbook awards. Her new book, Asian Dumplings, was released by Ten Speed Press in August 2009 and recently named as one of NPR’s 10 Best Cookbooks of 2009. Andrea lives in Santa Cruz, California, where she publishes Vietworldkitchen.com and Asiandumplingtips.com.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe (and more lovely images) after the jump!

Poached Vegetable and Tofu Wontons in Spicy Oil

Just like many people these days, I’ve been cutting back on eating meat. This little classic Chinese snack (hóng yóu yúntūn) typically employs pork for savory depth but I recently replaced with tofu. It’s a trick I learned from Korean cooks who typically use mashed firm tofu in their dumpling fillings for richness. The result is a little lighter but not bland compared to the original, perfect for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests.

You may think of wontons as being fried and in soup broth, but they may also be served like an Italian ravioli in a little coating of splendid sauce. Here, the sauce is nutty spicy chile oil punctuated with fresh garlic and little soy sauce. Feel free to dial in the heat by varying the amount of chile oil. Using the full amount is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Serves 4 as a snack, 6 to 8 as a starter

1/4 pound tender leafy greens, such as mustard leaf, baby bok choy, or spinach
3 ounces firm tofu,
3/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small scallion, finely chopped, white and green part
Generous 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/4 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil, plus extra for garnish
24 wonton skins, homemade or store bought*
1 to 2 tablespoons chile oil, homemade or purchased, with or without chile flakes
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small clove garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped

*Most wonton skins are vegan, but check the brand you buy closely to make sure eggs aren’t used (if you’re concerned about animal products). You can also make your own vegan wontons using this recipe.

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the leafy greens and blanch until tender. Drain immediately, flush with cold water, and drain well. Finely chop and then put in a dishtowel and squeeze to remove excess moisture. You should have 1/4 firmly packed cup.

2. Put the tofu in the dishtowel and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Transfer to a bowl, mash to a fine texture, then add the chopped greens, ginger and scallion, combining well.

3. In another bowl, combine the salt, white pepper, sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, stirring well. Pour over the vegetable and tofu mixture, and then vigorously stir to create a compact mixture. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, returning it to room temperature before moving forward. Makes about 1/2 cup.

4. Fill each wonton skin with about 1 teaspoon of the filling, creating triangles or nurse’s caps (form a sealed rectangle, then bring the two folded corners together, cross then seal). Remember to moisten the edges with water before folding and seal well. As you work, put the finished wontons on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet that’s been lightly dusted with cornstarch. When done, loosely cover with plastic wrap or a dry dishtowel to prevent drying.

Note: This is a nurse’s cap below:

5. To cook the wontons, fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add all the wontons to boiling water, gently dropping each one into the water. Use a wooden spoon to nudge them to prevent sticking. Return the water to a gentle boil and then lower the heat to medium to maintain it. After the wontons have floated to the top, let them cook for another 3 minutes, until they are translucent.

6. While the wontons cook, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, chile oil, canola oil, and garlic on a serving plate or shallow bowl. Taste and make any flavor adjustments. Add a touch of sesame oil for nutty goodness, if you like. Set near the stove.

7. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop out the wontons from the pot, pausing above the pot to allow excess water to drip back down. Put the wontons in the dish with the sauce and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

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