Making dumplings from sauerkraut-making leftovers

Guess what? I’m going to talk about FOOD! No cats, no raccoons, no sewing, no infrared pictures, just food, like in a real food blog! (Actually, I think cats are considered a normal part of food blogs.) How many of you figured it would take me a week or two to get around to the food I’ve been promising in my last two posts? In all fairness, I wasn’t planning to make a post tonight, but I got part-way through making dinner and thought, “this would be a good post; I’ll have to remember to do one next time I do this.” But then I thought, well, why not do it THIS time? It’s really more a suggestion than a recipe though.

See, I was all hyped up from the Sandor Katz class and making a couple kinds of sauerkraut. (It’s a good thing Sandor convinced me I don’t need to weigh my salt because my scale is on the fritz, which is terrible because even if I don’t need it for sauerkraut, I NEED it for bread. ACK!) I don’t know about you, but when I make sauerkraut, or really any time I use my mandoline, I end up with a bunch of little nubbies – the ends of vegetables I can’t slice on the mandoline without slicing my fingers along with them. Because I was making cabbage-based sauerkraut/pickles, I thought it would be smart to use those leftover pieces in wontons or dumplings, which I’d been planning to make this week anyway, because Mark moved a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator.

My Sandor-inspired sauerkrauts:

I don’t have pictures of the first couple of steps because, like I said, I didn’t think to turn it into a post until a little into the process. But what I did was take a scant cup (because that’s what I had) of TVP and reconstituted it with an even more scant cup of boiling “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon) by placing them together in a bowl and covering with a plate for a few minutes.

Next, I took the scraps I had from making sauerkraut: both green and red cabbage, some carrots, and daikon – about 2 cups worth – and put them into a food processor/chopper along with a few cloves of garlic and some roughly chopped ginger and processed until of a minced consistency. I ended up with somewhere between a cup and a cup and a half of minced vegetables. I also chopped a couple of scallions and assembled some shaoxing wine (sherry is a good sub), soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil:

I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, then added the contents of the food chopper (i.e. the veggies) and cooked them down just a little, then added the TVP and cooked it all for another 3 or 5 minutes. I tossed the scallions into the mixture, then I sprinkled it with some of each of the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and (less of the) sesame oil. Just a bit, you don’t want it to be soggy or even all that wet; you just want to add some flavor.

This is the exact moment I decided to start documenting – I didn’t even do my neurotic cleaning-as-I-go before I snapped the picture: look at that mess! I’m moving it from the skillet to a bowl so it cools down faster.

A close-up:

Next I found my trusty wonton press:

To fill the wontons or dumplings, a rounded tablespoon measure is perfect …

… or a small cookie dough scoop is perhaps even more perfect:

Put a round wonton wrapper (watch the labels; these aren’t always vegan) onto the press:

Plop the veggie/TVP mixture into the middle, …

… brush a little water on the edges of the wrapper, and squeeze the handles together. Look, it’s the Easter bunny!

Voila, a perfect wonton! Or dumpling. Or whatever you want to call it. Tasty stuff in a wrapper.

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve gone through all your filling. Don’t worry about making too many; these things freeze beautifully. I made about 3 dozen.

You have your choice of cooking methods from here. You can steam them, or boil them for a couple of minutes, or add to soup, or bake them, or steam/pan-fry them as I did. I followed Bryanna’s pan-fried dumpling method in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. I’ll show you pictures without writing out her entire instructions because Bryanna is extremely generous with her recipes and you should buy her books, and this one in particular is great. Basically you just fry on one side for a bit …

… then add some water and steam for a few minutes.

Make a dipping sauce of your choosing; I always just mix up some soy sauce, black or rice vinegar (they’re quite different so aren’t interchangeable, but both are nice in their own right), a few drops of toasted sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, and some chopped scallions. I also served the chili green beans from Authentic Chinese Cuisine:

(Gomez is in this picture. Sigh.)

Don’t cook any leftover wontons you have. Instead, arrange them in a single layer without touching on a tray and put in the freezer until solid (this only takes 15-20 minutes, which is good because unless you have a gigantic freezer, you’ll have to do it in pretty small batches), then plop them all into a freezer bag. When you want to make them, just start to so as if they were freshly-made – no need to thaw. I’m excited to have stored some of these because with baby wildlife season coming up, I’m going to be having some late nights when I come home starving and these are going to get devoured.

Next, to show you how serious I am about staying on topic, tonight’s bonus picture is NOT of cats, NOT about travel, NOT of raccoons, NOT related to crafts, NOT taken with an infrared filter, and is FOOD! I don’t know why, but when I chopped this cabbage in half this evening, I was struck by its beauty. I can’t decide if the core reminds me of a woman dancing, Ganesh, or the tree of life, but I was moved by it nonetheless. Moved enough to spend 45 minutes with a tripod trying to get what I saw to show up in a photograph. Not sure I succeeded, but this is me demonstrating to you that in addition to all the other things I celebrate in life, I celebrate food.

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Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

I don’t know how it happened, but it’s October. I keep thinking it’s, like, July. Many vegan bloggers will be celebrating October through Vegan MoFo, whereas I will probably be doing a Vegan NoMoFo this October. It’s just going to be busy. Fortunately most of my busyness is related to October being the best month of the year: my birthday, Smark’s birthday, our anniversary, Halloween, and this year, a trip to San Francisco for me! I’ll be lucky if I can make a post once a week, let alone once a day, this month. I did manage to whip up a post tonight, though!

I don’t know if it’s because the days are getting shorter – I hate driving home from work in the dark – but I’ve been feeling more and more pressured to get home and get dinner on the table earlier, while not bothering to drag myself out of bed any earlier in order to make that possible. (It’s too cold in the mornings to get up!) Dinner, therefore, ends up being less creative and less good (and less blog-worthy). Tonight I knew I was going to use some of my homemade tofu in a stir fry and planned to stop by Super H and pick up some exotic Chinese veggies – gai lan or something of that sort – to accompany it, but once en route (hence en traffic), I realized I didn’t feel like going a couple of miles out of my way to go to Super H and decided to use up the boring old veggies I had in the fridge. And the following was born:

Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

Fermented (or preserved) black beans are one of my favorite ingredients and are available at most Asian grocery stores. They are actually soy beans (not black beans), and are rather salty. There really isn’t a substitute for them that I can think of, although if you can’t find them in bean form, you can probably find black bean paste or sauce, which are fermented black beans that have been mushed up into paste or sauce form.

2 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper (any colour), chopped
10 oz extra firm tofu (preferably homemade), chopped
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated or minced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry, or even sake)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp black vinegar
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1/2 cup vegan broth, any flavor
2 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

Place the fermented black beans, wine, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small bowl and stir. Set aside.

Prep all the veggies and tofu.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and add some peanut oil. When it’s hot, add the carrots and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and ginger, fry for a few seconds.

Add the celery and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and stir fry another minute or two.

Add the tofu and chili paste; stir fry for yet another minute or two (the advantage of making your own tofu is you can make it as firm as you like so it won’t crumble when stir-fried).

Pour in the fermented black bean mixture and stir.

Pour in the broth and bring to a boil.

Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water, pour into the wok and stir as it thickens the broth and coats the veggies and tofu.

Serve with brown rice.

This wasn’t the most exciting meal in the world, but it was fast, used up stuff from the fridge, and is healthy. Mine came out just on the cusp of saltiness I can tolerate, but that’s because I used about 3 tablespoons of the fermented black beans (I reduced it to 2 tablespoons in the recipe). You can rinse the beans before using to reduce the saltiness. I usually don’t bother, but I think the next time I use so much of them, I’ll either rinse them or reduce/eliminate the soy sauce.

I visited the parental homestead on Saturday and my mom gave me a framed photo of my great-grandmother, the one to whom I’m nearly certain my beloved cast iron skillet used to belong, and which I hung on the kitchen wall so she can be near her skillet:

I really like the homey atmosphere it adds to the kitchen and I’m still really tickled to have her skillet. Unfortunately, Mark keeps demanding that I serve him coffee like an “obedient wife”, as she’s doing to my great-grandfather. (My response to Mark is not fit for a public blog.)

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A little about Szechuan eggplant, a lot about nothing

I’m popping in to say hi because although I don’t have much to share with you, I may not have a chance to post for a few days. So I took photos of the Szechuan Eggplant that Jes posted yesterday and I made for dinner tonight:

I liked it, but Mark emphatically did not. Actually, when I told him I was making eggplant for dinner, he promptly started preparing himself some soy nuggets, exclaiming he hated eggplant and wasn’t going to touch it. He did get very brave and snatched a piece off my plate to try…and immediately spit it out into the sink. So it MAY not be the dish for eggplant haters. Since I was cooking for just myself, I was glad how quick it was. I halved everything but the garlic and the Szechuan peppers, and since I didn’t have scallions, put about 1/4 white onion, chopped, in the wok about a minute before the eggplant.

In the same post, Jes mentioned that she was finding Roanoke a little too suburban for her tastes and that she often needs to get away to nature. Which reminded me of a “hike” I’d taken just the day before here in Northern Virginia. (I put hike in quotation marks because I realized I wasn’t having to put much effort into it when I came across a couple pushing their baby along the trail in a stoller.) Here’s Northern Virginia’s idea of nature, my friends:

That’s SO typical. Tree decimation is rampant in these parts.

In the middle of the woods, I came across this:

I feel like I should know what it is?

It’s also sort of discouraging when I’m tempted to listen to my iPod on the “hike” with the sole intent of drowning out the sounds of that delightful NoVA traffic I love so much.

On the upside, here are a few shots of nature not looking quite so infringed upon:

In cat news, Brachtune ran away Saturday night. Now, don’t be alarmed. She’s back home, safe and sound. But it was pretty rocky for about 20 minutes there after I finished making my last post here and realized afterwards that it was strange Brachtune hadn’t been on my lap while I was typing it, her chin on my hand as I type, drooling all over me and the keyboard. I searched the house and became a bit frantic when we realized she must be outside. (I later determined she must have snuck out about an hour earlier when I’d stepped outside for a moment.) It was dark, so Mark took the flashlight and started off looking for her (he later told me he thought about way Tigger would have run and went in the opposite direction), while I stayed near the house looking in the side yard, where she likes to sit and eat grass when she’s on her leash and we’re on the patio supervising her.

Not having any luck, I went back inside and searched even more thoroughly, getting a bit upset because if she was in the house and hadn’t heard me calling her, something was very wrong. Just as I was about to burst into tears with worry, I heard the back door open and a familiar meow: Mark had found her across the street, looking scared. Now, I don’t know what in the world could possibly have possessed a 17-year old cat, who probably has cancer, who’s wasting away (she’d down to 5 pounds), who’s currently battling a urinary tract infection, who is the sweetest little bundle of love and affection, and who prior to this year was too scared to try to go outside and if she ever worked up the nerve, would go about a foot and run back in terrified, to suddenly decide – in the middle of the night – that she wants to run away from home. She’s been wanting to go out a lot lately, but the vet said she’s not allowed, even on her leash, until she’s recovered from this latest infection and can get her shots. So we have to keep an eye on her when we’re going in and out, but I never thought she’d do this, and certainly never thought she’d take off across the street! Fortunately we don’t get much traffic in our neighborhood and none of our wild friends like the neighborhood raccoon were around. And fortunately Mark was able to find her when he did. But I think she must be crazy! And the next day? She was on her hind legs, pawing at the back door, reaching for the handle, howling piteously, demanding to go back out. Despite the fact she must have been terrified. Who is this cat???

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