One of the most cherished aspects of my time in China was a half day cooking course. I thought it would be the perfect thing to teach to something else.
First, the teacher guided us through a market….I LOVED the spices, and looking at unfamiliar vegetables, eggs, and tons of tofu.
Then, we enjoyed a great hour long introduction to Chinese cooking condiments: soy sauce, rice wine, and black vinegar. Very intriguing, and will influence my asian cooking for the rest of my life. Here are the brush “take home messages”
1) Get Black Vinegar. Black Vinegar is used widely in China as a dipping sauce. Tangy, made with fermented wheat, but sweet, almost like a flowery balsamic grapey flavor. There are many different types, made with different types of grain. My favorite was the kind with fermented sorghum, which is a round pebbled grain. Vinegar’s legacy in China dates to 6000 BC (yep, they had an old barrel on display in Shanghia) inadvertently developed with its cousins… wine, beer, and other spirits. It’s even in the Bible (look at descriptions of the Passover).
2) Buy the Good Stuff.
For Soy Sauce, there are two varieties….light and dark. The Dark is aged much longer, contains nutty and thicker accents, and tastes rather potent. This was my kind of soy sauce. Although they cautions to use dark for red meats and the light version for light meats and vegetables, I will now look for dark when purchasing. Nearly every country makes soy sauce…as it is only soy beans, wheat, and salt. The BEST soy sauce is Lee Kum Kee’s. You want some with high soy salt content, anything .5 or above 100 ml is decent.
For Black Vinegar, get anything with the number 18 on the bottle. I don’t remember why! I just remember writing down 18! with a big underline on it, and when I google it, nothing emerges. I think it is HOW LONG it is fermented….the more bacteria can sweat and merge with the grain, the better. If you get a cheap brand, it might taste a little harsh. Honestly? TAsting the different ones, I thought I COULD DRINK THIS! And I discovered that I couldn’t WAIT to try it drizzled on roasted eggplant and mushrooms with some mung beans. YUMMY! She told me that Gold Plum’s brand in the States is the best…but I am just happy happy happy I got the real thing right now in my cupboard!
3) SHARE! Use up your vinegars within 9 months…so this means, most likely, if you use it only 2 times a week, a half bottle will do ya well. So SHARE IT!
Now…onto the dumplings! First, you make up the dumpling dough. As it has to sit for 30 minutes, you chop up the fillings while it is “resting”. It is a pretty easy recipe to make. 3 Cups Flour, 1/4 tsp salt…and about 1 cup cold water.
For the fillings, we made 4 different types: a lamb and spring onion, a beef and spring onion, a beef and mustard green and a mushroom and mustard green. I chose the veggie ones, and every one thought mine were the tast-y-est! (Yeah K! You followed the recipe!)
Now…the hard part is the shaping. The instructors punched out 300 dumplings easy peasy with their hands, making the motion of a revolving tiny pizza wheel with the palm of their hand, and then swift pinch pinch pinch of their fingers and a snap of the fillings and LOOK you’ve got a perfect little shell dying to be boiled, sauteed or steamed.
My technique back in March was more like “didn’t I use to have fine motor coordination? where did all those hours of piano key hitting and guitar string plucking get me???” Not the worst in the class, thank God a hung over pain pill popping french woman got that honor, I was definitely the most seriously intent on busting the mystery of the dumpling shape. This was not one area I just wanted to reach GO and collect my $200. I wanted to SHAPE the dough HOW they DID…making the shells that have been made for a thousand years.
My first “line” is on the right…compared that to the ones to it’s left
So….three months later, and I was SUPER excited to make up the dough. and FUN! the dough consistency turned out PERFECTLY….but our attempts to remaster the dough into dumpling “skins” weren’t so technically advanced. It took us a LOT of laughs over multiple attempts to get it right. We also used this dough to make long DAN DAN noodles.
We made two types of filling….mushroom and greens, and soy crumble and onion. We all agreed that the mushroom and greens were the tastiest. Using frozen chopped greens made the filling fixin a snap.
After shaping them, there are three types of ways to cook these babies up…and we got to do all three in March (and, all three at my house). You can pan-fry them for 5-10 minutes until browned in a pan. Or you can boil them. In this method, you add 12 dumplings in, then when water begins to re-boil, add 1/2 cup of water, and then wait for it to reboil, then add another half cup again, and wait for it to come to a boil…they should be done by then.
But my favorite texture production is by steaming them! They used a steam-pot, oiling the rack and making sure the blossoms don’t touch. They steam for 20 minutes.
At my home lesson, I FLOPPED at the boiling. When pouring them out, the surface area in the colander was too small, and the dumplings at the bottom stuck together. But most guests preferred the steamed version.
While you are waiting for them to steam…whip up some dipping sauce. This is where the black vinegar comes in….the sauce is basically 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil (I am going to do 1 to 1) and then adding in chili sauce, or ginger, or sesame seeds. I like my sauce SPICY! In March, the teachers were impressed by my “vigor!”
My friends…well, they put up with my vigor. And the spice is “on the side,K, thank you very much.” Add rice crackers, some mung bean crackers bought in China and black sesame seed paste with green tea cookies and pretty much the teaching unfolds less like a lesson and more like a 16 year old slumber party…
What’s the last class you took? When did you last intentionally teach a friend something you recently learned?