Thursday, June 21, 2012

Veggie Gyozas


Although I spent a large part of my childhood in Japan, my knowledge and appreciation of Japanese cuisine is quite rudimentary, as being a vegetarian was a serious limitation in terms of trying Japanese foods.  Luckily, my school would often offer vegetarian versions of classic Japanese dishes like Yaki-soba and Kare-rice.  However, apart from these, my options for eating out were limited to American style pizza and celebratory dinners at the Old Spaghetti Factory (yes, they have those in Japan).  Given the limited options and the prohibitive cost of eating out in Japan, my family simply ate in most of the time.  This wasn’t really a problem for me since my mom is an adventurous and stellar cook.  However, as I’ve gotten older and moved away from Japan, I’ve started to become more interested in adapting Japanese foods to my vegetarian platter.

So you can imagine my glee when one of my very best friends, who is Japanese, offered to teach me how to make vegetarian gyozas at home.  Ever since I learned to make these gyozas, or pot-stickers, a couple of years ago, they have become a staple part of our cuisine, especially for potlucks and get-togethers.  I have had many omnivores comment on how delicious these are and how they never thought that vegetarian potstickers could taste so good.  So, with many thanks to my BFF, I present to you her recipe handed down to me, for meatless veggie gyozas.  Don't be intimidated by the lengthy instructions on preparing these.  They are actually fairly simple to make and turn out looking nice and fancy, so go ahead and give it a try.

Ingredients

1 regular bok choy (not baby-sized), chopped into small pieces
4 crimini mushrooms, diced finely
1 small zucchini, diced finely
1 red pepper, diced finely
½ box extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
6 pods garlic, finely minced
1 inch ginger root, peeled and finely minced
1 generous bunch of scallions, finely minced
4 T soy sauce
2 T Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

1 container of pot sticker wrappers, available at many grocery stores or at Asian markets
(these are round, not rectangular in shape)
The main players

To make
Mix all veggies, tofu, and sauces together in a large bowl.  The bok choy should be the most predominant veggie in this mix.
Allow it to sit at room temperature for about an hour so the flavor meld together, or refrigerate for longer storage

Now this next part is tricky to explain. 

Filling the gyozas

When ready to make gyozas, bring out veggies, a small cup with water in it, a towel to wipe your hands on, and the potsticker wrappers.

Hold a wrapper in the palm of your non-dominant hand and place a tablespoonful (approximately) of veggie filling in the center. 
Wet your finger in the water bowl and rim the upper half of the wrapper with a little bit of water.  This will help your gyozas remain closed once you wrap them.

Folding the gyozas

    Fold the lower half over the veggies to meet the top half and press down to form a semi-circle filled with veggies.  (This is the simple version for those who are unwilling to try making gyozas that actually look like gyozas.  These will be just as delicious, but not nearly as pretty).

OR

    As you fold the lower half to meet the upper half, pinch small pleats in the wrapper with the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand. This will form the classic potsticker shape that you are after.

Repeat for all your wrappers, stacking them side by side on a lightly floured platter as you go along.
All wrapped and ready to cook

Cooking the gyozas

You will need a large flat-bottomed skilled with a lid, preferably one that is see-through
Add  2 T of vegetable oil to the skillet (more if your pan is not non-stick)
Once the oil is hot, line up your gyozas in the pan, so that the flat side is on the bottom, and the pleats are on top.
Sear gyozas until the bottoms form an even brown color
Add ½ C water to the hot skillet and immediately close with lid
Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the gyoza wrappers become translucent
If the water you added has cooked off and your gyozas are still opaque, add more water and close lid
Once you start being able to see your veggie filling through the wrapper, transfer gyozas to a platter

Serve hot or at room temperature with soy sauce
The finished product


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Grilled Vegetable Tart

      For someone who loves to cook, I own very few cookbooks – three to be precise. 


       The most recent acquisition was one that caught my eye at the local bookstore, Powell's, on a rainy and otherwise boring Portland winter afternoon.  The moment I saw it sitting on a shelf, all new and glossy amongst its used book neighbors, I knew I was going to walk out of the shop with a new cookbook.  The book, that I’m waxing poetic about, is Plenty – celebrity UK chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s ode to fancified vegetarian cooking.  All the cookbooks that I have bought, I have bought for the pictures.  And this one is no exception.  Its pages are chock full of drool-worthy images of all manner of vegetarian foods, cooked up in innovative ways.  And luckily, I had the foresight to buy a version that lists ingredients in cups, rather than by weight.  My only complaint about the book is that the recipes don’t really lend themselves to cooking for a large crowd.  So recently, when I had over a small group of friends for a casual summer dinner in our garden, I decided to finally test-drive a couple of the recipes in the book.   
       I have to say, this cooking experience was a real joy, because for a change, I was following a recipe.  Since I had gone shopping earlier for some of the more exotic ingredients that I did not already have on hand, it was really fun throwing together familiar ingredients into a completely new dish.  For this summer meal, I cooked up Ottolenghi’s Very full tart as a substantial first course.  Ottolenghi qualifies this recipe as A fantastic Mediterranean feast, full to the brim with roasted vegetables.  This description is pretty spot on, except I would say that this tart is overflowing with roasted vegetables -- while assembling the pie, it was hard to believe that I could fit them all in.
The fancy recipe inspired this handblocked menu card -- you can see more of my designs at http://www.etsy.com/shop/5farthings
        This being the start of summer and all, I chose to grill my veggies outdoors, which gave them the added flavors that only grilling can impart.  However, if you follow the recipe from the book, you could simply roast all the veggies in the oven.  In fact, I think this recipe could easily be adapted for a hearty fall dish, bursting with various types of winter squash and dotted with a sharp cheese such as Roquefort.  Stay tuned for the fall version, I guess.
      But getting back to this tart, I think the dinner party was in agreement that the results were absolutely scrumptious.  If the rest of the recipes in this book are anywhere as good as this was, I highly recommend that you immediately trot over to your computer/book store, and order yourself a copy of this beautiful and delicious book, immediately.  And for those of you lucky enough to be in London, do check out one of Ottolenghi's many restaurants there, and leave a comment here for the rest of us to drool over.

Grilled vegetable tart – adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Very Full Tart, Plenty

Serves 8 as a first course and 4 as a main course

Ingredients

1 pie crust, either homemade or store-bought

1 red bell pepper and 1yellow bell pepper, diced into 2 inch chunks
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, diced into ½ inch pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 T olive oil

10 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped and coarsely chopped

1/3 C ricotta
4 oz. Feta
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large eggs
1 C heavy cream

Toss together peppers, sweet potato and zucchini, half the thyme leaves, and 2 T of olive oil.  Salt to taste and grill on a hot grill until tender. 

Mix eggplant with 2 T olive oil, salt to taste, and grill until tender.

Mix sliced onions with 2 T oil, and grill until very lightly browned on both sides.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 450 deg F
Lightly grease a 9-inch loose-bottomed tart dish
Roll out pie crust dough to about 1/8 inch in thickness and of a diameter large enough to cover the inside of your tart tin, with a slight overhang over the rim
Lightly press in your dough into the tart tin, leaving a slight overhang on all sides
Cover with parchment, top with pie weights or dried bean, and blind bake pie crust for 30 minutes
Remove weights and paper and continue baking about 15 minutes more or until your crust is golden brown
Remove crust from oven and cool for about 10 minutes

While crust is cooling, beat together cream and eggs
Line bottom of crust with cooked onions
Scatter the rest of the grilled veggies evenly into the crust
Dot the pie with chunks of feta and ricotta
Gently pour the cream mixture into the remaining few crevices surrounding the veggies
Arrange the halved tomatoes on top, and press in very lightly
Sprinkle remaining thyme leaves on top
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the pie filling has set and is golden brown
Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting

I made this a few hours before serving and kept it warm in the oven until dinner.  Before serving, I warmed it up once more by heating under a foil for 10 minutes at 350 deg F.





Serve as a main course or a substantial first course, along with a tangy salad.