Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vegetarian Won Ton Soup & Mushroom Tofu Dumplings

A few weeks back I had the unique pleasure of leading a cooking class for children.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  I appreciate any chance to affect young people's perspective on eating, and they are such honest students.  They always approach a class with a healthy dose of suspicion. "Will this really be worth my time and attention?"  I so love when that question gets answered in the affirmative and they "click" in and decide to get involved.

So I wisely started with the class by making Brownies.  Yes chocolate and sugar does tend to trend positive among the 10 year old set. The rest of the menu was:

Won Ton Soup
Oven "Fried" Chicken Fingers with Buttermilk Chive Sauce
Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Roasted Broccoli 

Pretty kid friendly I thought, with lots of easy and fun kitchen skills to learn. And then I received an email from the hostess of the party... "One of the children is a vegetarian, can we make sure the soup is vegetarian?"

Well so much for my lingering doubts that children wouldn't eat the broccoli!  I was naively surprised at this news and I felt every pound the meat and potatoes midwestern boy that I was raised to be.  But why wouldn't I expect a vegetarian kid among the mix.  I happily include vegetarian options at all my catered events, many of my friends are vegetarian and I'm always striving to make several of our own weekly meals vegetable based.  Did I somehow imagine vegetarian parents cooking up rib steaks and lamb chops for their kinder folks? Sometimes Big Mary amazes himself with obtuseness...

And so, the results of my re-thinking are presented here.  As is usually the case, when required to think outside the box, something newly delicious has presented itself.  The challenge was to make vegetarian won ton soup that would please the meat eaters as much as the vegetarians.  For the stock I turned to lots of roasted root vegetables, heightened by mushrooms for that satisfying umami base note and accented by spices used in Vietnamese Pho Soup (cinnamon, star anise, ginger and coriander).  The dumplings also relied on mushrooms for a meaty texture, augmented by mashed tofu for consistency.

I am happy to report that the result received thumbs up, both diminutive and full grown, across the board.  While the recipe for the broth takes some time, it's mostly non active time while the broth simmers.  Feel free to make it a few days ahead, or weeks ahead and freeze it.  The filling is pretty easily made by adults, and making won tons, of any style or flavor, is a great hands on, kid friendly activity.

Vegetable Won Tons
Makes Approximately 24 Won Tons


Vegetable Oil              1 Tablespoon
Cabbage                    ½ cup, finely chopped
Shiitake Mushrooms   1 ½ cups, finely diced (approx 12 large shiitake 
Carrot                          1 small, shredded
Fresh Ginger               1 teaspoon finely grated
Water Chestnuts         1 Tablespoon, finely chopped
Med or Firm Tofu        ½ cup finely diced
Sesame Oil                 1 ½ teaspoon
Garlic                          1 medium clove, minced
Soy Sauce                  1 Tablespoon
Hoisin Sauce               2 teaspoons
Scallions                      ¼ cup white and some green, sliced
Cilantro leaves            2 Tablespoons, chopped
Salt                              1/8 teaspoon

Wonton Wrappers
 1 Egg                          Beaten with 2 Tablespoons of water

Heat oil in a medium skillet.  Add cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrot and ginger.  Sauté over high heat  3 – 4 minutes until vegetables are cooked.  Add remaining ingredients (except won ton wrappers) and transfer mix to the work bowl of a food processor, fitted with the knife blade.  Pulse several times until mixture is broken down to a very fine chop.

Lay out several wonton wrappers on a cutting board with the point facing up (like a diamond shape) Paint the top two edges of the wonton very lightly with the egg wash.  Place a rounded teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper.  Fold the bottom corner up to meet the top corner of the wrapper.  Press down the edges to seal and force out any air in the wont ton.  Paint one of the bottom corners of the triangle with some egg wash and press it into the opposite corner, forming the wonton.

Boil gently in salted water for 3 minutes.  Serve in the roasted vegetable broth.  Garnish with fresh cilantro or scallion slivers.

Roasted Vegetable Broth
Makes about 1 ½  QT


2                                  Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
Carrots                        4 medium, well washed and chopped into inch 
Celery                         3 stalks, well washed and chopped into inch 
Onion                          1 extra large, cut into chunks (unpeeled)
Parsnip                        1 large, well washed and chopped into inch 
Button Mushrooms     10oz , brushed clean and cut in halves or quarters
Cinnamon Stick          2
Star, Anise                  2 stars
Fresh Ginger               5 slices about the size of a quarter
Coriander Seeds         2 teaspoons, crushed under a heavy pan
Garlic                          5 small cloves – smashed with the side of a knife
Soy Sauce                  1 Tablespoon
Parsley                        A small handful, stems are fine
Fresh Thyme              3 large sprigs
2 1/2 quart water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In separate bowls, toss carrots, celery, onions, parsnips and mushrooms  with some of the oil.  Scatter these vegetables on several aluminum foil lined baking sheets.  DO NOT CROWD THE VEGETABLES, LEAVE PLENTY OF ROOM.  This will allow them to brown some and not steam.   Roast for 8 – 10 minutes, letting them get some color. 
While the vegetables are roasting, place the whole spices in the stock pot.  Warm them over medium heat until they begin to release aroma.  Turn off heat and add water, herbs and soy sauce.  As vegetables are roasted, add them to the stock pot as well.  When everything is in the stock pot, bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Once the water comes to a boil, lower heat to maintain the stock at a gentle simmer for 75 minutes.  Let cool and strain well. 
Press gently on the solids in the strainer to release excess stock.  Measure stock, you should have about 6 cups.  If you have more or if the flavor is weak, return stock to the pot and reduce until the flavor is as strong as you want.  Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper as desired.

Copyright Big Mary’s Kitchen 2013

Friday, March 01, 2013


No, I don't have access to some magical calendar that has moved the Vernal Equinox to March 1st.  But I would love to have the customer service number for whomever is responsible for setting March 20 as the beginning of Spring.

Sorry... I know it's all about planets and the sun and history and druids and perhaps even the Mayans as well, but there's just no way I can respond to any day in March as winter.  I am fully aware that by putting this on paper (or cyber, or whatever...) I am sending up fireworks of red flares to all the gods daring them to smack down my audaciousness with 8 inches of snow or so.  If it happens, I'll cope... but with a SPRING blizzard, and no other term will apply.

So this may clue you in as to why I was prowling the kitchen today in search of something deliciously green and bright to bring some sunshine into the grey day I was seeing outside my window.  Yet, I am fully on board with seasonal eating, at least when it comes to my home.  Witness the bounty of kale, winter squash, cauliflower, parsnips and carrots my patchwork family has smiled through since October.  And so I honorably approached the refrigerator in search of a new perspective with some all too familiar inspiration.

O happy morning.... there in all their verdant glory were some brussels sprouts.  Don't let me see that look!  It's not Big Mary's fault if your Mama always cooked them to the consistency of grey green pudding.  Stay strong and hang with me here reader...  And some celery I spy, certainly green and bright, a bit of a dowdy step sister, but always under appreciated... and oh YES, that Meyer Lemon I couldn't resist buying.

If you are not familiar with Meyer Lemons, they are the dazzling citrus debutante that every chef wants to dance with.  A cross between a mandarine orange and a lemon, it is infinitely more interesting than either of it's parents.  Don't we all secretly aspire to the same claim?  With a maternal sweetness overlaying the tartness from papa lemon it also has a floral perfume uniquely it's own.  Happily they are becoming more and more available in regular markets.

And so I offer a recipe to tide you over until Spring closes the gap between nature and instinct.  Something to relish until Mama Earth send us ramps and asparagus, morels and rhubarb, and assures us of the bounty that will return to us again.  In the words of Thorton Wilder.... "Oh Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you!"

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Celery and Meyer Lemon
Serves 4

2     Tablespoons  Herbed Olive Oil (or Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
3     large       Shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
1     large       Celery Rib, peeled
12   ounces    Fresh Brussels Sprouts
1                   Meyer Lemon ( or regular Lemon)
Salt & Pepper
2     Tablespoons  Fresh Parsley Leaves, finely chopped

Holding the stem end of the brussels sprouts, slice thinly on a kitchen mandoline, V-Slicer or Benriner slicer.  (Alternately you could thinly shave them with a sharp knife).  Cut the celery into thin julienne strips about 2 inches long.  Zest the Meyer Lemon and reserve.  Juice the lemon and reserve. (If using regular lemon, use only juice from half a lemon.)
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the sliced shallots and saute over high heat for 1 minute.  Add the Celery and cook an additional minute.  Add the shredded Brussels Sprouts, lemon zest and salt and pepper.  Saute until sprout leaves are beginning to wilt and slightly brown.  Add lemon juice, stir well and serve.

Copyright Big Mary's Kitchen 2013