Now that I'm back to doing Craft Services on TV commercials, (now known as Client Services, so spiffy) and working on a freelance basis, I have plenty of time to wander about my great city and eat like a tourist that knows what the locals know.
Yesterday I found myself down in Chinatown and after a pilgrimage to Pearl River Imports to buy a tea strainer, a present for my friend in Arizona and a rice paper globe for my bathroom, I decided to visit my favorite Chinese acupuncturist on Lafayette Street to fix my faulty left foot. Nick from Olive's on Prince Street recommended him to me because he helped cure Nick's Plantar Fascitis and that was a good enough reference for me! The waiting room was packed so I ducked out to get some cash and found myself standing in front of Excellent Dumpling House, one of my favorite places to dine during the obligatory jury duty that rears it's civic head every few years. As my friend Vera said, it's appropriately named and I have to agree. I am a big fan of dumplings, they are one of my favorite foods and words (next to the word Pie), bringing to mind dough wrapped treasures, soft, tasty and delightful, mmmm!
I pushed in and at 1:30pm, the place was totally packed. I was seated at the communal table in the back, I like the communal table, it opens up the possibility of meeting new people, which, when I've got the time, I like to hear about other people's stories and lives... Instead of my dumplings, I broke tradition and found myself ordering a soup I'd seen a woman eating when I walked in. It was full of bok choy, (my second favorite food,) and tasty slivers of chicken and wonderful long noodles nestled in a chicken broth with enough garlic to ward off the nastiest cold due to the vacillating weather we've been having lately. To my right a woman was engrossed in a book and looked loathe to interrupt it with conversation but gave a recommendation for it, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh , she said it was so good she wished she could stay home all day reading it, I love a good book like that! Across from me was a woman dressed in various shades of blue and furious with the waiter for bringing her a dish she thought was going to be something different. It turned out to be the Soup Dumplings which are named rather misleadingly, instead of being mixed dumplings in soup, they're dumplings filled with soup. She was game to try it and seemed pretty satisfied but ordered the scallion pancakes to assuage her fury and seemed subdued by the combination. She shared the scallion pancakes with the woman on my left (apparently this was not a place to pick up a member of the opposite sex) who was waiting for an appointment at the Courthouse at 2:30. We wound up talking long after the others had left and she was a delightful dining companion. It was her first time at the Excellent Dumpling House and she ordered a feast of the lunch special which came with a fried wonton made with vegetables and cream cheese (I had major appetizer envy over that one but decided an order of five would be a bit self indulgent) and some sort of chicken with mixed vegetables and an order of vegetable dumplings which she, in turn, shared with me! We talked about how dumplings cross many cultural barriers and she told me to call her to come make a Dominican version of fried dumplings which sounded delicious too! (Fried anything sounds pretty health threatening but delicious anyway!)
With all this dumpling mania, I think I will begin a quest to find and make as many different cultural dumplings as possible. I'm up for the challenge and welcome any recipes or input that come my way! Last week on a shoot for Calvin Klein's Euphoria perfume, I made a fantastic pork and scallion dumpling from a recipe I found online and altered because I didn't have all the called for ingredients. Here it is with my changes:
Scallion and Pork Dumplings
1/2 lb fatty ground pork
1 Tbsp umeboshi plum vinegar (instead of Shaoxing Wine)
1/4 tsp Asian sesame oil
1/2 tsp Vietnamese chile-garlic sauce (preferably Huy Fong brand0
1/2 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar (I used seasoned and it seemed ok)
2 tsps soy sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch of white pepper (black was fine)
3 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro stems
3 Tbsp finely chopped chives
3 Tbsp finely chopped scallions (the recipe called for just flowering chives, garlic chives or Scallions, I decided to go with both regular scallions and chives)
3 Tbsp finely chopped ginger ( the recipe didn't call for this but I knew it would be a fantastic addition)
24-30 dumpling wrappers (used squares and made them into little envelopes)
Combine all ingredients (except wrappers, duh!) in a large bowl and set in a larger bowl of ice while forming dumplings.
Bring a pot of vegetable or chicken stock to a simmer while making the dumplings.
To form dumplings, place a slightly rounded teaspoon of mixture in the center of the dough and moisten the seam on side of an angle, then fold one side over the other to create a triangle and press onto moistened side and then fold in the sides to make an envelope and lie face down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until with remaining wrappers and filling.
Cook dumplings until they float in gently simmering stock (so they don't fall apart) and the pork is just cooked, about 3-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a platter and garnish with leftover chive stems. Or you could season the broth with soy sauce, scallions, garlic, ginger, and serve it as a soup which would be equally as comforting and delicious.