Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vegetarian Wontons

There are days, especially when deadlines are piling up, that I try to minimize my kitchen time. I give myself license to get take-out burritos, eat insta-meals, or thaw a container of soup that I tucked in the freezer and forgot months ago (hello, borscht!). And then, when deadlines have been dealt with, I return to my kitchen with a vengeance. I forgo take-out burritos for handmade tortillas. I make a full batch of chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal cookies (and eat a frightening amount of dough in the process). And I fill my freezer with vegetarian wontons.

It's always so nice to welcome back a food you thought was gone forever. Take-out Chinese food was a part of our regular dinner rotation when I was growing up, as it is for many New Yorkers. Greasy lo-mein noodles, gooey shrimp in lobster sauce, and countless cardboard containers of wonton soup. I loved wonton soup as a kid -- just a simple broth, with maybe a chunk of pork or sprinkling of scallions for accent, and then the slippery, savory dumplings -- and reluctantly said goodbye when I went vegetarian. But recently, with a package of wonton wrappers and a free evening to reconnect with my kitchen, I came up with a vegetarian version that brings back all those delicious memories.

These dumplings do take some effort, but with pre-made wrappers and an uncooked filling, they're definitely a bit easier than others of their species. The protein of your choice (I favor a chicken-style patty) is ground up, and given savory heft from soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine. Minced water chestnuts provide crunch (the few that I managed to not eat right out of the tin), and scallions, ginger and cilantro provide a bit of spark. As an added bonus, they freeze (uncooked) beautifully, and can be stashed away as an insta-meal for those days when you are, sadly, separated from your kitchen. Although with a freezer full of these dumplings, you really won't miss cooking much at all.

And speaking of things that have kept me from the kitchen, here's a recent article about all the many delicious savory dishes you can make from jam. I spent an afternoon with the amazing Marisa from Food in Jars, hearing about many of her delicious recipes, and sharing some of my own. If your jam-filled pantry looks anything like mine, I recommend checking it out.

Vegetarian Wontons

adapted from numerous sources and my memories of Ho Yen restaurant
yields ~4-5 dozen wontons

8 ounces faux meat (preferably chicken-style or pork-style), roughly chopped
2 stalks scallions, finely minced
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch sugar
~2 Tbsp water chestnuts, finely minced
1 handful cilantro, finely minced
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2" minced ginger
2 Tbsp xiaoxing rice wine or sherry

1 package wonton wrappers
broth for servings
1 scallion sliced, and a handful spinach, washed and chopped (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and heat up broth for serving. Add spinach to broth if desired.

Place the faux meat in a food processor, and pulse until it is reduced to small bits. Turn out into a bowl, and add the remaining filling ingredients. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (different proteins come with different seasonings, so feel free to tweak to best season your wontons).

Open the package of wrappers, covering with a dishtowel when not using (they can dry out quickly). Grab a small dish of water with a pinch of cornstarch, and lay out a few wrappers on your work surface. Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each one, and moisten the edges with your cornstarch water. Fold each wonton in half to form a triangle, pinching or pressing the edges so that they seal. If desired, take the edges of the smaller corners of the triangle, and pinch together to join. Repeat until you've formed all of your wontons. Make sure your work surface remains relatively dry, so that you don't accidentally glue down your wontons. If you would like to freeze any wontons, place a plate of them in the freezer at this stage. When par-frozen, move to a sealed container.

When your wontons are shaped, place a batch of them in the boiling water and simmer, gently, until they rise to the surface and the wrapper is cooked (it should only take a few minutes). Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon, and repeat until they are all cooked. To serve, place a few wontons in a bowl, add the broth, and top with a few scallions.


  1. You are always making something I've never thought to make!

    I loved the Oregonian piece... you guys totally inspire me - since I am not a daily PB&J or jam thumbprint eater, and the kiddo has practically given them up too; I think he overdosed.

  2. Thanks -- I lust after all of your sourdough breads.

    Let me know if you try any of the jam recipes -- I didn't eat the wings, but they got rave reviews. And oh those blue cheese cookies...

  3. Will do. I have a vow of 'no chicken parts', but think I could maybe adapt for whole chicken use... And I am waiting to have friends over to make those delicious looking blue cheese cookies! I have some apple-habaƱero jelly that may have to go in some! (I'm hoping jelly won't be too thin !)