Gyoza (Dumplings)

cooking dumplings3
Gyoza (餃子) is the Japanese word for dumplings. They consist of a thin wrapper and a filling of meat and/or vegetables, and may be cooked by steam-frying, boiling, or deep-frying. Gyoza can come in almost infinite varieties, so feel free to adjust as you like. This is my basic recipe, but it often varies depending what’s on sale, in season, or around my kitchen.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
125g (1/4 lb) ground pork
1 cup finely sliced cabbage or hakusai (Napa cabbage)
1/2 cup finely sliced veggies (nira/garlic chives, green onions, other greens, carrots, etc)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
24 gyoza wrappers (or round dumpling wrappers)

Optional (for dipping sauce): Additional soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and/or chili oil

Instructions

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients (except wrapper) well. (It can help to use your hands.) Tip: it’s a good idea to check the flavor, so you can microwave about 1 tsp of the filling until cooked and taste it. That’s what your finished dumplings will taste like, so adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Fill each dumpling with 1/2 tbsp of the filling. Dip a finger in water and draw a line halfway around the edge of the wrapper, and fold. You can find videos showing you how to fold gyoza online if you haven’t done it before, or look at the pictures below for an idea. If it’s your first try, it’s best to check out a video, or have someone show you.

gyoza2Once all the dumplings are folded, you can cook them. Gyoza can be pan-fried, boiled, or deep-fried. The first way is the most common, and what I usually do at home, so I’ll give the instructions here. Boiling and deep-frying are pretty self-explanatory. You will need a frying pan that has a lid.

Place teaspoon or two of oil in a frying pan on medium heat and set the dumplings down in it. Leave a little space between them so they don’t stick together. You want the pleated edges sticking straight up. Let them cook for a minute or two, and then pour about 1/2 cup of water into the frying pan and put the lid on. (Remember, you’re pouring water onto hot oil, so it may splatter.)

Steam the dumplings for about 8 minutes. If all the water evaporates before then, add a little more. After 8 minutes, remove the lid and let the extra water boil off. You can check for doneness by poking one open with a chopstick and making sure there’s no pink in the meat. Finally, let the dumplings cook in the hot oil until the bottom gets crispy and brown (see the picture at the top of the post).

Serve immediately.

Optional dipping sauce: mix equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Some people like to add oil as well; you can use sesame oil or chili oil (ラー油, raayu).

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Pumpkin Spice Steamer

pumpkin spice steamerI’ve heard a lot about pumpkin spice lattes this season, and I can imagine the popularity. I don’t drink much coffee, though, so I thought about creating a similar drink without the coffee. It was surprisingly easy, and is much cheaper (and probably healthier) than buying it at a coffee shop. I imagine you could add coffee, too, if that’s your thing!

Ingredients (serves 1)
240mL (1 cup) milk (low fat or whole are both fine; I haven’t tried any other varieties)
2 tsp brown sugar
a sprinkle each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt (OR a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice)
1 thin slice fresh ginger (OR a sprinkle of powdered ginger)
2 tbsp pumpkin puree*
a few drops vanilla extract

*Pumpkin puree is not easily found in Japan. I have seen canned pumpkin once at an import store. It’s also available online. Leftover pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer in a ziplock bag for months.You can use frozen puree in this recipe, since it’ll thaw in the hot milk.

Instructions

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Heat over medium-low heat until steaming – do not allow the milk to simmer or boil, or a skin will develop on top.

Asian Pulled Pork

pulled porkI developed this recipe from the idea of a pulled pork with Asian flavors, and adjusted my recipe until I was happy with it. This pork takes a long time to cook, so it must be done on a day when you’ll be at home; or it would certainly do well in a slow-cooker, though I haven’t tried that yet. I always use pork loin, as it is a relatively cheap cut of meat in Japan, but I think any cut would do as long as it’s not too fatty..

Ingredients
300g (10oz) pork loin
salt and pepper
1 tsp each canola and sesame oils
1/2 onion, sliced very thinly
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp finely minced garlic
360mL (1-1/2 cups) green tea (I normally put a teabag in my measuring cup, fill it with hot water, and steep for a few minutes.)
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
1/4 cup brown sugar (if you prefer your pork less sweet, use half this amount)
1 tsp rice vinegar

Instructions

Season the pork loin with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the oils in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Place the pork loin carefully into the pan and sear, turning it carefully until it is browned on all sides.

Add all the remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer on very low heat for at least 3 hours. If too much liquid evaporates during cooking, add some water. By the end, most of the liquid should be gone.

When ready to serve, cook uncovered on high heat for a few minutes. The pork can also be refrigerated after the 3 hour cooking time and then reheated on the stove on medium-high heat.

You can eat the pork however you like – add it to a salad, on top of rice with some veggies, or in a wrap – our favorite. I’ll write another time about how we make our pork wraps.

Mapo Dofu

Mapo Dofu is originally a Chinese (Szechuan?) dish, which is also commonly found in Japan. My version is based on the Japanese ones, which is much less spicy and less oily than the original. This dish is very easy and inexpensive, because it uses a little meat for flavor, and tofu to make up the majority of the dish.

Some of these ingredients might be unfamiliar: doubanjiang is a kind of spicy bean paste, and tianmianjiang is a sweet bean sauce. Nira is a vegetable (maybe garlic chives in English) that looks similar to green onions, but the leaves are flat.

Ingredients
1 tbsp sesame oil
100g (3.5 oz) ground pork
1/2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp minced or grated garlic
1/2 tbsp doubanjiang (豆板醤 / トウバンジャン)
1 tbsp tianmianjiang (甜麺醤 / テンメンジャン)
2 tbsp sake, divided
1 tbsp soy sauce
150 mL / ~3/4 cup chicken broth
6 stalks nira
2 tsp cornstarch + a little water
1 block firm tofu (木綿)

Rice for serving

Instructions

Wrap the block of tofu in paper towels, place something flat (like a plate) on top, and let it sit for about 20 minutes to remove excess water.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the sesame oil, ground pork, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the pork is no longer pink. Move the pork over to one side, and add the doubanjiang and tianmianjiang sauces on the other side of the pan. Mix them together and fry for a few seconds before mixing them with the pork. Stir until everything is combined.

Add 1 tbsp of sake and mix with the pork. Cook for a minute or two to let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chicken broth, soy sauce, and remaining 1 tbsp of sake.

Cut the tofu into bite-size squares, and cut the nira into about 3cm (1 inch) pieces. Add both to the frying pan and mix gently (be careful not to break the tofu pieces). Let cook for a few minutes, then add the cornstarch mixed with a little water. Let the sauce thicken, and then turn off the heat.

I like to serve this on top of freshly cooked rice, or you can serve it alongside.

Beef Rice Bowl (Gyuudon)

One of my favorite dinners, this beef rice bowl comes together quickly and is warm and comforting. I like the sweet and salty flavor. In Japan, a bowl of rice with some kind of topping like meat, seafood, egg, or vegetables is called a donburi, which can also be shortened to don, giving this dish its name: gyuu (beef) + don.

Ingredients
1 cup rice (uncooked)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1/3 cup (80mL) sake or rice wine*
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ginger juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 lb (228g) beef, very thinly sliced
2 eggs (optional)

Instructions

Start cooking the rice according to your usual method first, then while it’s cooking make the topping.

Melt the butter in a medium frying pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add the sake and cook for about 2 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.

Add the soy sauce, ginger juice, sugar, and garlic and mix well. Finally, add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, until it is just cooked through. It should cook very quickly, in no more than 2-3 minutes.

When the rice is cooked, divide it between two bowls and spoon the beef and onion mixture on top. Serve at once.

(Optionally, you can put a raw egg on top of each bowl and mix it in; it’ll become half-cooked in the hot rice.)

Serves 2.

Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad

This pasta salad has a really nice Asian flavor, and is really delicious hot, warm, or cold! Original recipe is from allrecipes.com, but I’ve adjusted it to be more healthy (less chicken, more veggies, and less oil).

Japan Note: Bow-tie shaped pasta is not very easily found in my area (though I have found it at an import store). I have substituted rotini or ziti shapes with success. Though spaghetti is definitely the most common Western-style pasta here, I’m not sure how well it would work in this recipe.

Ingredients
1/4 cup sesame seeds
16oz (454g) bow-tie pasta
1/4 cup (60mL) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80mL) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80mL) rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1-2 cups steamed veggies, cut into bite-size pieces (I like snow peas, broccoli, and carrots)

Instructions

Spread sesame seeds in a dry pan and toast on low heat until fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn.

Cook pasta as directed on package and drain.

Whisk together oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, and pepper together and pour over pasta. Mix in chicken, green onion, and veggies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

This pasta salad is good hot or at room temperature. If you can give it a little time to marinate, it’s even better, as the pasta soaks up more of the dressing.

Peanut Chicken

I invented this crispy peanut chicken recipe as a copy of a dish that my husband used to eat at a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. It’s definitely not the healthiest dish, but once in a while we really enjoy this for dinner.

Japan notes: Peanut butter is definitely available in Japan, in small, expensive jars. American brands are sold at import stores and some grocery stores. I have never tried the Japanese product called “peanut cream,” so I don’t know how that compares. We usually get our peanut butter from loving family members who send it from the U.S.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts
1/2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp sake or rice wine
salt and pepper
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup peanut butter (we prefer chunky)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
extra vegetable oil for frying
1 tbsp sesame oil

Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into a bowl. Add sake and mix. Cut the chicken breasts into strips. Add the chicken to the bowl, add a sprinkle each of salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Let the chicken marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess liquid. Coat the chicken in cornstarch. I find the easiest way is to put the chicken pieces and cornstarch in a bowl, cover with a lid, and shake it to coat them evenly.

Heat about 2″ vegetable oil on the stove and add sesame oil for flavor. Once the oil is hot, fry the chicken a few pieces at a time until golden brown. Drain on paper towels to remove extra oil.

Make the peanut sauce by heating the peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat until it softens. Add the sugar and vegetable oil and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts.

To serve, I like to put the chicken on the plate and drizzle peanut sauce over. This keeps the chicken crispy. I usually serve this with rice and some green veggies. The peanut sauce is good over the vegetable as well!