Spiced Soy Dressing with Green Veg

Must. Stop. Cooking. Chinese. Food. This is what I’ve been telling myself lately. It is true, my cooking patterns follow my travel patterns, and I’ll often cook a few meals inspired by recent travels. But it has been four months since I visited China and still all I want to eat is Chinese food. Specifically, Sichuan-inspired Chinese food. Eric is sick of the mouth-numbing meals I present to him, often opting to forage for nuts in the freezer rather than having a second helping of whatever spicy, salty thing I put forth.

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So this will be my last one. It’s a somewhat healthy dish, too. I used broccoli, snow peas, and baby bok choy, but the real recipe here is for the dressing. It can go on veg – any veg – or even over noodles. It’d be great served over a soft tofu. I even braised a brisket in a similar liquid (with the addition of chicken broth, subtraction of chile oil) for our “Jewish Christmas” celebration. Not that I’m Jewish, and Eric is only sort of culturally Jewish, but we went with it.

By the way, how cute and funny are these chopsticks? I bought them in the airport in Nairobi because they were, well, too funny to pass up. They’re actually quite hard to eat with because one chopstick is bowed out in a weird shape, but I still use them to cook with and for funny photos.

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Everyone has been asking how we like New York, so I’ll address that here for everyone else…

We love it!

We sort of just picked up our Chicago life and transported it to New York. We have been doing run-to-brunch and exploring new neighborhoods, museums, shops. The Chinese grocer is a bit more convenient here than it was in Chicago, but I still end up buying way too many heavy items and then carry the burden home on the train. The six flights of stairs to our apartment actually aren’t so bad, though we definitely try not to forget things like wallets or umbrellas on our way out the door. We can’t wait to start biking more once we know our way around better and the weather gets warmer. And we even took a weekend trip to the Hudson Valley over Christmas to hike and relax outside the city.

One thing has been on my mind, though: where are all the breweries and tap rooms?? I would have thought that Brooklyn – so loaded with empty warehouses and whatnot – would be so into the brewing scene, but I must say, it is sorely lacking. I miss places like Revolution Tap Room or Half Acre – sunny, open spaces for all my suds-ing needs. I mean, can I fill my growler around here? What is up, hipsters?

**sidebar: yes, I am aware of the few breweries that do exist in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and beyond. It’s just that between all the beer we drank in Chicago and all the various little cities we’ve visited over the past two years, I would have thought the beer scene here would have been more, um, blown up.**

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Spiced Soy Dressing with Green Veg

1 cup light soy sauce
1 cup water
1/4 cup xiaoshing wine
1/4 cup chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon red sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon green sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
3 whole cloves
4 dried chiles (I used Tianjin chiles found at the Chinese grocer), ripped up

1/2 cup chile oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons oil
black sesame seeds for garnish

To serve: blanched broccoli, snow peas, bok choy, noodles, etc.

Combine soy sauce, water, xiaoshing wine, vinegar, and all the spices, including the chiles, in a sauce pan. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain out the spices and taste – depending on your soy sauce, it could be too salty. If it tastes good as is, combine 1 cup of the spiced soy sauce in a mason jar with the chile oil. Cover and shake to combine. If it is too salty, add a bit of water until you find the taste you desire. Then mix with chile oil.

Fry the garlic in the oil over medium-high heat until they are crispy. Watch closely as they will burn quickly. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and dry them on a towel or paper towel.

Serve over veggies or noodles. Top with garlic chips and black sesame seeds.

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

Well, it has been a while since I’ve checked in here. In the meantime, I accepted a new job; traveled to China, it’s Special Administrative Regions – Hong Kong and Macau, and Taiwan; and started coordinating a move to New York City. Yes, we’re moving! We’re in the midst of figuring out logistics of a cross-country move, which is a lot more challenging than I initially imagined. Little by little, though, we’re putting the pieces in their places, packing up all our belongings, and mentally preparing for everything to come. It’s an exciting time. Certainly, it is bittersweet to be leaving Chicago, but this move seems to be the right thing right now.

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And then there was vacation! The trip was planned with my friends as a last hurrah before I start working full time again, and what a final hurrah it was. I’m still editing the photos and will hopefully share some soon, but in sum, we ate a lot of good food, saw a lot of cool sites, and soaked up all the crazy awesome little things that make up Chinese culture. It was also fun to see the differences among Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as we saw it in Beijing. It was a really special trip and, like usual, I’ve been inspired to cook all the foods we ate.

We didn’t make it to Sichuan province, but we still managed to eat a few Sichuan dishes and brought home Sichuan peppercorns to replicate everything. We learned how to wrap wontons in a cooking class in Beijing and I used that same technique to wrap up some seasoned ground pork. This recipe is a project, to be sure, but totally worth it.

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

I would recommend making your own Sichuan chili oil, which is really easy once you gather up all the ingredients. You can likely find everything at a Chinese grocer, including the green Sichuan peppercorns. They’re sometimes found under the label Prickly Ash. Several ingredients are found online, also. I roughly followed Lady and Pups’ recipe using the amounts below.

You may end up with a lot of leftover filling. You can sauté the filling and add it to noodles, or just buy more dumpling/wonton wrappers and keep wrapping! Oh, and the Sichuan chili oil is great on so many things: salads, noodles, eggs, etc – anywhere you would use a hot sauce, you can use this oil.

Sichuan Chili Oil

4 cups neutral flavored vegetable oil
2 green onions, cut into quarters
10-15 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red Sichuan peppercorns, stems and seeds removed
6 tablespoons green Sichuan peppercorns, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup chili flakes (I used gochugaro, a Korean chili flake)
3-4 star anise pods
1/2 stick cinnamon
2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
4 dried chili pods

Pork Wonton

1 package square wonton wrappers
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shaioxing wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup chopped Chinese chives
1 teaspoon shrimp paste, optional

For serving

1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon black vinegar

sliced green onions and Chinese chives
Sichuan chili oil

Gather the ingredients for the chili oil. Heat all the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. You know it’s hot when you insert a wooden chopstick and bubbles form around the chopstick. Add all the ingredients and cook for a minute or so. Remove from the heat and let cool for several hours, up to a full day. After the oil is fully cooled and room temperature, strain out all ingredients.

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For the wontons, combine the pork with the rest of the ingredients in the list. Mix well. Put the wonton wrappers on a plate and cover with a wet cloth. You’ll also need a small bowl of water to seal the wontons.

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To make the wonton, place the wrapper in the palm of your hand. Dip your finger in the water and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Place a half teaspoon of wonton filling in the center of the wonton. It’s very important to keep the amount of filling to a half teaspoon or less, otherwise the wonton will not fold properly.

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Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up and at an angle, so the two corners form little mountain peaks like in the picture below.

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Then grab the two folded corners on each side of pull them down to meet. Cross one edge over the other and squeeze together to seal the wonton.

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To cook, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop the wontons in the water in batches and cook for five minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow the water to drain away from the wonton.

Place the wontons in a bowl and drizzle with soy sauce, black vinegar, Sichuan chili oil, and sliced green onions + chives.