Wontons with Sesame Sauce

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Few times a year I spend the better part of a Saturday assembling wontons. I try to go seasonal with the fillings, but if not, I fall back on the classic fillings: usually a combination of ground chicken, ground pork, diced shrimp, fresh ginger and scallions, and finely chopped water chestnuts. Ever since I took the “Wonders of Wontons” class at the Civic Kitchen in San Francisco, I’ve felt super empowered to experiment with wontons and potstickers. They are easy to assemble (time consuming, sure, but oh so rewarding), easy to freeze, and if you fold them a certain way, can double as boiled wontons as well as potstickers.

This year I tried adapted a recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine, which suggests adding sesame oil as well as vegetable oil to the filling and whisking (almost beating) it till the fat is fully incorporated in the filling. When cooked, it makes for a really lush wonton. I switched the pork for chicken so maybe mine weren’t as fatty as the ones from the original recipe, but still very comforting and delicious!

I usually drop my wontons in a quick chicken broth, but I really loved the Sesame Sauce here – a quick little sesame paste condiment that takes less than a minute to assemble, and I imagine will be delicious with a great number of things. You can always substitute tahini or even peanut butter if you don’t have sesame paste on hand.

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Easy and Wildly Inauthentic “Tilgul” (dairy-free, gluten-free sesame energy bites)

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Every other year or so I have attempted (and failed at) “Tilgul” – a sweet treat made with sesame seeds (“Til”), jaggery (“Gul”), coconut and a whiff of cardamom, sometimes rolled into balls (“Laddoos”), or formed into bars. There’s many different kinds too, with different levels of complexity (and corresponding failure rates). Some varieties are fudge-y and moist, while others are crunchy and almost brittle-like.

No matter the way, I find it tricky to make Tilgul at home especially with the variation in the jaggery available in the US. It seems to have a lower moisture content sometimes, and other times it liquifies too fast and hardens into a rock. It’s not that my Tilgul attempts have been complete disasters, but they haven’t been as perfect as they should be, or could be (unless you call dismantling it and eating it like granola with your cereal a success).

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Gingerbread Cake

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Gingerbread is one of them Christmastime/December rituals, something you make when you are invited to a holiday party, or throw one. It’s a purely seasonal event – both it’s making and consumption. And usually if someone asks me to make Gingerbread in any of the remaining 11 months of the year, I politely decline and make something else instead. I’m very much like Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper that way; he has a clear rule about these type of things, in that he only drinks Hot Cocoa in months that have “R” in them. Take a minute to see that it makes total sense.

Gingerbread is only for December, only when it’s cold out, and you are enjoying it with a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate or mulled wine, doing absolutely nothing. The ultimate year end treat. Second only to Black Forest Cake, Gingerbread is one of the best things to come from Germany.

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Mushroom and Potato Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

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My obsession for dumplings is well-documented. Whether it’s chicken and dumplings, or potstickers, or Indian Chakolya (called Dal Dhokli or Varan Phal; these are mildly spiced whole wheat and gram flour dumplings cooked in a spicy lentil stew) or wontons, or Dhokle Papdi (bite-sized gram flour patties stewed in flat beans and spices) my love for all things doughy knows no bounds. It’s what I crave on Sunday nights, cold evenings, or after a long tiring day.

I first made pelmeni and pierogis couple years ago, after my husband visited Russia and simply could not shut up about them. He brought me back some cookbooks from Moscow and I got right to it, I was blown away by how simple and scrumptious they were! Pelmeni are a type of Russian/Ukrainian rustic, savory dumpling filled with meat or mushrooms or potatoes or cheese. I made the pelmeni with a potato and mushroom filling similar to what I’ve shown here, and a handful of pierogis with diced apples. As someone living in the United States for so many years, I felt like I needed to alert the authorities – the apples were NOT tossed in cinnamon, nor were they dusted with it. The serving recommendation was to just serve them piping hot with some butter. I resisted the urge to add cinnamon and was rewarded. Something happens to the apples inside the pierogis that we cannot explain.

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Garlic Whipped Parsnips

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As someone who routinely dreams of sleeping on a pillow made of mashed potatoes, the carbs add up. I think they add up even if I’m innocently thinking about potatoes; one doesn’t even need consume them.

So one must look for alternatives that are lower in carbohydrates, still good with respect to fiber, and yet don’t taste like pressed sawdust. Parsnips happen to live in just that precise neighborhood, and in the winter months, are just begging to be enlisted to be whipped into perfection. Lower in calories, higher in fiber, a slightly sweet taste – if I wasn’t a potato-head I would switch to them permanently. Just kidding!

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Russian Cabbage Soup (Shchi)

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This soup is essentially a warm hug.

Russian soups tend to be meat-heavy for all the good reasons so it’s difficult to find something vegetarian and light in the soup category; I do make a vegetarian Borscht from time to time but this time I wanted something light, bright and clear, and this Cabbage Soup, or Shchi, totally hit the spot.

This soup is basically a Russian mixed vegetable soup starring cabbage, carrots and potatoes, in a base made with onions sautéed in butter. Bay leaves and whole peppercorns are added, leaving the soup clear, bright and sharp (not muddled due to addition of ground pepper). Sometimes sauerkraut is added, as are greens, but I’ve added neither to keep it simple. I also used this soup as a vehicle to use up odds and ends in the fridge (I’m looking at you, diced celery and turnip from 2 weeks ago).

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