(Not so) Fast Food

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?  Mine used to be Chicken Nuggets, at least until I saw Food Inc.  That quickly took them off the table for me. I also adore Friendly’s   peanut butter sauce (which is quickly becoming scarce as they are going bankrupt all over the place).  But in real life, for all of my life, it has been Chinese as the go-to take out or pick up or delivery in a pinch.  As a liberal, reform Jew, it is traditional to have Chinese food on Christmas Eve or Day.  My husband, a Catholic, has said that he likes Chinese food, he just doesn’t like it the way I do.  What can I say?  It is the non-traditional food of my people.

It only stands to reason, then, that I learned how to make some of my favorite Chinese food dishes.  In doing so I have learned that some things just take time.  It’s why they make, say, dumplings in bulk.  Because while the act of cooking the dumpling isn’t bad, it the filling and shaping that takes time.  Lots of time.  Which is to say, here I give you my recipe for dumplings and spring rolls along with a warning- it will take time.  Recruit some friends to help, sit around the table and gab while you each fill dumplings.  Then freeze the ones you don’t cook that day for later when you do want fast(er) food.

Chicken and Vegetable Dumplings and Spring Rolls


1 lb ground chicken or dark meat turkey (traditional uses pork but I prefer chicken)

1/2 head of green cabbage

2-4 carrots, peeled

pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder

Soy sauce- a few tablespoons

hoisin sauce- a few tablespoons or to taste

dark Chinese vinegar- a few tablespoons

sesame and/or peanut oil- few tablespoons (are you sensing a pattern here?)

Chicken broth or water- about a cup.

Dumpling wrappers (square or round) and Spring Roll wrappers


First, shred your cabbage and carrots.  I use the cuisinart.  You could also save time by purchasing the bagged coleslaw mix.  Set aside for now.

Brown your meat in a saucepan with a little bit of sesame and/or peanut oil.

Add the cabbage and carrot mixture when the meat is mostly cooked through.  Throw in a bit of 5 spice powder (I use about a pinch- it has a strong flavor).

Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt- it will sort of turn translucent.

At this point I usually add a few splashes of soy sauce and vinegar.  If you can find dark soy sauce, that’s even better.  This is the vinegar I use:

Anyway, add those to the pan and let it cook down a bit.  This is also a good time to add some hoisin sauce if you like that.  Taste and adjust to suit yourself.  I end up liking the filling so much that I could eat it all plain.

Once it’s all cooked through and hot, set it aside to cool slightly.  You want it warm but not so hot that you’ll burn your fingers while you’re working.  While it cools, set up your station to fill the wrappers.  You’ll need a sheet pan to put the finished product on, damp towels to cover the finished dumplings as well as the wrapper skins, a small bowl with a bit of water and enough space to spread out and work.  You may also want to sit for this process.

Ok, start with one spring roll wrapper.  Place it on the counter/table so that it looks like a diamond shape.

Place about 2-3 teaspoons (I actually use an espresso or baby spoon) of filling in the center.  Sort of spread it around a bit so that it makes kind of a log shape.

Pull up the bottom corner over the filling while sort of tucking the filing in and the corner under.

Fold the left corner over.

Fold the right corner over.

Now roll up, towards the top corner, while kind of tucking as you go.

Use a little bit of water to help seal the top corner down- put a drop or two on your finger, moisten the corner and press to seal.

Place seam side down on your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  You should also cover your opened dumpling wrappers with a damp towel so they don’t dry out.  Basically, air will dry out the wrappers and make them brittle and yucky.

Now, to the dumplings.  Start with a dumpling wrapper and add about a teaspoon of filling to the center.  So there are about a zillion different ways to do this and I do it differently each time.  One method is to brush some water along the edges of the wrapper and then bring diagonal corners to meet each other.

You could also try to crimp but that works better with round wrappers, which I wasn’t using.  Instead, I did a sort of tortellini style.  So, fold in half (pull the bottom to meet the top, making sure to moisten the edges first with a little bit of water- too much and it will be too slippery to hold.)

Now, sort of make a u-shape by making an indentation in the center and bringing the corners up to meet each other.

Press the corners together to seal.

Add to your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  Repeat until you are out of filling, out of wrappers or out of patience.

Now, in a large fry or saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings and let them brown on the bottom (whatever you decide the bottom is)- probably about a minute or so.

Once they’re crispy on the bottom, add enough chicken broth or water to cover the bottom of the pan and put on the lid.  Let them cook until the liquid has evaporated- this steams the rest of the wrappers.

Serve with soy sauce or just gobble them all up as they come out of the pan.  So much work, for such a quickly disappearing meal.

For the spring rolls, follow the same steps- heat the oil in the pan and add the spring rolls.

Once they’re crispy on one side, turn and let them crisp up on the second side.

You can serve these alone or along with other dishes as a whole Chinese-themed meal.

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