Cooking

An Easy Won Ton Soup Recipe That Will Fill Your Belly

THE STORY

Let's be honest with each other - no one really reads the story that goes with recipe blog posts. That being said, I do feel obligated to say something about why I made this.

After engorging myself with dim sum a couple weeks ago, I was still craving a taste of home. And when I say a taste of home, I mean a taste of something that makes me feel like me.

Hainan Chicken and Rice Gai lan Chinese Broccoli recipe Cantonese food

My parents never made won ton soup at home - we almost always went out for Chinese food, rather than making it at home. To be fair, my mom didn't make Chinese food, and my dad didn't start making dinner on a regular basis until I was in middle school.

But even then, we had so many delicious Chinese restaurants in town, so why cook at home? And when I say Chinese restaurants, I'm not talking about Panda Express or a buffet that also serves french fries or a greasy spot that is almost strictly for to-go orders.

Easy Homemade Won Ton Soup simple recipe dumplings chicken soup Asian comfort food

I'm talking about restaurants with chandeliers and lazy Susans. I'm talking about restaurants that offer you one menu in English (with no pictures) and one in Chinese, assuming that non-Chinese speakers won't want certain dishes. I'm talking about restaurants that only serve dim sum on the weekends, don't accept reservations during that time, and serve you a variety of dishes from rolling carts directly to your table.

Maybe I'm just riding the hype of the recent release of Crazy Rich Asians (which I haven't seen yet), but I wanted a simple dish that helped me reset all the fervent chaos inside my head. So I made won tons and cooked them in the chicken broth left over from making Hainan chicken.

Easy Homemade Won Ton Soup recipe pork dumpling filling Chinese cooking

THE RECIPE

for the won tons:
500g ground pork
250g shrimp, cooked and minced
4-5 green onions
2/3 cup whole water chestnuts, minced*
1 tbsp shaoxing wine*
1 tbsp soy sauce*
1/2 tsp ground white pepper*
1 pack frozen won ton wrappers (thaw in fridge)

for the broth:
1 whole chicken (if you buy frozen, be sure to thaw it completely)
3-4 green onions
2-3 2-inch pieces of ginger, sliced in thirds*

parchment or foil
ziploc bag or container

*I didn't really measure these ingredients. These are my approximations.

1. Line at least one (if not two) baking sheet with parchment or foil that will fit in your freezer.

2. Combine all the won ton ingredients in a large bowl. Scoop a healthy teaspoon of filling onto center of a won ton square, then fold however you see fit (Woks of Life has some great suggestions).

3. When baking sheet is full, place it in freezer and start lining the other baking sheet with more won tons. If you don't have another baking sheet, leave the won tons until they won't stick to each other when you put them in the ziploc bag or container to store in the freezer.

4. Once you finish making the won tons, put the ginger and green onions into a large pot of water and bring to a boil. (I add enough water that looks like it'll cover the whole chicken.) When boiling, gently add the chicken butt-side down, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn the burner off and let sit for another 15 minutes.

5. Remove chicken to cutting board and tent with foil. Bring the pot of water with green onions and ginger up to a gentle boil for another 2 hours. I usually keep the lid cracked on top.

At this point, you can scoop some broth out to cook rice, or make a dipping sauce with a squeeze of lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar, and a healthy shake of fish sauce.

6. Scoop broth into a smaller pot for cooking the won tons. Bring broth to a boil, then add as many frozen won tons as you like. Cook for 5 minutes. Serve as you like.

Asian Cuisine: How Well do you Know Yourself?

JUST A STORY

The Ramen Marauder and I sat down for dinner the other night for a simple vermicelli noodle salad I made. I chopped the lettuce, poached the noodles, seasoned the ground pork with ground pepper, ginger, and garlic, and cooked it with a short mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and garlic oil - just enough to prevent it from tasting plain, but adding no significant flavor.

I assembled our bowls with lettuce, noodles, and ground pork. The rest was laid out on the table: chopped cucumbers, chopped carrots, chopped cilantro, chopped mint, lime slices, fish sauce, hoisin, sriracha, sesame oil, cashews. As we both finished dressing our dinner bowls, I realized that this process must seem intimidating to anyone who isn't familiar with Vietnamese food.

Vietnamese Vermicelli Noodle Salad Asian Food Cooking

How many people really know what they like? I mean, really understand what they like, from sweet to salty to sour to funk? Asian food requires a sense of self that not everyone has. It can be taught, sure, but it's not something many restaurants take the time to teach, right?

Most western cuisines cook complete dishes and serve the food as it should be eaten. Any self-proclaimed food expert will tell you that you won't find salt and pepper on tables at nice restaurants because the chef has already seasoned the dish, and you're expected to eat it accordingly.

But what about Asian restaurants?

To start, so many westerners don't have the taste bud vocabulary to comprehend everything that Asian food offers. The most adventurous ingredient I've found in European cookbooks is anchovies in order to add a hint of salt and a suggestion of umami. This may be why we see chicken at Asian restaurants fried to a point beyond recognition, then slathered in a sauce that has no business being the focal point of a dinner entree. Or why Chinese cuisine looks so different from country to country, incorporating the local palette into the recipes. Maybe it's why Thai restaurants seem to lack variation, offering the same yellow, red, and green curries with your choice of protein.

Asian Food Cooking Vermicelli Noodle Salad Vietnamese

These cuisines are not simple. It would appear that restaurants assume the consumer is simple - but can you blame them? It seems that those who can't (or won't) enjoy Asian food don't have the culinary confidence to appreciate it, and restaurants don't usually have the time to teach consumers how to eat it. Asian cuisine displays a sense of otherness that many people are afraid to approach.

But the real twist here is that Asian food can be yours. It is yours. Asian restaurants create the foundation of your meal, but you are in charge. You are given the tools to make your meal great - maybe you just need to learn how to use them.


Is this something you want me to write more about? Do you have any requests or suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

Noodle Soup Party!

JUST A STORY

A friend suggested we have a noodle soup party, and before he could finish his sentence, I was already on board.

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I wasn't sure, however, of what to expect from this experience. The rough outline of an idea was to bring different noodles and broths, and let people build bowls for themselves. The group email request was for people to bring vegetable stock, chicken stock, noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro/koriander, chopsticks and more. There was also going to be lumpia rolling for anyone interested.

NoodleParty_003.jpg

I replied to say I'd be happy to bring noodles and stock, but should I make Thai boat noodle soup broth? Is that OK to add to the mix? My request was enthusiastically approved, and on the day of the party, I made my favorite boat noodle soup recipe from Andy Ricker's Pok Pok.

One of the hardest parts of cooking Asian food in small-town Bavaria is the lack of resources. I didn't include at least 5 of the ingredients the original recipes calls for because I can't get them easily. Luckily, there is a fresh market that brings in fresh cilantro and bean sprouts all year long, and there is also a wholesale grocery that sells some of the necessary sauces and noodles. (The grocer also sells Italian and Mexican ingredients.)

The boat noodle soup was a hit! Though to be fair, the recipe is solid and has been a favorite for many dinner guests of my own. My fear was that the flavor would be too bold, but then I remembered that this was a group of people who agreed to attend a noodle soup party.

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IF YOU CAN'T GO TO THE NOODLES, BRING THE NOODLES TO YOU

The logistics of throwing a noodle soup party can seem daunting, but the real issue is space. We found it easiest to put the noodles in the bowls, then let people dress them as they wish. As long as you have room to lay out the broths and the toppings (bean sprouts, cilantro, fried garlic, chili powder, limes...), people are happy to build their own bowls.

Some guests that came though weren't familiar with noodle soups at all. Let them experiment with a little bit of guidance - it's all for fun!