Eric Akis: Wontons food of good fortune for Chinese New Year

Eric Akis

Chinese New Year begins this Saturday and festive gatherings marking the occasion will continue until the next full moon. Enjoying foods said to bring good fortune is an important part of the celebration. Dumplings, a symbol of wealth, are among them.

There are many types of Chinese-style dumplings, but today, my focus is on one that can be deep-fried and served as an appetizer, or simmered and served in a soup: wonton dumplings.

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I’ve created recipes for two kinds of wontons: one is filled with a splendid pork and shrimp mixture, while the other contains a richly seasoned mix of tofu, vegetables and mushrooms.

The step-by-step photo will guide you on how to form the wontons. Once they’re formed, you can use either type for deep-fried wontons with sweet and sour sauce, and wonton soup for two.

The recipes for the pork and shrimp and tofu, vegetable and mushroom wontons yield more than you’ll need for the deep-fried wontons and wonton-soup recipes. That was by design — if you’re going to go make your own wontons, you might as well make a bunch and freeze some for another time.

The wrappers I used for the wontons are sold fresh and/or frozen at many supermarkets and Asian food stores, such as those in Victoria’s Chinatown. Any unused fresh wrappers can be frozen for use at another time.

Pork and Shrimp Wontons

Wontons filled with a rich mix of ground pork and chopped shrimp, flavoured with sesame oil, ginger and oyster sauce.

Preparation time: 50 minutes

Cooking time: Depends on cooking method

Makes: 48 to 54 wontons

3/4 pound (340 grams) ground pork

100 grams cooked salad shrimp, thoroughly patted dry, then coarsely chopped

1 large green onion, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp oyster sauce (see Note)

2 tsp Shaoxing rice cooking wine, dry sherry, or brandy (see Note)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1 large egg white

1 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground white pepper

48 to 54 wonton wrappers

• small bowl cold water

Make wonton filling by combining all ingredients, except wonton wrappers and water, in a bowl.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set six wonton wrappers flat on a work surface. Lightly brush edges of each wrapper with cold water. Place a heaping teaspoon of the pork/shrimp mixture in the centre of each wrapper.

Fold each wonton wrapper in half lengthwise, pressing firmly on the edges to seal. Pull the two bottom corners of the wonton wrappers together so they overlap. Press very firmly on the place they overlap to make them stick together.

Set finished wontons on the baking sheet not touching or they will stick together. Tent the wontons with plastic wrap. Fill and fold the remaining wrappers as you did the first batch.

The wontons can be cooked fresh or from frozen in the Deep-fried Wontons with Sweet and Sour Sauce and/or Wonton Soup for Two recipes below.

To freeze wontons, set the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze them solid. Now transfer wontons to a freezer container and keep frozen until ready to cook.

Note: Oyster sauce and Shaoxing rice cooking wine are sold at food stores in Victoria’s Chinatown and in the Asian-foods aisle of some supermarkets. If you can’t find or don’t wish to use rice cooking wine or sherry or brandy, simply omit from the recipe.

Tofu Vegetable Mushroom Wontons

These meat-free wontons are filled with a nicely seasoned crumbled tofu mixture with bits of vegetables and mushrooms.

Preparation time: 75 minutes

Cooking time: Depends on cooking method

Makes: 64 to 72 wontons

2 tsp vegetable oil

5 fresh medium shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed, caps finely chopped

1/3 cup grated carrot or zucchini

1/3 cup finely chopped green or red cabbage

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 (350 gram) container medium-firm tofu, drained well

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 large green onion, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp hot Asian-style chili sauce, such as Sriracha

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp cornstarch

64 to 72 wonton wrappers

• small bowl of cold water

Pour oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, carrot (or zucchini), cabbage, garlic and ginger and cook and stir three minutes, or until ingredients are softened. Spoon this mixture into a medium bowl.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a second bowl. Put tofu in the sieve and use your fingers to finely crumble it so it’s almost paste like. Allow tofu to sit in the sieve 10 minutes so any excess moisture can drip out.

Add tofu to the mushroom/vegetable mixture along with the cilantro, green onion, soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch. Mix until well combined.

Set six wonton wrappers flat on a work surface. Lightly brush edges of each wrapper with cold water. Place a heaping teaspoon of the tofu mixture in the centre of each wrapper.

Fold each wonton wrapper in half lengthwise, pressing firmly on the edges to seal. Pull the two bottom corners of the wonton wrappers together so they overlap. Press very firmly on the place they overlap to make them stick together.

Set finished wontons on the baking sheet not touching or they will stick together. Tent the wontons with plastic wrap. Fill and fold the remaining wrappers as you did the first batch.

The wontons can be cooked fresh or from frozen in the Deep-fried Wontons with Sweet and Sour Sauce and/or Wonton Soup for Two recipes below.

To freeze wontons, set the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze them solid. Then transfer wontons to a freezer container and keep them frozen until ready to cook.

Deep-fried Wontons with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Hot, crispy wontons served with a homemade version of the vibrant red sauce spooned over or served with deep-fried wontons in Chinese restaurants. If you use frozen wontons for this, cook them from frozen.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: Four (six wontons each) servings

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp ketchup

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1/2 to 1 tsp hot Asian-style chili sauce, such as Sriracha

1 tsp cornstarch

24 fresh or frozen pork and shrimp or tofu vegetable mushroom wontons (see recipes above)

• vegetable or peanut oil, for deep-frying

Make sauce by placing vinegar, water, sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, chili sauce and cornstarch in a small pot and whisking to combine. Set over medium-high heat and bring sauce to a boil. Boil sauce one minute. Remove from heat, cover and set sauce aside until wontons are ready.

Preheat oven to 200 F. Heat vegetable or peanut oil in your deep fryer to 350 F (see Eric’s options). Deep-fry the fresh or frozen wontons, in batches of eight or so, until golden brown and crispy, about four to five minutes, or until hot and cooked in the centre.

Drain wontons on paper towel, set on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you fry the rest. When all are fried, arrange wontons on a platter and serve with the sweet and sour sauce.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a deep fryer, you could very carefully deep-fry wontons on the stovetop in a heavy-bottomed pot filled with about three inches of vegetable or peanut oil. Heat oil to 350 F before frying wontons.

Wonton Soup for Two

You can make this comforting Chinese-style soup with either the pork and shrimp or tofu vegetable wontons. If you use frozen wontons for this, cook them from frozen.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About five minutes

Makes: Two servings

3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

12 fresh or frozen pork and shrimp or tofu vegetable mushroom wontons (see recipes above)

12 small, thumbnail-sized broccoli florets

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 large green onion, thinly sliced

• hot Asian-style chili sauce, such as Sriracha, to taste (optional)

Fill a fairly wide and deep pot two thirds full with water and bring to a simmer over medium, medium-high heat. Place the stock (or broth) in another pot and bring it to a simmer too.

Add wontons to the water and simmer about four to five minutes, or until they rise to the surface of the water, the wrapper looks somewhat translucent where the filling is, and the filling is cooked.

While wontons cook, add broccoli and sesame oil to the simmering stock (or broth).

When cooked, lift wontons out of the water and divide them between two large soups bowls. Ladle stock (or broth) mixture over the wontons and sprinkle with green onions. If desired, spice up the soup and wontons with hot chili sauce.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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