Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, fell on January 28th this year and will be celebrated all throughout the next 15 days. Chinese New Year is the most important holiday celebrated among the Chinese and Asian communities worldwide. It is a holiday to celebrate new beginnings, but most importantly it’s a holiday for families to get together and celebrate health and good fortune. Traditionally on New Year’s Eve families get together to have “tuan yuen fan,” which means the reunion dinner. There are many dishes that are served during the reunion dinner and each dish symbolizes a fortune.

Dumplings are an important dish to serve on New Year’s Eve because usually the whole family gathers around the table to assemble the dumplings to celebrate cooperation. Dumplings symbolize wealth and good fortune because they are shaped like gold ingots and also look similar to little pouches filled with treasures inside. The fillings also symbolize different fortunes. The most popular dumpling fillings are pork and cabbage. Cabbage in Chinese is “Bai Tsai,” which sounds like the word for “hundred fortunes.” I have very fond memories of sitting next to my mother watching her shaping the delicious little treasures. And even though I make my own dumplings now, I still ask my mom to make dumplings every single time I go back to Taiwan just so I can sit next to her and watch her make dumplings.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year this week, I’d like to share with you my simple recipe for cabbage and pork dumplings and hope they will bring hundreds of fortunes for everyone in the coming new year.


1 lb. ground pork
112 cups cabbage
2 cloves garlic
2 scallions
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked first in water
1 Tbsp. minced ginger 
112 Tbsp. soy sauce
34 tsp. salt
12 tsp. sugar
14 tsp. white pepper
2 tsp. cooking wine
2 tsp. sesame oil
40 wonton wraps 

Start by chopping the cabbage into small pieces. Then work 12 tsp. salt into the chopped cabbage. Let it sit for 20 minutes to allow the cabbage to sweat.

Prepare the the rest of the ingredients while we wait for the cabbage to be ready. Chop the garlic, scallions, ginger and pre-soaked dried shiitake mushrooms into small pieces.

Add all of the seasonings and sauces into the pork and, using a chopstick, stir the meat for a few minutes until all of the ingredients are combined and the meat breaks down and turns into a mushy texture 

Squeeze the cabbage to get rid of the water. Mix the cabbage into the meat along with the chopped garlic, ginger scallions and mushrooms

Traditionally, dumpling wraps are round shaped and you can find them at the Asian grocery stores. But here in the midcoast I was only able to find the wonton wraps, which are square. In order to make the dumplings shaped like the gold ingots, we need to cut the wonton wraps into circles. The easiest way to do this is by using a biscuit cutter. But don’t throw out the scraps! You can make noodle soup with them

To assemble the dumplings, have some water on hand for sealing the wraps. Scoop about 12 to 1 teaspoon of the filling onto the center of the wrap, wet the edges the wrap and fold in half 

Holding it with both hands, use your index finger and thumb of one hand, make a pleat and pinch it together while using your other index finger to stuff the fillings. Continue the crease/pinch motion until you’ve reached the end on the wrap

Grease the steamer lightly with some oil and place the dumplings in the steamer. Steam the dumplings in batches on high heat for 13 to 15 minutes. If you don’t have a steamer you may boil them for 8 minutes on high heat, though the texture on the wrap may not be as chewy using the boiling method. You may prepare them in advance and store them in the freezer. There is no need to thaw them — just steam or boil while frozen and give them an extra two minutes to cook.

Serve with soy sauce or with a little rice wine vinegar

Happy new year and enjoy. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lai Cha (Thunder Tea)

On our most recent trip back to Taiwan last year, one of our prime objectives was to visit a Hakka village just south of Taipei in Hsinchu to sample some unique cuisine. Hakka are a Chinese ethnic group originally from the southeast coast of China. Hakka — along with Hoklo, indigenous Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders — are one of the four largest ethnic groups in Taiwan. The Hakka and Hoklo people came over from mainland China and settled in Taiwan in the 1600s during the Ming dynasty after General Zheng Chenggong defeated the Dutch army, effectively ending Dutch colonization and establishing the first Han-ruled dynasty in Taiwan.

During our stay, we had a feast of Hakka cuisine. One simple dish we had at the end of the meal was a sweet and creamy bowl of tea called Lai Cha or “thunder tea.” It is believed that the tea was created during the Three Kingdom period (220 to 280 CE), when a group of hungry, wounded soldiers were traveling across the country. All they had left were some tea and nuts to eat. A doctor supposedly came up with the idea to grind up all the tea leaves and nuts and then mix them in boiling water. This created a huge volume of nourishment that not only lasted for days, but most importantly gave the soldiers energy to continue their journey.

Traditionally, the tea is made by grinding the tea leaves, nuts and seeds into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Then hot water is poured into the bowl to create the delicious creamy tea. But unlike the traditional method, which requires a pretty arduous workout with the mortar and pestle, my simple recipe simply uses a blender. When you get down to it, it’s essentially a hot smoothie bowl packed full of caffeine and protein. It makes a perfect breakfast for the cold season!


Makes two servings
2 Tbsp. loose green tea leaves
1 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds
3 Tbsp. roasted peanuts
2 Tbsp. black and white roasted sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt 
112 cups plus 2 Tbsp. boiling hot water

Additional ingredients:
Puffed rice cereal (optional)


Thunder tea can be served both sweet and savory with a variety of different ingredients. But the key ingredients that never change are green tea, peanuts and sesame seeds. For this recipe I also use pumpkin seeds, but you may add other nuts and seeds tailored to your taste as well.

Start by blending the green tea leaves into a fine powder. If you happen to have Matcha green tea powder, you may skip this step and go ahead and blend the powder along with the other ingredients.

Then add the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts and salt in the blender. Blend until it has a wet, sandy texture.

Add in 2 Tbsp. of boiling hot water and 2 Tbsp. maple syrup and blend for another 30 seconds until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Traditionally it’s just made with regular sugar, but since we’re in Maine, maple syrup makes a great substitute.

Scoop 3 Tbsp. of the thunder tea paste into a bowl or a mug, then pour 34 cup boiling hot water over it and stir well until no lumps remain. You can top it with rice cereal or granola and what you will end up with is a delicious, healthy and very filling breakfast to start your day. You can make a bigger batch of the tea paste and just store it in a jar, and you will have yourself an instant smoothie every morning by just adding hot water to it. The paste should be able to keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Khao Mok Gai (Thai Chicken Biryani)

One of my biggest guilty pleasures is watching people eat different food around the world on YouTube. While this may sound like a creepy hobby, it’s also how I get a lot of inspiration for my cooking. I’m always on a hunt to find new and exciting dishes to try as a challenge. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a video of someone in Thailand eating a dish called khao mok gai which is a Thai version of chicken biryani. As you may remember, I’ve shared a few biryani recipes before. They are usually comprised of meat or vegetables with rice and an array of spices cooked all in one pot. They’re great for days when you don’t feel like doing extra dishes.

Biryanis are Middle Eastern-influenced dishes originating in South India. The word “biriyani” derives from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in medieval India by various Islamic dynasties. When I first heard about khao mok gai, I knew it was going to be delicious, and judging by the spices in the dish I thought I knew exactly how this was going to taste. But the outcome was surprisingly different from what I was expecting. The flavors are far more complex than any biryani I’ve ever tasted before. 

In my last column I talked about the health benefits of turmeric in my Gold Milk recipe. So this week I thought I’d share a savory dish using turmeric spice. Turmeric and cumin are typical spices used in any biriyani, but this one actually uses a lot of the spices I’m sure you already have in your cabinet from holiday baking. I hope you will try this simple and delicious khao mok gai served with a refreshing mint chutney.


(serves 4 people)
For the rice
4 chicken thighs with skin and bone
4 shallots
12 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
14 cup cilantro
112 Tbsp. ginger
212 tsp. ground turmeric
112 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
18 tsp. ground nutmeg
18 tsp. ground clove
12 tsp. ground cardamom
12 tsp. ground cinnamon
18 tsp. white pepper
18 tsp. black pepper
18 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. sugar
112 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chicken stock paste or one bouillon cube
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
14 cup canola oil
For the mint chutney
1 clove garlic
112 tsp. minced ginger
34 cup fresh mint
34 cup fresh cilantro
14 tsp. salt
34 tsp. sugar
14 cup rice wine vinegar
juice of 12 lime


Now, I know you may be intimidated by how many ingredients are going in here, but don’t worry! We are letting the blender do all the work. Place all the spices including salt and pepper and sugar, along with garlic, ginger and cilantro, 2 shallots and Greek yogurt, in a blender. Blend on high speed until it becomes a thick and creamy paste.

Coat the chicken thighs with the paste, cover it up and refrigerate overnight. You can use drumsticks or wings, but I do not recommend chicken breasts in this dish because the skin and bones actually will release a lot of juice and flavor into the rice, which makes the dish richer and much tastier.

After the chicken has been marinated overnight, brush off the paste from the chicken but don’t throw any of the paste out. This is just to prevent the chicken from burning when we sear them. 

Slice up the remaining 2 shallots.

In a large skillet on medium high heat, fry the shallots in 1/4 C canola oil or any type of oil with a high burning point. Fry until the shallots are golden brown and crispy. Drain it and set aside while saving the oil.

In the same skillet, on high heat, sear the marinated chicken thighs in the oil from frying the shallots, until both sides are golden brown. This will take about 2 minutes on each side.

While the chicken is browning, rinse the jasmine rice. Make sure you rinse it at least three times so that all the starch is washed off. Washing off the starch makes the cooked rice much fluffier and prevents it from turning mushy. 

Take the chicken out of the skillet once it is nice and browned. Scrape out any of the burned pieces. Pour in the marinade paste and saute the rice in it for two minutes until all the rice is well coated..

Transfer the rice into a heavy-duty pot, such as a Dutch oven, and pour in 2 cups of water along with 1 chicken bouillon cube. Place the seared chicken thighs on top of the rice and sprinkle half of the fried shallots in the pot as well. Cover and let it simmer on low heat for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. You may score the chicken thighs before placing them in the pot; this way it will cook faster and more evenly.

While we are waiting for the rice to be cooked, we can prepare the mint chutney. Again, it may seem like there are a lot of ingredients and just one more thing to do, but it is so worth it! Blend everything together until smooth and set aside. Thai cuisine doesn’t typically use much ginger, so whenever you see ginger in a Thai dish, it’s most likely a dish that is Indian or Chinese influenced.

When the chicken is fully cooked, take it out of the pot and fluff up the rice. Remove from the heat and cover the rice up again and let it steam for five minutes. 

Serve the chicken over the rice along with the mint chutney on the side. Sprinkle the remaining fried shallots on top of the rice and serve it with some sambal chili paste or your favorite hot sauce on the side

Check out Nasi Biriyani ( Malaysian style biriyani):