Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Alternative Thai Dumplings - Cabbage Wrapped

Cooking for our new whole-foods-only diet has been one of the most challenging lifestyle adjustments I’ve ever faced. Not only did we give up the processed foods that were easy to nuke and eat in a pinch (like Trader Joe's yummy frozen pot stickers), resulting in every meal now requiring planning and cooking, we also gave up many of the foods easy to make from scratch but are grain-based. The versatile “All-Purpose” flour has lost any purpose in our life, and that restriction complicates the making of the most basic recipes.

One weeknight meal I had on the rotation pretty regularly before we gave up refined flour was pot stickers. I’d grab a package of won ton wrappers, quickly whip up the juicy, umami-packed meat filling, and throw them on the stove for a meal that’s as good as one from the Thai restaurants we miss from Minneapolis. That recipe was one we immediately missed when we started our diet heavy in veggies, healthy fats, and meat.

Then one day, we got a head of cabbage from the CSA. What do you do with cabbage? I’m already fermenting some sauerkraut, and I’ve done fish tacos with lime-cilantro cabbage slaw, but without the taco shell it just isn’t worth the effort. I could do braised cabbage, but I’d need pastured, organic bacon if I really wanted it to be good. Then BOOM, the idea of pot stickers reemerged, like a long-unhoped for dream.

I never knew that I'd fall in love with cabbage. The cabbage is a beautiful little plant. And when it comes to my dumpling dream, its leaves are strong enough to serve as wrapper, but when cooked, are soft with just a little crunch, perfect for a dumpling redux. 

So I adapted my Thai dumpling/pot sticker recipe using cabbage leaves in place of won ton wrappers, and after a first round, decided it was a winner and made it a staple in the dinner rotation. Now I’m going to share it with you, in case anyone reading this either has cabbage they don’t know what to do with, or misses Asian dumplings because they can’t eat grains.

Makes 2 servings (as a meal) or 4-6 servings (appetizer)
1 head green or purple cabbage, leaves carefully removed to remain intact
1 cup chicken stock (homemade if possible)
1 lb. pastured/organic ground pork or ground turkey
1 large egg
1 bunch green onions, sliced all the way to the very ends
1 lime, juice
1 1”-piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 large cloves garlic, crushed or minced
About ½ cup cilantro, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
1 tbsp. coconut aminos, soy sauce, or tamari
2 tsp. fish sauce

1-2 spicy chili peppers, minced, seeds removed or left in for more heat
Sriracha rooster sauce
Thai Basil leaves (for serving)

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken stock and cabbage. Mix everything very well with a fork or your hands, just be sure to wash well after.

When mixing up the filling, you’ll want to decide how much heat you’d like in the dumplings. We like it hot, so we add 2 small chili peppers, seeds and all, and a generous squirt of Sriracha. (Just fyi, if you’re very careful with added sugars, Sriracha and Fish Sauce both contain a little sugar, so this is a bit of a cheat for us.)

Take your prepared cabbage leaves and fill them with the meat mixture, just enough so you can fold the cabbage all the way around the filling, creating a little pouch. Too much filling may take longer to cook through, too little may just be disappointing. Use your best judgment, but try to be consistent so they are all done at the same time. And don’t worry if they won’t stay closed when you fold them into the little pouches, because the cooking will help relax the cabbage leaves so they no longer resist hugging their delicious filling.

Warm a large, deep skillet or sauté pan (make sure it has a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat. Add half the chicken stock and cook until it starts to bubble and steam. Using tongs, place cabbage dumplings into the simmering liquid. Move quickly and get as many of the dumplings in as you can (should be about half a batch) and place the lid on the pan.

Let it steam and cook the dumplings for 3 minutes, then remove the lid, turn the dumplings over carefully with the tongs, and replace he lid for another 2-3 minutes, or until cooked through. Repeat with remaining stock and dumplings.

To serve: Garnish with fresh Thai basil, lime wedges, and more cilantro. 

Final note on refined flour: I am not kissing flour goodbye forever. David is still avoiding grains entirely until his fitness goals are reached, but I have begun eating a lot of sourdough, made from wholesome ingredients and high quality flour, easily digested because of the fermentation process of sourdough, and it's amazing. I hope to delve into sourdough baking soon and I'll be sure to document my learnings here.

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