Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eating Omily: A Tale of Redemption Dipped in Peanut Sauce

I might not have always made this perfectly clear, but there has been ample evidence of it here and there: I am a hardcore believer in the importance of eating local: it's my way of practicing Ahimse (non-violence; one of the yamas and niyamas) as applies to what I eat, but in practice; I'm not a purist. I drink coffee, I use ginger, nutmeg, and other spices in everything, I use cane sugar in my baking, I eat avocados semi-regularly, and in spite of my series of posts on convenient foods for locavores, I succumb to the ball of wholewheat pizza dough at Trader Joe's (only 99 cents!), the pouch of ready-made fondue, the frozen multi-grain croissants, more often than I should.

This doesn't bother my conscious too much because eating local has always been a work in progress for me: it started with a weekly trip to the Farmer's Market to pick up the cheapest veggies I could find, and a willingness to check the stickers on the apples at the grocery store, and it has evolved to the point that all fruits, veggies, meat, honey, beans, corn meal, fruit juice, maple syrup, and most cheese, breads, grains, and fruit spreads (that I didn't make at home from Farmer's Market Produce) are procured there.

Once I use up the wholewheat flour I have at the moment, I plan to start buying that from the Farmer's Market too, and then I hope to get in to the habit of making and freezing pizza dough weekly, so that will be one more thing to check off the TJ's list.

So my point is, if you stumble upon one of my local-eating diatribes and feel implicated, and incapable of making such a massive lifestyle shift, rest assured, I felt the same way. Take whatever small steps you feel comfortable making, and the big changes will happen almost without you noticing, or at least minding! I offer you this story as an example of small steps, and doing your best instead of beating up on yourself (another beautiful and essential aspect of the yoga practice):

The Little Asian Dumpling that Could (Be a New Yorker):

My husband is a huge fan of these:
I've let this one slide because he's willing to get the vegetarian variety, which spares animal suffering, and we don't eat them too often. One day however, I happened to look too closely at the package:

"Hand-Made in Taiwan" What? Seriously?? Freakin' Taiwan?? Suddenly I saw factory workers gently pinching dough as it flew down an assembly line...the little dumplings being rushed into massive blast chillers, then bagged while workers in parkas looked on checking for mistakes...the bags being loaded onto planes (ships?), still in freezers, and sent around the world to the Trader Joe's distributing center in California. Still being held at that frozen temperature, the little lovelies were loaded onto trucks and shipped across the country, finally unpacked and tossed without a backward glance into the freezers at the 6th ave. and 21st street location. No one heeding the dreadful waste of energy required to keep packages of frozen gyozas frozen while they traveled further than I have been in my entire life!

"Alright," I said, "we're going to have to look into an alternative for these."

In spite of my righteous indignation, I knew better than to stand up on a soap box and announce to my sweet, patient husband that we would NEVER BE EATING THESE EVIL GYOZAS AGAIN!

When I found myself in possession of not one, but two, colossal heads of cabbage, I knew the perfect use for them. My husband and I walked the couple blocks over to the ethnic grocery store in our neighborhood and found a package of wonton wrappers: only $1.99 for like one-hundred of them. I don't know where they were made; the distributor is in New Jersey, though, so hopefully at least this continent.

Skip started thawing and separating the wrappers while I chopped fine and cooked cabbage, radish, onion, garlic, and ginger: the rough equivalent of the filling in the beloved Trader Joe gyozas.

I spooned a teaspoon or two of filling into the center of each square, dampened the edges of the wrapper with a fingertip dipped in water, then folded it over diagonally and pressed to seal the edges. When all the filling was secured in a wonton, I wiped out the pan I had cooked the filling in with a paper towel, added a generous pour of olive oil, enough to easily coat the bottom, and put the heat on medium-low. When the oil was hot enough to ripple when I tilted the pan, I started adding wontons, flat side down. I managed to get half the batch into the pan.

Now, I had thought that the wontons would cook just like the dumplings: getting carmelized and crunchy where exposed to the heat, and then sticking like mad, requiring a splash of water to release them. Wonton wrappers, however, are basically mini eggroll wrappers: when cooked in oil they blister up and become irresistibly golden and crispy. In just a couple minutes, they released from the pan on their own and flipped over easily, revealing that perfect fried-color that is such a struggle for me to achieve with grilled cheese. I finished frying the whole batch in less than ten minutes, piled them up on a big plate, and sprinkled them with salt.
The husband, meanwhile, was stirring peanutbutter (another un-local staple...hmmmm...) into Trader Joe's soyaki sauce to create a flavorful (and protein-packed) dip.

We made nearly twenty wontons. We ate every single one. They were so nom: warm, crunchy, and the perfect blend of sweet and salty with the peanut sauce dip...
And, now we have tons of wonton wrappers in which to wrap up...eggs, cheese, and pickled peppers for breakfast! Nutella or chocolate and marshmallows for dessert! Cheese to serve alongside soup for lunch! We can even make pork or seafood dumplings, just like the ones at Trader Joe's that I won't let us buy!

The moral of the story is simple: we took something super un-local, and made it much more local: we don't know where the wonton wrappers were made; possibly a factory in Jersey, possible across the country, possibly right next door to the frozen gyoza factory in Taiwan, but even if they were made there, we've still improved the quotient by filling them with local and sustainably grown veggies, and by buying wrappers that weren't sucking up energy being kept frozen for their whirlwind world tour!

Yay! There are probably thousands more awesome filling ideas for these little guys. Do some experimenting, and share what other things are amazing in a wonton wrapper! And of course, if you stumble upon a source for local (whole grain perhaps??) wonton wrappers, do not hold out on me! Maybe we can bring these little dumplings all the way home!



  1. Love this post, Emily! Especially when you talk about "the husband" (who is my son for all you who don't know me). You really are an entertaining writer and I can see all that you are describing in my head. Skip must be thrilled at your new discovery! I will try that recipe soon!


  2. Glad you enjoyed it! You know how Skip is about over-sharing, so I keep anything about him in the blog to a strict minimum. I'll bet you'll have a lot of fun getting creative with wonton recipes. Thanks so much for sharing the link on facebook!